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Sideloaders - Moving with the times

Wednesday, 17 Feb 2016 ( #757 )
Special Feature
Valmar VSC50 compact 5T Hippo
The sideloader market seems to be in flux. Changes in sideloader technology and the economy over the past few years have forced the market to re-examine what it really needs in sideloaders. Melissa Barnett looks at what these changes are and what they might mean.

Traditionally, sideloaders have been specialised forklifts designed for moving long, awkward and heavy loads around outside and inside storage areas and through narrow aisles and doorways. Their flat bed and forks located on the side of the chassis allow for greater stability of the load and a more efficient use of tight spaces. Sideloaders are interesting pieces of materials handling equipment – their versatility, space-saving performance and niche market adaptability means that their range of working environments is wide. However, the market for standard sideloaders remains relatively small and slow-growing, with a number of manufacturers including Linde and Terex halting production of sideloaders in the past few years.  

They have traditionally had a strong following in the UK and Europe, but since the global financial crisis, the market has become more challenging.  Mark Timothy, consultant for Valmar Handling in the UK, believes that outside Europe, sideloaders tend to suffer from an image problem. "In Europe, the sideloader is seen as a key specialist machine with a wide variety of applications both inside and outside. In other markets, sideloaders are seen as a ‘European’ product, with interest from global markets as and when specific applications merit."

Hangcha two-way sideloader
Timothy says the standard sideloader market density has never increased to the same degree as that of frontloader machines and is now under pressure from other variant sideloader models. Isa Hua Zhang, marketing manager for Chinese manufacturer Hangcha, concurs and says that in 2016, the market for conventional sideloaders will remain static or may even see a small decrease.  

Federico Zanotti, managing director of Italian manufacturer BP Handling Technologies, believes that a fragmented market could be one reason why sideloaders might be struggling: "Lately, several players have disappeared and new ones have started or restarted operations. The market is concentrating into a few large manufacturers of ‘standard’ sideloaders in volumes, while smaller players like us focus on special machines such as big sideloaders or tailor-made equipment," he explains. The conventional two- way machine continues to hold its own for very heavy loads, with very few four-way or multidirectional sideloaders able to tackle loads over 20 T.

Valmar VSH180 - 18T sideloader working at Outokumpo steel refinery, Sheffield UK
However, Timothy also believes that the conventional/standard sideloader hasn’t had its day yet. "All-in-all, the sideloader, whilst seen by some as a niche machine, has its use in operational utilisation, firmly established as a flexible, compact, narrow-aisle workhorse, with an ability to operate where front-loaders fear to tread." With this confidence in mind, Valmar recently added the 18 T capacity Mammoth to its re-designed standard sideloader range. The Mammoth was built for the steel industry and three have been commissioned for the Outokumpu stainless steel facility in Sheffield, England. The Outokumpu machines have been purpose-designed to handle stainless steel billets to 12 m in length and are equipped with full hydrostatic power-on-demand hydraulic and drive services.

The ‘new’ sideloader

Martin McVicar, managing director of Irish manufacturer Combilift, believes that the definition of a sideloader has changed significantly in the last few years and that the general perception of a sideloader is now much more fluid. Driven by the need to reduce operating costs through better use of space and return on investment as well as safety, ergonomics and emission standards compliance, the conventional two-way sideloader market has been overtaken by four-way and multidirectional sideloaders.

Multidirectional sideloaders can travel sideways as well as forwards and backwards. Pioneered by Combilift, the multidirectional sideloader has outstripped standard sideloader sales, according to McVicar.

Zanotti agrees that while the two-way sideloader market remains almost flat, multidirectional sideloaders have significantly opened up other markets. No longer small and niche, the four-way and multidirectional sideloader market has been constantly growing over the last 15 years to several thousand units per year – taking a sizeable bite out of the conventional counterbalance forklift market.

Hubtex SQ40 working in a cheese making facility - Norway
Hubtex managing director for sales and purchasing Hans-Joachim Finger says: "Compared to conventional sideloaders, the demand for customer-specific multidirectional sideloaders has grown above average in the past few years."

Almost all of the conventional sideloader manufacturers now include a range of four-way and multidirectional sideloader models and the range is growing.

There are subtle differences between four-way and multidirectional sideloaders. A four-way describes the way that the hydraulically actuated front wheels are positioned when travelling. The forklift can travel in a grid type pattern, that is forward and reverse or either right or left with infinite amounts of direction change via the steering wheels. They are best suited to working within a defined racking or storage area that uses a guide rail system to control the direction of travel. The multidirectional truck has all the same attributes as the four-way unit, but has added manoeuvrability, being able to turn in its own length to get in and out of tight areas.

According to Zanotti, technology changes in sideloaders have been determined by two main drivers: The evolution of component technology generally applicable to all forklifts such as CANBUS electronically controlled hydraulics, multidirectional steering systems, environmentally friendly IC engines and vector control inverters; and, secondly, product design innovation.

Finger believes that new technology has changed the role of sideloaders in the workplace. "It becomes more apparent that sideloaders are not only used to handle transport requirements but must also be integrated into the production process. To do this, the vehicles are equipped more often with purpose-built driver assistance systems or individual accessory equipment," he says. Hubtex introduced its HX steering system for electric multidirectional sideloaders last year. The technology allows a smooth transition from lengthwise to crosswise without the driver having to stop the vehicle, reducing running time, costs and tyre wear.

Finger adds that in his experience, the market is growing because specific vehicle technologies can be transferred to other application areas and demand for vehicles that can be adapted to meet the individual requirements of the customer.

BP Handling Technologies' BIG sideloader
Sideloaders are the chameleon of materials handling equipment - adept at being modified to suit customers’ requirements. Zanotti says B-P’s most challenging modification was for the underground ammunition facility at Mandai West Military camp run by the Singapore Ministry of Defence. The facility stores ammunition loads in ready-to-move standard containers. B-P’s brief was to supply eight, 35 T HT35ESL electric sideloaders. The ESLs are custom-designed, electric four-way, symmetric double-cabin, container-handling sideloaders with spreader bars, triplex masts, third-row lift height and are explosion and electro-magnetically compatible to required military standards. Zanotti believes these are the largest, most complex electric sideloader ever built.

Orlaco 7" split screen monitor with front and rear views
Laurens van der Rijt, senior account manager with Dutch camera and systems manufacturer, Orlaco, believes that because of the types of loads they are regularly required to shift, vision in sideloaders is more limited than for other load vehicles. They are often "a big, moving blind spot", he says.

Orlaco AMOS camera mounted on sideloader forks
"The interesting thing about sideloaders is that every situation is different. The choice of our camera and RadarEye active detection system is often determined by situation. Both the sideloader type and the load, as well as the surroundings in which the sideloader operates, can vary enormously," adds van der Rijt. Orlaco supplies camera-monitor systems to a number of sideloader OEMs including Combilift, Votex and Bulmor. The systems are forward- and rear-mounted and also provide vision on the side of the forklift and use cameras at wider angles - 102° (front/rear) and 118° (rear) on sideloaders. Due to the wide angle, the driver is given the largest possible view of the surroundings. Monitors are placed in the cabin and automatically switch to rear-view when reversing. Cameras are also mounted on the forkcarriage, with their location being determined by type of vehicle and load

Combilift’s McVicar says that changes in sideloader design and technology have been customer-led, believing the poor economy forced many companies to pay more attention to their total cost of ownership and product utilisation. He believes customers are looking for a materials handling solution which is versatile – one piece of equipment which can replace a combination of trucks, with the added benefit of reducing fleet outlay and running costs.

Combilift C4000 at work at South West Vauxhall spares
Dave Marshal, director of South West Vauxhall Spares, Swindon, UK says that the company has increased the number of vehicles that can be stored at its premises nearly fourfold since purchasing a Combilift C4000 multidirectional sideloader and new 6 m high racking bays – 144 cars can now be stored onsite compared to the previous 40. The C4000 replaces a traditional sideloader and a number of counterbalance forklifts.

"Cars are a relatively awkward load to handle and the C4000 was modified accordingly. Guided aisles were fixed at floor level, slightly wider than the sideloader, making good use of every spare inch. It also makes it very quick for the C4000 to enter in sideways mode, exit and travel down the sides, removing and depositing a car in just minutes," says Marshal.

While they continue to manufacture conventional two-way sideloaders, multidirectional forklifts are Combilift’s core offering and, following demand from specific customers, it has added four-way sideloaders to the original C series. In fact, Combilift has taken the multidirectional sideloader one step further and designed a compact counterbalance forklift with multidirectional capabilities – the Combi-CB, a design innovation which won an FLTA Victor Ludorum award in 2012.  

McVicar believes that traditional two-way sideloaders will remain a niche while multidirectional forklifts will become the norm. This is borne out, he says, by the growth of Combilift over the past five years to the point where it is building a new 46,000 sq m production facility in Monaghan, Ireland.

The good news is that the sideloader as a materials handling option is not leaving the market anytime soon – in fact, the choices just keep getting better.

Additional information by our contributors:

BP Handling Technologies
:  website
Orlaco Products. B.V.
: website
HUBTEX Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG
: website
Combilift Ltd: website
Valmar Handling: website
HC Forklift (Hangcha): website

And Special Thanks:

EnerSys:  website
Douglas Battery:  website

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