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Attachments offer unique solutions

Tuesday, 1 Jul 2014 ( #674 )
Special Feature
Long Reach's forge clamp
Whether they are standard or made-to-measure, forklift attachments are one of the most design-driven forklift accessories. This customisation creates unique challenges, which Melissa Barnett explored with some of the world’s leading attachment manufacturers.  

Producing the best tool for the job appears to be the mantra for attachment design. Because each application is different, hours are spent analysing the needs of the customer and fine-tuning design before testing and manufacture. Brian Scally, spokesman for US-based Unit Load Handling, says the primary challenge is to ascertain the material to be handled and the customer’s needs. "Functionality is not the issue. The challenge is to focus the particular solution to meet the load and operational requirements in such a way that (it) provides the customer a better tool. Better tools lead to operational efficiency – the end-users’ ultimate objective."

Cascade's pulp bale clamp
Kevin Kreiter, vice-president of corporate engineering and marketing for the US’s Cascade Corporation, believes that designing and manufacturing forklift attachments is based around the highly specialised needs of the customer and that Cascade seldom delivers a ‘cookie-cutter’ product. "We listen to the customer’s specific and ever-changing needs," he says. "Each application has unique challenges and Cascade’s job is to understand these challenges and to design a product that will maximise a customer’s efficiency. The most critical factor is to understand what the customer is handling, how they plan to handle it, and how to do it effectively," he adds.

Even when an attachment might be considered ‘standard’, the ability to customise is important. Kurt Barbier, spokesman for Belgian company Little Giant Europe NV, believes the challenge with standard equipment is to be up-to-date with product development – always keep one step ahead, and maintain a balance between the cost of ownership, price and quality. "Because we produce all the parts for our equipment ourselves, we have no limits and can design the attachment exactly as we want it," he says.

Producing the best tool means applying exacting engineering standards. Stefan Marschner, managing director of Australian company Attollo, explains that it is important to match the capacity of the attachment with the load to be transported and the rated capacity of the forklift’s residual capacity. Attachment mass, centre of gravity and the effective thickness of attachments are paramount in achieving this.

Balzoni's clamp for transporting white goods
Paola Baldini, marketing manager for Italian manufacturer Bolzoni Group, agrees: "We have more than 40 engineers in our group and more than 50% of them are engaged in R&D. When designing forklift attachments, the emphasis is on safe operation, productivity and damage-free handling." She believes this is achieved through good design - such as better visibility around the attachment, as well as lighter weights for higher pay-load, improved operational speed for increased productivity and customised attachment design for damage-free handling of loads.

Rationalising the cost

A customised product is always going to cost more to produce than the standard option. For the attachment manufacturer, increased costs can be incurred through site visits, preliminary engineering and concept, problem solving and the manufacture of a prototype. Manufacturing is hands-on and one-off.

Unit Load Handling's pipe clamp used for the oil and gas industry
Scally says that customers will usually have defined the requirement and the cost/benefit analysis framework before they sit down with the attachment manufacturer. The rationalisation of the purchase will be supported by clearly defined functionality, features and benefits of the required attachment. Unit Load Handling recently designed an attachment that reduced the work done by four people in six hours to one person in two hours on a 3 T stand-on rider forklift. The job involved loading plywood slave boards into automated palletising machines. Stacks of 50 boards were carried by forklift to the loading lanes where they were inserted one at a time - five sets of boards per machine with over 40 machines on the line. The boards were not all the same dimension, nor were the stacks symmetrical. Unit Load Handling’s bespoke attachment enabled the boards to be lifted, clamped, squared for stacking, rotated 90°, side-shifted, then separated and inserted into the board lanes, five at a time – all by one person in a two-hour timeframe, greatly reducing injury risk and labour time.

Baldini believes customers pay for and get the expertise of specialist engineers, thereby ensuring safety, stability and optional functionality of the attachment. Bolzoni specialises in attachments for the white goods and paper roll industries and its attachments are designed to limit damage to the product and maximise load identification and speedy delivery. "Electronic technology in Bolzoni’s clamp attachment uses load sensors and computer analysis to identify load configuration and detect load behaviour when clamped," she explains. "The system helps to manage the clamping force between the arms in order to apply the most suitable clamping force and limit damage to goods."
Bolzoni paper clamp attachment

Long Reach, a division of Allied Systems, in the US specialises in designing and manufacturing attachments for large forklifts in heavy industry. It is often a harsh work environment with unique challenges for attachments, but, as Joe Marfia, technical publications manager, says, no application is too challenging. "We have a reputation for manufacturing rugged and reliable equipment." Long Reach recently designed clamps for a major open die forging company in the US Midwest. The forge clamps were designed with specialised hydraulic packing and seals to withstand temperatures of up to 2,400°F when removing heated billets of steel from the forge. The superheated steel billets are then transported to a large hydraulic hammer for shaping. The operator uses the attachment to manipulate the hot billet into the desired shape before taking it to the milling area for final shaping and specification.

Long Reach's forge clamp for removing hot metal billets
Graham Strowe, general manager of Attollo, believes that costs can be rationalised by the reduction of manual labour during operation, increased safety and improved speed of delivery that can be achieved by using the right attachment solution. Attollo recently put this into practice for an Australian company which was tasked with unloading bundles of tubing with an unusually extended load centre. The tubes, varying in diameter from 75 mm to 150 mm and up to 6 m long, were being dragged from the shipping container by a forklift with chain slings, and then gathered by a second forklift. The operation took three people and two forklifts and required one of the operators to enter the shipping container to attach the slings. The forklift attachment designed by Attollo reduces that to one forklift and its operator. The custom-designed attachment has probes which protrude from the forklift carriage and enter the tubes from one end to approximately half-way, allowing the load to be secured and transported in one action.

Little Giant attachment for transporting shopping carts
Barbier says that costs at Little Giant are offset by the fact that it manufactures all components in-house. "We can design and produce special equipment, particularly for intensive/heavy-duty applications, for standard prices due to rapid adaptation, response and years of experience," he explains. "Because our attachments are not manufactured by automation, Little Giant can accommodate a customer’s wishes by changing the design of standard attachments and supplying one-of-a-kind solutions. We can design the attachment exactly as we and the customer want it." For example, a recent challenge for Little Giant was to produce an attachment that would carry oddly shaped concrete blocks (acropodes). The interlocking acropodes are lifted by a 58 T wheel loader with a specially designed attachment in place of the bucket and put into position as sea bed protection in Abu Dhabi. "The original order was for one attachment but we ended up supplying six," adds Barbier.

Other considerations

All attachment design must follow strict ISO standards, as well as AS2359 in Australia, Machine Directives in Europe and ITSDF B56.1 and ISO 36911 in the US. The standards stipulate that operators be trained and certified on any forklift with an attachment and such training be site-specific. Furthermore, accurate attachment specifications must be provided to the forklift OEM for any add-on device. Forklift data plates must reflect the additions.

Little Giant suction clamp attachment for concrete or metal slabs
Most of the attachment manufacturers that News spoke with encourage their customers to have suitable training – either with them or with a registered training provider. Cascade provides an extensive driver training and education program on its attachments, as does Unit Load Handling, which also has "train-the-trainer" sessions.

Kreiter at Cascade believes that the global market for newly emerging forklift and attachment manufacturers is a constantly changing environment and is very regional in nature.

Scally believes that the lines are blurring between domestically produced US attachments and foreign imports, saying that many current foreign offerings of front-end forklift equipment are nearly identical to those domestically produced. He says some are even superior. "Asian brands have (adopted) the designs of market leaders - even to the extent (that) some parts are interchangeable. Materials and processes are very similar. Asian manufacturers have ‘tooled-up’ to make their product competitive," he explains. He adds, "Already, the major European and USA makers are using foreign suppliers/manufacturers to lower costs. In future, more of that will be the norm, leaving little distinction among the players."

Applications for forklift attachments are apparently limited only by your imagination. With proper consultation, intelligent engineering and flexible manufacturing, the customer can lift, lower, turn, move side-ways and retrieve just about any load from any situation with the appropriate attachment.

Additional information by our contributors:

Little Giant Europe NV
: website
Cascade Corporation: website, Cascade ShopFront
Unit Load Handling Systems, Inc.
: website, ULH ShopFront
Attollo Australia Pty Ltd.
: website
Long Reach, a division of Allied Systems
: website
: website, Bolzoni Auramo ShopFront

Since 2000, the News team has been keeping business people informed with independent industry news, global and local stories, coverage of brand & dealer developments, end-user stories, new technologies and products, corporate moves, safety columns and market reports.

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