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Machinery Storage & Transportation

Thursday, 4 Nov 2004 ( #181 )
Special Feature
For many forklift end-users, buying a machine is a fairly straightforward process: contact a dealer, negotiate a price, arrange financing and receive the goods. For dealers and manufacturers, there are many more steps in the process, not the least of which is product delivery. This month DAMIEN TOMLINSON looks at the transportation and storage of materials handling machinery. This week his first feature highlights the transportation of forklifts – how new machines get from A to B. The second part of this special report, to be published on November 25, will provide expert commentary and practical tips on how to store materials handling equipment.

Machinery transport really is a thankless business. Salespeople are constantly on the phone chasing orders, truck drivers haul day and night to ever-tightening schedules, bean-counters apply pressure to reduce costs and all the while, the customer is tapping his toe, waiting for the delivery. Worse still, the delivery process is judged by how little is said about it!

Whether by rail, truck or ship, the world’s forklift makers are gradually making the delivery of machinery faster, more efficient and, ultimately, more cost-effective. One of the major initiatives in this regard is making machines closer to where they will be used. Consequently, manufacturing plants are appearing in strategic locations around the world as the materials handling industry adapts to accommodate what is truly a global business.

Another significant impact in recent years that has changed the nature of machinery transport is containerisation and the mushrooming of fully containerised ports around the world. The materials handling industry, like any other equipment or vehicle manufacturing operation, can certainly thank containerisation and bulk shipping for its global penetration.

Regardless of whether a forklift travels the high seas or not, every machine, at some stage, must be transported by rail, or by road on the back of a truck, either across the country or across town.

The use of rail as opposed to road will continue to be weighed in terms of speed of delivery time, cost and logistically how well rail links the manufacturing plant to the end user.

If the industry was simply concerned with the speed of delivery then it would be easier and quicker to transport all new forklifts by air. But the weight of the machines makes the cost of air-mailing machinery prohibitive. It is truck carriage that frequently gives manufacturers ultimate control and contact with the shipment, and delivery by truck offers door-to-door convenience in a cost-effective way.

Methods for truck-based transport vary greatly depending on the size and configuration of the machine being delivered. Mind you, when it comes to reliable road transport, there are trucks and then there are trucks…

The Raymond Corporation is one of the USA’s oldest materials handling equipment manufacturers and has been transporting its warehouse forklifts and other machinery by truck to customers for more than 75 years. It’s a company that knows what it wants in truck delivery performance.

Raymond Corporation spokesman Kevin Trenga said the company focuses on minimising damage to its forklifts while in-transit by using trucks with enclosed trailers.

"We’ve found it’s the best way to ensure our products arrive at the customer’s door in the best condition," he said. "The other way is to transport machines on a flatbed or lowboy truck-trailer, but you have risks associated with the weather, so we prefer to use covered tractor-trailers."

In the US Raymond has manufacturing plants in Greene, New York, Muscatine, Iowa and in Brantford, Canada supplying its range of machines to the world. Fleets of trucks transport machinery from these plants to Raymond’s network of dealerships in a never-ending logistical cycle.

Trenga said Raymond uses various road transport companies as freight contractors, but rail was sometimes used as well, "depending on the product and where the machine needs to go". He said that rail transport was sometimes used for bulk shipments, but only as specified by the customer.

Some of Raymond’s machines require customisation to allow smooth delivery. For example, some of its taller lifts, such as the Swing-Reach Truck or its tall order pickers, are partially disassembled and packed into crates for shipment. The crated lifts are reassembled at the customer’s local dealership as part of the delivery preparation process.

While road transport appears to be the most flexible delivery mode, how does it cope with products which lift from 16,000 to 120,000 tons?

Taylor Machine Works is based in Louisville, Mississippi and is a family company of a similar vintage to Raymond. It deals with the challenge of shifting massive Taylor machines every day.

Teresa Ktsanes, daughter of Taylor chairman WA "Bill" Taylor, said the movement of Taylor machines is always done by flatbed truck, mainly because the machines are too big to be covered.

"If we cover them, they are at risk of wind damage, and they simply won’t fit inside a tractor-trailer. So, we complete 90 per cent of our deliveries by truck and rely on the carrier’s own insurance to cover any damage, if it occurs," she said.

Taylor’s range includes some of the biggest mobile materials handling machines on the planet, including rubber-tyred gantry cranes (RTG). Truck transport copes with only a small part of the company’s product offering.

While machines from 16,000-30,000 pound capacities can be trucked across the country, heavier machines are broken down, crated and reassembled at their destination.

From its Louisville base Taylor supplies trucks to customers around the world. The Mississippi location means that transporting machines anywhere in the US can take from 3-5 days. Depending on the international destination and the type of machine ordered, machines exit the US from various container ports around the country.

While the transportation of forklifts and other materials handling machinery for manufacturers is a slick, predictable operation, honed over years of refining, moving a forklift from one site to another for the countless forklift dealers and end-users only happens occasionally, and the process is fraught with danger.

Peter Cammisa, sales manager at CT Packaging Systems, Inc in Cheshire, Connecticut, said while forklifts seemed like hardy machines, they were very sensitive to the elements.

CT Packaging Systems provides shrink-wrapping systems for oddly-shaped objects such as forklifts for transport or long-term storage. Its shrink-wrapping products are designed to protect machinery from the elements in-transit. By using material that conforms to the shape of the forklift, users can ensure their products arrive in good condition.

"Rain is a forklift’s biggest enemy – its electrical systems are very sensitive to moisture, and they can malfunction if exposed to rain or snow," he said. "If your forklift’s microprocessor fries due to weather exposure, your warranty will probably not cover it, and you’ll be forced to pay hundreds of dollars to repair the damage."

Cammisa said there were several precautions that should be taken before attempting any form of machinery transportation. If Mother Nature could not be trusted, it was the forklift owner’s responsibility to take care.

"You could use tarps to keep water out, but it’s very hard to get those materials to conform to the odd shapes forklifts come in," he said. "Also, once you’re on the road, wind will cause the tarp to flap, which can damage the paintwork, and they’re not 100 per cent waterproof, either."

Raymond Corporation uses CT Packaging’s services for international orders where moisture, rust and fumigation of pests can affect the trucks.

Cammisa said the transport of machinery was "definitely not" a simple procedure.

"Regardless of how you do it, transplanting a forklift from one place to another can be a stressful exercise, and an expensive lesson, if it’s not done properly."

In the second feature on Transportation and Storage on November 25 we will pick up the issue of protecting machinery from the elements, and delve into the issue of how to best store forklift trucks.
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