STAXX is doubling the size of its production site
China's forklift manufacturers are embracing advanced production techniques and using R&D to improve their offerings, as Allan Leibowitz
China's forklift market remains one of the most vibrant, with sales exceeding 500,000 units for the first time last year, after rising 34.2% in 2017 to peak at 497,000 units.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that four Chinese companies are currently listed among the top 15 global forklift manufacturers, two of them - Anhui Forklift Truck Group and Hangcha Group - in the top 10.
Chinese forklift manufacturing has been stimulated by growing exports on the one hand (although the future has been clouded by a trade war with the United States) and rising domestic demand.
The export focus and growing collaboration with western materials handling giants have led to dramatic improvements in Chinese-built forklifts.
Global-Power's Tony Shomura
Tony Shomura, vice general manager of Global-Power, a Chinese subsidiary of Toyota Industries Group, cites the once-poor image of Chinese engines as an example. In the past, he says, these were characterised by oil leaks and smoky emissions. "But recently, oil leaks are very rare . and the latest engines have almost no smoke, bringing up the environmental standard and quality significantly."
Most manufacturers have raised the quality of their builds by improving their production techniques.
Among those who have invested in their production facilities is EP Equipment, where many operations have been automated with robots. "This improves not only the quality of structure, but also the appearance of the trucks," explains Bennit Schmieder, EP Equipment's European regional director and director of sales and marketing. He adds that significant expansion of production facilities will see EP's output grow from 50,000 units in 2017 to 100,000 this year.
Xilin has also switched to using automatic equipment to replace the traditional production process. According to Jiang Chu, president of parent company Ningbo Ruyi, Xilin relies on "automatic robots to weld the products to make sure of the quality and enhance efficiency".
Hangcha, China's second-largest manufacturer, this year added two highly intelligent production lines. Board assistant Wei Wang explains that the new lines, one for electric forklifts and the other for warehouse machines, have boosted the company's annual production capacity to 50,000 electric industrial vehicles.
STAXX is in the process of doubling the size of its current production site, according to Thomas Wang, export director. The extra space will accommodate production lines for the assembly of electric pallet trucks to speed up production and improve efficiency.
MIMA expects export demand for its multi-directional reach truck.
A single robot has already made a difference at MIMA, where export director Roger Qiu says the factory has been enlarged by around 300 sqm, enabling the assembly of an extra three units a week.
South China Heavy Industry (SOCMA) has improved its production process with a range of new equipment on the production line, including two eight-axis welding robots, two submerged arc welding machines, a CNC flame cutting machine system and enhancement to the coating line.
Rather than expanding its facilities, Global-Power has improved its production efficiency using the experience of the Toyota Industries Group production and quality control, Shomura says. "So, we can produce double than before utilising the same facility."
Focus on R&D
Heli 1-3.5 T lithium battery forklift
Two years ago, Zhang Dejin, president of the Chinese Industrial Truck Institution, noted that industry competition was increasing, placing new requirements on Chinese forklift manufacturers. One of these, he said, was the need to enhance enterprises' R&D ability.
At Anhui Heli Co, China's largest manufacturer, there is a strong focus on industrial design. In addition to its national industrial design centre, Heli boasts 10 professional technology research institutes and a pilot trial production centre. "Since 2012, with the help of consulting companies . Heli has successfully established IPD and ITD systems, and standardised operations, technology development, product development, gradual systemisation and processes, to ensure that the development work is forward-looking," a spokesperson explains.
Heli continues to invest heavily in R&D to ensure innovation-led development and "actively participates in the formulation of global industrial vehicle industry specifications and standards . to enhance the global competitiveness of products and services".
Hangcha's Wang says his company's R&D drive includes a strong focus on the improvement of the testing capability of components and whole machines.
Xilin's CQDH18C reach truck.
Another impetus for R&D is the heightened Chinese environmental protection regulation, which is prompting the application of new energy solutions, Xilin's Chu explains.
A total of 8,681 lithium battery forklifts were sold in China in 2017, according to the China Forklift Association. While still accounting for a small proportion of the overall electric forklift fleet, lithium battery forklifts are growing rapidly, with sales volumes doubling in 2018 and continuing to escalate this year.
Schmieder claims EP is the leading manufacturer for Li-Ion equipment. "More than 40% of our production already features Li-ion batteries. This volume of Li-ion production is unique in the market. All of our development resources focus now on purpose-built, Li-ion equipment with unique features for the operator like increased legroom, higher performance and opportunity charging," he explains.
Similarly, MIMA's Qiu notes that more clients are interested in lithium-ion forklifts. "We started to promote Li-ion battery forklifts at the beginning of this year."
An eye on exports
EP will produce 100,000 units this year.
Despite the current trade war with the United States, Chinese manufacturers are still actively pursuing export growth.
"Traditionally, EP Equipment has a very high export share," says Schmieder. "We invest not only in new products, but also in strong local organisations to support our international dealer network."
Heli, meanwhile, is maintaining its internationalisation strategy. "HELI invested in HELI Europe (France) in 2014, established HELI Southeast Asia (Thailand) in 2018, and now HELI is planning to invest in HELI North America. Meanwhile, HELI has accelerated its joint venture cooperation with international leading enterprises, like establishing a rental company with Jungheinrich Group in Shanghai and establishing Transmission Technology Company with ZF Company in Hefei, through 'going out' and 'bringing in', to accelerate the pace of enterprise internationalisation," a marketing executive explains.
Hangcha rough-terrain forklift
Hangcha also remains committed to export growth, according to Wang. To achieve its ambitions, the company is determined to produce competitive and value-added products, establish overseas marketing subsidiaries and "directly carry out in-depth technical and service cooperation with agents".
Of course, the current US tariffs are placing pressure on Chinese imports, undermining the traditional cost advantage.
For SOCMA, the secret to export success is innovation and "speaking with products", according to Sunny Xu, international market sales manager. These products, including LNG and electric heavy-duty forklifts and lithium-ion models, were shown off at the recent BICES 2019 trade show in Beijing.
MIMA's Qiu is optimistic about export growth, especially for the special products in the range including a unique narrow-aisle forklift and MIMA's multi-directional reach truck.
China's forklift capability and innovations will be on show on 23-26 October 2019, when a record number of exhibitors - more than 700 - participate in CeMAT ASIA at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre.
Organisers are expecting more than 100,000 visitors at this year's event in a continuation of the steady increase in attendance over the past few years.
"This year for the first time, the amount of display space will exceed 70,000 sqm, with exhibits again covering the entire spectrum of intralogistics," says Krister Sandvoss, global director of industries & logistics at Deutsche Messe.
Additional information and a special 'THANK YOU' to our contributors:
STAXX attends China's largest Import & Export Fair
MiMA offers a comprehensive range of material handling equipment
RUYI Lateral Reach Truck - OPD15
HELI lithium battery products grow rapidly
Innovative Solutions, New Power Now
Are Lithium Ion batteries the right choice for your fleet?
E-P Equipment: website
Tailift and Toyota Joint Venture in the Material Handling Industry
Maximal Forklift: website