By Allan Leibowitz
MODEX had a record attendance this year
The rapid growth of electric forklifts was very much in evidence at MODEX 2018, with most manufacturers showing electric models, but nowhere was it more obvious than among the plethora of battery and charger exhibitors.
Navitas Systems president Mil Ovan, on hand to extol the virtues of lithium-ion technology, stresses that not all lithium batteries are equal, and cites the control circuit as an example. He says some rivals use a cheap off-the shelf controller board while Navitas has a custom computer built into its batteries.
Navitas used MODEX to promote its recent aftermarket sales agreement with Hyster-Yale. Under the deal, Hyster and Yale dealers will sell Starlifter lithium-ion forklift batteries which have full communications integration with their electric sit-down forklifts.
Battery giant Exide Technologies launched its GNB LiFTFORCE LPX lithium-ion battery in the US at MODEX. The LiFTFORCE LPX can charge in just 15 minutes, up to eight times faster than a traditional lead-acid battery, and provides increased cycle life and lower maintenance requirements for Class I, II, and III forklifts as well as automated guided vehicles.
The LiFTFORCE LPX was first introduced in Europe in 2013 under the brand name GNB Sonnenschein Lithium.
EnerSys showed off its NexSys battery line, dubbed 'Lithium lite'. The batteries, which use Thin Plate Pure Lead (TPPL) technology, have performance similar to lithium-ion, according to Chad Uplinger, vice president - sales and service, motive power, Americas. Some models can be charged in just under an hour and work for up to 16 hours.
"With the expanded NexSys battery line, operators of Class I, II and III vehicle fleets now have a virtually maintenance-free power solution and the means to lower their total cost of operation," he says.
Hawker also displayed its thin plate battery which Dean Portney, vice president - sales and marketing, says is differentiated seeing it has "very high density because it utilises a lot of the surface area, is very receptive to charge and is virtually maintenance-free". These batteries have none of the risks associated with lithium, contain no hazardous materials and are 99% recyclable, he explains.
"Operationally, you can plug it in as frequently as needed, it's resistant to high discharge rates, you don't need more than one battery per truck and it provides high productivity."
Hawker is also due to launch a Li-ion range, which he says will be different from other offerings.
Plug Power showed its fuel cell batteries which Jose Luis Crespo, vice president of global sales, described as drop-in replacements for lead acid batteries. Fuel cells differ radically from current lead acid alternatives, producing electricity continuously as long as they are fueled with hydrogen.
"The value that we sell to our customers is efficiency - we save them time by not having to change batteries and wait to charge the batteries, and we save floor space that it takes to have a spare battery," he says.
More electric models
Electrics were out in force among the mainstream forklift exhibitors, with Manitou debuting the all-new ME range. Designed alongside the MI range that goes up to 10,000 kg, the electric forklifts, intended mostly for indoor use, have a maximum capacity of 5,000 kg.
Jean-Pierre Guirand, Manitou's vice president, global industrial sales, says the models, although new to North America, are already well established in Europe. "We wanted to be very firmly installed in our home market, Europe, before moving in here," he says, adding that North America represents the biggest opportunity outside of its home continent.
Also new was the AETJ range of electric reach platforms. The large model, AETJ 49, can reach almost 17 m and can work in the tightest spaces.
Hyster is also embracing electrics, with testing under way on high-capacity lift trucks with electric motors. The company suggests that, in the near future, ports and heavy industry will be able to electrify their Big Truck fleets, producing zero emissions while achieving comparable full shift performance.
Steven LeFevers, vice president, motive power and telematics, says customers previously had limited choices - IC or electric. "You're now seeing more lead acid alternatives and this whole motive power narrative is being discussed more," he says.
Lithium is a forerunner to power Hyster's next big thing, but the relationship with Nuvera Fuel Cells means hydrogen fuel cells will also be in the running.
Hyundai is developing its first lithium-ion truck which should be released in the northern summer, according to Paul Bilson, marketing and strategic business manager for the US division of the Korean manufacturing giant.
Meanwhile, Hyundai's electric range is growing, with models like the cushion-tyred BC, three-wheeled BC line and extensive range of rider forklifts on offer. But that doesn't mean Hyundai is turning its back on IC models. "The IC products today are cleaner than they've ever been and there are certain applications where the electric ... are just not quite to the comfort level of the customers," he says.
Raymond showed its new lithium-powered 8250 walkie pallet truck. It has a 24 v lithium battery pack but is also available with a standard power pack as a cheaper option.
The highlight of the Raymond display was its Virtual Reality Simulator which picked up the MHI Innovation Award for Best New Innovation. The system was in demand among booth visitors who were able to experience simulated skills learning on a real forklift.
The system allows an operator to enter a simulated warehousing environment using an existing Raymond forklift by plugging into the Simulation Port. At the flick of a switch, the vehicle goes back into normal operation.
There was also strong interest in the training simulator at the Hyster stand.
Landoll used MODEX to show a range of its Bendi and Drexel trucks. With a focus on narrow-aisle solutions, most of the models on show were electric. Sales manager Ed Campbell notes a move to lithium, but points out that "the truck doesn't care if you put in a lithium battery or lead acid".
"We are really promoting lithium because we think it's better for the truck, it's better for the customer and it's better for the environment."
Campbell says while Landoll doesn't sell batteries, it is aware of all the suppliers out there and is confident about compatibility with his trucks.
Another niche product maker, CombiLift, also saw strong interest in warehouse solutions. Regional representative Jim Cox says the Aisle-Master line is particularly popular, with its electric versions economical as well as flexible. He recognises the threat from automated warehouse solutions and hints that the product range will soon be extended with automatic guidance add-ons.
Hoist Liftruck has also been focusing on electric trucks recently, according to Stu Jacover, general manager of the eastern division. He notes recent additions including an electric terminal tractor and an electric version of the extendable FR truck. "Customers will also see our electrification continue from our Class 5 pneumatic product, from 10 T all the way through to 18 T," he says, adding that the move is motivated by tightening environmental legislation and increased demand. "People are taking a serious look at electric," he stresses.
Hoist, says Jacover, is power-agnostic, "so we are monitoring the (lithium vs lead acid battle) closely" and in the meanwhile, it continues to use "traditional technologies". "However, we see the benefits of lithium-ion: short charge and long run times, but economically, it's still not super viable."
Electric power is a key element of the Genkinger range, with international sales head Stefan Luhn lamenting that the new four-way stacker was delayed at the port and not able to be shown at MODEX. The company has also recently added a multidirectional sideloader.
Luhn says MODEX was an exploratory exercise, with Genkinger testing its new direction of custom-designed products and looking for dealers to aid its growth in the US market.
Accessories, attachments and parts
Also looking to grow its market is Australia-based GEM One, with director Garry Squire keen to demonstrate the new Sapphire V2 LCD product. "This has more functionality than previous versions, with greater screen size, greater capability and the ability to add in more options such as cameras, scanners and other inputs," he explains. With the increased focus on telematics and data integration, GEM's customers achieve broad efficiencies, increased driver safety as well as workforce and equipment optimisation, he explains.
Squire sees greater adoption of telematics in the US and notes that dealers are managing their rental fleets more effectively and "managing their contracts better by knowing what the hours (of use) are out in the field and managing service better - when it's needed".
TVH America's vice president, sales & marketing, Dirk von Holt, is seeing a healthy, growing market in the US. But he concedes that the move to electric-drive vehicles is shrinking the parts market. "Technology has been changing the game: whether it's DC to AC technology on the electric vehicles or the move from internal combustion to electric vehicles, the number of parts which are consumed is going down," he says.
Concern over energy was not limited to forklift manufacturers. Peter Drake, senior vice president - operations Americas at Cascade, says: "Energy efficiency is something that we're focused heavily on. Certainly, as we reduce the energy usage (of attachments), it's better for the customer and there's less demand on the truck and less maintenance. We're focused on reducing the maintenance frequency, which is clear in a number of products."
Besides energy efficiency, the safety of goods was another key focus, with Cascade showing off a number of innovative solutions including the J-Series Carton Clamps. Drake explains that the use of Hydraulic Force Control is one of Cascade's valuable damage-reduction options.
To meet the growing need for telematics data, Cascade also showed its mobile weighing solutions and previewed its Sensor Forks, complete with cameras.
Next week: the threat of tariffs
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