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Big Swedes go north to Alaska

Thursday, 15 Dec 2005 ( #239 ) - LJUNGBY, Sweden
News Story
The Svetruck S1150/225 entering rack area on rail barge.
In this special feature, News reporter Melissa Barnett talks to Svetruck design engineer Daniel Andersson and Alaska Marine Lines (AML) maintenance manager Lester Candee about AML’s forklifts on barges in South East Alaska.

Have you ever wondered how freight gets delivered in the most inhospitable areas of the world? In South East Alaska, where all the communities are on islands separated by narrow and often shallow channels of water, freight is delivered by AML barges, using Svetruck or Kaldnes-built forklifts.

Daniel Andersson, design engineer with Swedish forklift manufacturer Svetruck, said his company got involved with AML when it acquired Kaldnes in 1999. "Kaldnes had been supplying AML with forklifts and we took over the contract to finish delivery of four trucks AML had on order," he said.

Delivery of those four trucks increased the AML fleet of heavy forklifts to 20. AML approached Svetruck to build a short wheelbase machine that had the same features as the Kaldnes-built truck but an increased lift capacity from 45 tonnes to 55 tonnes.

Putting a forklift on a barge full of containers was not a revolutionary idea, Lester Candee, AML maintenance manager, said.

South East Alaska has had its freight delivered in containers via barges for more than 40 years. In the late 1960s, a company named Foss Alaska Lines was a pioneer in putting large forklifts that picked containers on barges. At that time, a 30-tonne forklift was the largest forklift that existed in the region.

Forklifts on barges transfer containers from Seattle-originating barges to shore facilities and to shuttle barges that take smaller amounts of containers to smaller communities. Initially, the containers were typically 20 feet (6.09 metres) or 24 feet (7.31 metres) long. In the 1980s, 40-foot (12.19 metre) containers began to become common in the trade route. In the 1990s, AML introduced 53-foot (16.15 metre) containers. All the containers have fork pockets. Dedicated top pick forklifts did not enter the trade route until very recently.

"Svetruck has delivered AML both top pick/gantry trucks and fork-dedicated trucks," Candee said.

Svetruck forklifts built for AML are designed to stack containers five high, which although not innovative, is unique because the majority of AML containers are 10 feet (3.05 metre) tall and 102 inches (2.6 metre) wide. Five-high stacking of 9 foot 6 inch (2.90 metre) tall by 96-inch (2.44 metre) wide containers was first accomplished by Hyster for AML’s South East Alaska operation in the late 1970s. That operation focused on 20-foot (6.10 metre) and 24-foot (7.31 metre) long containers that were 96 inches (2.44 metre) wide and 8 feet 6 inches (2.59 metres) tall.

"To service the full height of a typical container stack on today’s barges, a forklift must have a maximum top of fork height of 504 inches (12.8 metres) and a bottom of twist lock height of 638 inches (16.2 metres). Additionally it must have 15 degrees forward and back tilt to maintain containers in a level condition as the forklifts travel on steep ramps on and off the barges," Candee said.

The barges deliver more than 95 per cent of all freight into South East Alaska, which includes everything from food to cement and buses.

Not only do the northbound barges deliver freight to outlying areas, they ensure the fishing, mining and timber industries have a viable option for sending products south to markets, not just in Seattle but all over the world.  Waste garbage is transported back to Seattle because incineration regulations for garbage disposal are very strict in Alaska.  

The round trip from Seattle to South East Alaska takes 10 days. Each tug has a four-man crew that is responsible for sailing and physically handling freight. The barges deliver twice a week to South East Alaska and once a week to central Alaska via Whittier. They operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year long.

The forklifts operating on the barges today include 16 V925 Kaldnes-built forklifts (11 of which were sold by Caterpillar and five by Kaldness Americas), four V925 Svetruck-built forklifts sold by Kaldness Americas and eight S1150/225 Svetruck forklifts sold by Svetruck Americas.

Two more S1150/225 forklifts are due to be delivered during the first quarter of 2006.
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