Local Feature story

Rough-terrain manufacturers face varied challenges

Wednesday, 21 December 2011 ( #545 )
The HP8500 rough-terrain forklift with optional cab is one of three models manufactured by Harlo Products.
The HP8500 rough-terrain forklift with optional cab is one of three models manufactured by Harlo Products.
Meeting new emission standards affecting off-highway machines with power ratings over 56 kW (75 hp.) next year is a priority for the rough-terrain forklift and telehandler industry, but there are other issues to consider as well. Christine Cranney investigates.

It's undeniable that trading conditions are different since the global recession of 2008/9.

Sellick Equipment, an established rough-terrain forklift manufacturer and a North American distributor of the JCB Teletruk, has experienced the effects of the economic downturn. Sales and marketing manager Dell White says one of the biggest challenges for his industry is the continuation of a slow housing sector. "Many of the traditional customers, (including) lumber, roofing, siding and fabricated wood manufacturers/distributors, have drastically reduced capital purchases."

Robert Vost of AGRIMAC (UK) Ltd laments the decline in the building and short-term hire sectors but says other sectors like farming and forestry are booming. "We are looking to move into other sectors [that are] growing for us. Our machines are fully suited [to them]." Essex-based AGRIMAC is the sole factory-approved importer of Spanish-made AGRIA and AGRIMAC products.

Telehandler specialist JLG Industries Inc of Hagerstown, Maryland faces a different challenge: ramping up supply bases to meet returned demand. Global product director for telehandlers Brian Boeckman says many rental companies' fleets aged over the period of the downturn and they are now looking to replace older machines.

Jean-Philippe Herel, product manager of French rough-terrain specialist Manitou, agrees. "Our supplier base has suffered from the crisis even more than the manufacturers, leading to bottlenecks when restarting production."

Dealers and end-users

John Baker, sales director of Canadian manufacturer Omega Lift, thinks North American forklift dealers have lowered rough-terrain forklifts in their priorities as industrial forklift manufacturers put pressure on them to grow sales volumes on less expensive trucks.

"Rough-terrain OEMs have had to find ways to get noticed by sales representatives and dealers through more in-person contact, trade shows, customer events, lead generation, product training and incentives," Baker explains.

In the last 12 months, Omega Lift hired two regional sales managers and two sales administration staff to support its dealers, and to call on new dealers to expand the company's footprint. The company also invested in new software to boost its efficiency and response time, and launched a more user-friendly website, geared towards search optimisation. Last year, the company launched a plan to pay cash incentives directly to its dealers' sales representatives who support the brand.

Baker explains that buyers have now become pickier, with access to global products and online information. "Every buyer now gets multiple quotes each time. We have to work hard to distinguish ourselves, and educate the buyer on our features and benefits."

Emission regulations

In 2004, the USA's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed the final rule for Tier 4 emission standards, applicable to non-road diesel engines and to be phased-in over the 2008-2015 period. The standards required substantial reductions of nitrogen oxides for engines with power rating above 56kW. This can be achieved through using control technologies, including advanced exhaust gas after-treatment, similar to those required by the 2007-2010 standards for highway diesel engines.

The regulation is split into two phase-in periods termed Tier 4 Interim and Tier 4 Final. The initial or interim phase for engines with power ratings over 56 kW (75 hp.) starts in 2011/12, while more stringent emission limits come in with the Tier 4 Final in the 2013/15 period.

In January, large forklifts and container-handling equipment with power ratings over 130 kW (173 hp) were affected by "Tier 4i", the interim EPA regulations. Next year, rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers will have to meet Tier 4 Interim regulations as machines with power ratings over 56 kw (75hp) are included.

Brian Rabe
Brian Rabe
Brian Rabe, Gehl manager of product development for Manitou Americas Inc of West Bend, Wisconsin, says planning and implementing forthcoming Tier 4i compliance regulations have been a major challenge.

Coming up with compliant engines is the responsibility of engine manufacturers but OEMs have to redesign the machines' chassis to accommodate the new engines.

"The engine manufacturer's role is to provide an engine system which meets the standard and it is R&D's role along with the help of the engine manufacturer to adapt this engine system into our products so that it continues to meet the standard and meets the design criteria of our products," Rabe explains.

The redesign brings a host of other issues with it and Rabe says manufacturers are struggling to meet the new requirements, which vary according to engine horsepower, without adding too much complexity while also trying to minimise the price impact. "Adapting a lower engine's horsepower allows for compliance but forces improvements in hydraulic or mechanical efficiency to compensate. This also has created a ripple effect in the supply chain, causing engine manufacturers to come up with innovative solutions in a shortened development cycle."

Mike Frey, director of sales and marketing for Grandville, Michigan-based Harlo Products, whose primary markets are the US and Canada, says his company has viewed the challenge as an opportunity to rethink "certain design elements".

Harlo has opted to use an engine in a lower power category than its current models. "Not only does this allow us to use an engine that requires very little after-treatment, but it allows us to use a less costly engine that gets dramatically better fuel economy," Frey explains.

"We redesigned our forklift to gain efficiencies through improved hydraulics and a better cooling system. As a result, we've reduced parasitic engine load to the point where the end-user will experience the same power they've come to expect from a Harlo rough-terrain forklift."

Harlo Products, which entered the fabricating business with government contracts to manufacture mast assemblies for forklifts built for the US Navy in the 1940s, currently makes three rough-terrain forklift models - the HP5000, HP6500 and HP8500. All the models are available as two- or four-wheel drives.

Space issues

Palfinger has to redesign its already compact, truck-mounted, rough-terrain forklifts to accommodate components needed to meet Tier 4 standards.
Palfinger has to redesign its already compact, truck-mounted, rough-terrain forklifts to accommodate components needed to meet Tier 4 standards.
Not all rough-terrain forklift and telehandler manufacturers will use lower power engines to meet the new emission standards. Redesigning forklifts to accommodate bigger engines and components is tricky as some manufacturers sell their forklifts to niche markets that are drawn to their machines' compact sizes.

Butch Hunter, sales and product manager of Palfinger's forklift division, explains: "As a manufacturer of truck-mounted rough-terrain equipment, we have to live with other restrictions associated with size constraints. It's not only a challenge to redesign our machines to accommodate the various types of equipment needed for Tier 4 compliance, we need to do it in such a way as to add no more length to the machine behind the truck."

Hunter says Palfinger's designers are working with engine manufacturers like Kubota, Isuzu, Deutz and Yanmar to devise ways to "get more stuff in a smaller package". "Our customers expect us to find a way, and we'll get there, but this has been and will continue to be a key challenge for this industry."

He adds that Palfinger will beat the 2013 deadline for 50-plus hp emission regulations and in the case of one of its machines, the reduced space allocated for the exhaust could result in a smaller silencer, thus increasing the exhaust volume. "We are looking to suppliers for the optimal solution, but we are repositioning the engine and exhaust to make more room." The changes are unlikely to impact on Palfinger machines' safety standards or stability rating.

Limited supply

Omega Lift's Baker is concerned about different environmental restrictions. "Certain parts of the globe do not have the same restrictions as parts of Europe and North America. Limited supply of drivetrains will force the OEMs to offer higher-cost, 'enviro-friendlier' engines into markets where they are not required."

Baker says Perkins and other engine manufacturers are reducing their model offerings in response to Tier 4 and other environmental requirements. "Reduced engine options requires us to source alternate engines or move ahead with [higher-priced] Tier 4 engines [from our current suppliers], even in markets where Tier 4 is not yet required."

Financial impact

Higher costs are a major concern for manufacturers and customers alike. Dieter Könemann from components manufacturer Sauer-Danfoss GmbH & Co OHG says his customers estimate the costs for Tier 4 interim engines with exhaust after-treatment devices will increase by 50 to 150%, depending on engine displacement and engine power category.

Sellick Equipment's White predicts end-users will see increases to purchase prices and operating costs. "[There are] increased costs for manufacturers to purchase the new emission engines and components plus the cost to redesign existing products to accommodate component changes."

Gehl RS10-44 telehandler with four-wheel drive
Gehl RS10-44 telehandler with four-wheel drive
Gehl manager Rabe says customers want to understand the full impact on their bottom line, but the long-term impact of the new technologies may not be realised until several years later. "Because the technology is new, and in turn different, customers need to be trained on the use, maintenance and support so that it has a positive and/or neutral impact on their bottom line.

"The good news is that the exhaust after-treatment systems are being fully warranty-supported by the engine manufacturers and testing has proven these components to be meeting or exceeding their initial expectations."

He worries about how the components will age in relation to the rest of the machine. "Will they have to change a diesel particulate filter (DPF) at 5,000 hours? What is the cost of a replacement DPF?"

Rabe adds that while the full financial impact of adapting Gehl machines is not yet known, the biggest impact on his company has been the development time cutting into the planning of new products.

Palfinger's Hunter says the cost to redesign the "engine envelope" on his machines to accommodate the additional components is significant. "The additional cost of components is unknown at this time as many suppliers are scrambling to produce the lowest-cost components to meet compact applications." He hopes to mitigate the financial impact on Palfinger customers but says as with on-road truck engines a few years ago, both suppliers and customers will suffer the financial impact.

AGRIMAC's Vost says his company advises end-users to go for trucks that are able to switch to two-wheel drive. "Customers do not always need four-wheel drive capability, so using a two-wheel drive can save up to GBP2,000 (USD3,144) a year on fuel," Vost says. "Also we save on tyre wear and emissions are down due to not powering all four wheels," Vost says, adding that his machines use Perkins and Deutz engines.


Some would say the rough-terrain forklift market is a mature one and so there have not been major technological innovations in the past five years. However, manufacturers are making the traditionally big and chunky machines smaller and lighter to enable work in restricted access areas, prioritising safety or offering more service options like fleet management, maintenance contracts and full-service solutions.

Manitou's Herel says it is important that rough-terrain forklifts be not just environmentally friendly but more comfortable and safer for the operator.
Spain's Mecano Continental produces a range of rough-terrain equipment.
Spain's Mecano Continental produces a range of rough-terrain equipment.

Gehl's Rabe would like to see electronic displays used to convey automatic load chart adaptation when forklifts are changing attachments. "This will ensure that the operator is using approved attachments and the correct load chart for the attachment which, when load charts are followed, lead to safer operation."

Vost says AGRIMAC has kept its machines simple for drivers and engineers - "no computers or hand-held diagnostics equipment" - with proven worldwide manufacturers like Perkins, Deutz, Bosch and Rexroth for ease of parts and back-up.

According to Palfinger's Hunter, the very nature of rough-terrain forklifts means they are used on unstable and uneven terrain, presenting the risk of roll-over on almost every job site. "Whether the operator is raising a load to the second storey of a new lake home or simply crossing a damaged culvert on a commercial site, the risk of roll-over is a constant threat for owners, operators and manufacturers."

"Keeping the operator protected in the operator's compartment is our primary target at this time. The operator's seat-belt is the most effective tool in this area."

He thinks that the future will bring more monitoring systems to help prevent or reduce operator errors on rough and rugged terrain.

JLG's Brian Boeckman
JLG's Brian Boeckman
Boeckman says this year JLG and Bridgestone/Firestone launched a telehandler-specific tyre, which has up to three times the life of a standard lug tyre. "[This] not only benefits our customers, but also (has) a very positive impact on the environment, as they lead to less environment waste over the machine's life."

Some innovations have been adaptations to accommodate the different markets in which rough-terrain forklifts are sold.

Hermans Heftrucks export sales manager Jef van de Velden says over the past five years, rough-terrain forklifts have been adapted to new markets like the Middle East due to extreme temperatures with both humidity and dry conditions. "This has influenced the cooling systems, which are provided by the manufacturer, AGRIA HISPANIA."

Van de Velden also sees the evolution of narrower forklifts that can work in the agricultural sectors. "For the agricultural sector, we have developed ... a narrow version forklift, which was specially requested by the fruit and vegetable sector. Rows between trees in plantations are narrow, and a normal rough-terrain machine cannot pass."

Belgian-based Hermans will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. It is a trader, distributor and rental company for AGRIMAC rough-terrain forklifts, Baoli, BT and Toyota industrial forklifts, and other materials handling equipment.

In 2010, AUSA introduced its semi-industrial masted forklift (SIMF).
In 2010, AUSA introduced its semi-industrial masted forklift (SIMF).
Maresa, Spain-based AUSA center SL's main innovations have been primarily adaptations to accommodate the different markets to which it sells. AUSA claims it is the world's leading manufacturer of rough-terrain, vertical-mast forklifts up to 3,500 kg (6,000 lb.).

Last year, AUSA introduced a new concept based on its rough-terrain masted forklifts - the semi-industrial masted forklift (SIMF), intended for all-terrain and industrial use, and suitable for concrete, quarry, recycling, metal, agriculture and wood industries. Xavier Perramon, AUSA's product strategy manager, says his company recommends the SIMF to customers who use the forklift more "on-highway than off-highway".

"The innovation in that case lies in that the forklift can work in limited access areas, but when the circumstances require, the operator can have the 4WD advantage but without losing the advantages of the compactness and the reduced turning radius of an industrial forklift," he says.
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