Local Feature story

Focus: Telescopic handlers

Thursday, 10 February 2005 ( #195 )
There is a special materials handling customer whose work thrives in secrecy, depends on superb organisation and benefits from reliable equipment. So what type of equipment does that customer need? Are they that different? Christine Liew reports.

Telehandlers 101

Telescopic handlers, also known as telehandlers or rough-terrain, extended-reach forklifts, play an important role on many construction sites and farms.

The telehandler enables a trained operator to place heavy loads precisely on target and do the work of several people using less sophisticated equipment. The versatility of these machines sees them performing various tasks from lifting, shuttling and placing materials, and serving as aerial lift platforms to digging, collecting rubbish and loading hay.

Contractors and farmers appreciate the versatility of these machines because they can perform multiple tasks and replace vertical-mast forklifts, tool carriers and smaller cranes. They can lift heavy loads and carry and place them precisely, despite rough, rutted terrain common on construction sites and farms.

Modified for Military

The telehandlers' benefits are why the military uses the machines too. Manitou, the world's largest manufacturer of telehandlers (according to Manitou BF, one in three telehandlers is a Manitou), has supplied these manoeuvrable machines modified for the military in more than 50 countries since 1981.

A Forkliftaction.com News source said most military telehandlers' applications were similar to telehandlers used on construction sites except when it came to lifting, carrying and storing ammunition.

"Military telehandlers and their attachments are modified to adapt them to the materials they handle. Some telehandlers are used for any element of logistics for the barracks while others are used for ammunition," he said.

"When they go to restricted zones to store ammunition and weapons, they cannot be exposed to the risk of explosion or fire.

"There are different levels of risk here. Using the terminology for the oil and gas industry, there are levels for 'normal environment' and 'zones one to three'. The higher the zones you go to, you have to make sure no sparks are coming from the exhaust pipe.

"So these machines have to be explosion proof to decrease the risk of the forklift causing an explosion. This is similar to telehandlers used in the oil and gas industry."

Manitou has supplied military telehandlers to around 30 countries over the past 10 years. The telehandlers it has supplied to the US Army since 2003 have lift heights ranging from four metres to 17 metres and were modified to adapt to their different military applications.

When NTP Forklifts Australia won an AUD10 million (USD7.6 million) contract to supply 25 Manitou 7149 T rough terrain telescopic handlers to the Australian Defence Force last year, modifications had to be made on the machines (Forkliftaction.com News #149).

Modifications included increasing ground clearance to allow the machines to work in up to one metre of water, wheel and tyre adjustments for working in soft sand and explosion proofing.

UK telehandler manufacturer JCB won a GBP1 million (USD1.8 million) contract to supply the British Royal Air Force (RAF) with 27 Loadall telehandlers in 2002.

Most of the 525-50 telehandlers, which were used to move ammunition and weapons, had been built to meet RAF requirements. Two had to be modified to work in extremely cold temperatures while each telehandler had specially-fitted lifting points to enable air lifting by helicopter (Forkliftaction.com News #69).

Terex has supplied the TX51-19M telehandler to the US Marine Corps. The machine is a TX51-19, modified at the TerexLift facility in Italy (Forkliftaction.com News #45).

The US manufacturer raised the TX51-19's frame, engine mount and operator cab to achieve the necessary water-fording height and fitted larger, all-terrain wheels. The original Perkins 700 Series, 63-horsepower engine was upgraded to 80-horsepower. The modifications increased the telehandler's weight from 4.3 tonnes to 6.1 tonnes.

After the telehandler was tested, further modifications were made to eliminate hydraulic leaks, reduce its complexity, cost and assembly time, and increase its dependability, serviceability and circuit life.

Securing the contract

So is it a long, arduous process for companies to secure and finalise military contracts? Forkliftaction.com News's source at Manitou was philosophical.

"Any public contract is like that. The whole process also varies - with some it could take a month and with others, it could take up to several years," he said.

"Some military customers don't require tests at all. They'll just inspect the standard equipment and that will be it. Some test it over a year because they need to test it for different applications and in several different environments.

"So whether they require testing depends on the type of equipment, for what application and in which environment."

When Terex was contracted to supply 573 telehandlers to the US Marine Corps, the Marines put four of the vehicles through rigorous testing. During that time, up to 300,000 tonnes of material were moved. Post testing period, Terex made modifications to the machines.

The customer

In regular business dealings, whether or not one secures a contract is dependent on several factors. The most common are good price, good product and the right contacts.

So, are military customers any different?

"Military is a big word but it's not that different from selling to a big, private organisation," Forkliftaction.com News's source said.

"It is the right equipment with proper price, proper presentation and the right information to the concerned people that would sell," he said. "You could have the best equipment but, with bad lobbying, you wouldn't sell."

When JCB was contracted to supply the British RAF with Loadall telehandlers, the RAF said in a statement that JCB's equipment "afforded the correct mix of value for money, operational capability and future supportability".

Different countries, different colours

Telehandlers supplied for military customers have to be repainted to suit their environment in the battlefield even though the machines are for general handling and logistical duties.

"Only the colour changes but the machine is the same. It depends on the countries. Naturally for Saudi Arabia and desert areas, it is beige and in greener areas, it is green," the source said.

JCB's 525-50 Loadalls for the British RAF were painted in "NATO green".

Telehandler for the future

The American Rental Association predicts:

"In the next year or two, users may begin to call for high-reach forklifts with high-travel speed suspension systems - machines with the ability to drive 50mph (80.4kph) on roads for travel between job sites without trailering. This type of forklift already has been made for the military. You just flip a switch and change the suspension for driving the telehandler from one job to another."
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