by Christine Liew
A Moffett truck-mounted forklift.
Truck-mounted forklifts (TMFs), that enable quick, convenient transport of goods, originated in agriculture. A Dutch tulip bulb farmer, named Hessel Kooi, was said to have developed the first TMF to move tulip bulbs from fields to distributors. Cecil Moffett, of Irish TMF manufacturer Moffett Engineering Ltd, made tractors long before he developed a forklift and Princeton Delivery Systems' founder produced a TMF to transport sod for his nursery.
Today, Moffett, of Dundalk, Ireland, and Princeton, of Ohio, USA, are the world's biggest TMF producers. Both are a part of Hiab Oy, a company owned by Cargotec Corp of Helsinki, Finland. In 2000, Hiab bought Kooi and Moffett from Terex and merged the two in 2004. Kooi has been absorbed into the Moffett brand and the forklifts, known for awhile as Moffett-Kooi in Europe, are today known as Moffett worldwide. Other manufacturers include Manitou BF SA, Palfinger AG, Sellick Equipment Ltd, Quality Corp (Donkey), Kesmac Inc, Chrisman Manufacturing Inc (Navigator), Terberg Machines BV (Kinglifter) and Stonehall Engineering Company Ltd.
TMF manufacturers are not members of any statistics-collecting World Industrial Truck Statistics association but industry insiders estimate the annual market size at about 6,000 units. North America buys about 3,000 units annually and Europe, 2,000 units. South Africa, Australia and Central America are TMF users. A Forkliftaction.com News
source said the TMF market grew five per cent to 10 per cent per annum over the last five years.
From agriculture to building materials
In North America, the world's biggest TMF market, the building materials industry has accelerated the TMF industry's growth. Bill Pohl, general manager of Ohio-based Princeton Delivery Systems, said the building industry was the US's predominant TMF user.
"In the early 1980s, distributors of building materials saw the machine on the road. They began to use TMFs to carry building materials," Pohl said. "Our customers in the building materials industry are lumberyards and brickyards. They have fleets of trucks and they put the TMF behind the trucks."
A Princeton forklift delivering pre-fabricated wall panels.
The billion-dollar building materials industry constituted 85 per cent of Princeton's forklift sales, 15 per cent were from agriculture and a "small proportion" from other industries and "miscellaneous business". Growth in the American housing industry had strengthened TMF sales, Pohl said.
Sellick Equipment Ltd, of Ontario, Canada, whose TMF sales are 35 per cent of the company's business, also has capitalised on North America's booming building industry.
"That development is what got Sellick's attention," senior territory manager Dell White said.
"Because we sell to builders in the rough-terrain forklift market, dealers were encouraging us to compete in the TMF market."
Sellick started making TMFs from Harrow, Ontario, in 1995. The TMF-55, Sellick's only model, has a maximum load capacity of 5,500lbs (2,495kg), a maximum lift height of 144 inches (3.66 metres), uses Kenhar forks and has a pantograph that extends the carriage to enable one-side lifting. The manufacturer plans to introduce a new model in 2007.
The advantage of a TMF is that truck drivers do not have to wait for help to unload a truck's contents. They merely disengage the forklift and use it to unload the cargo. Previously, workers at delivery sites manually unloaded trucks, consuming time and risking back injuries. Some trucks also carried or towed rough-terrain forklifts.
While forklift markets in India and China are growing rapidly, the TMF is not present in those continents. That is not surprising, considering a TMFs' function.
Pohl said use of TMFs tended to follow a country's development. "It seems to be a concept that takes hold when there's a scarcity of labour or when people don't want to do dirt-based jobs. If you look at what the TMF does, it picks up loads [that were] previously picked up by workers.
"In the US and Europe, you can't find people to do that. For building contracts in the US, they want people hammering or building things, not moving things. Where labour cost is high, this is the case," he said.
In industrialised countries, sophisticated equipment, including whole sections of houses and other specialised factory-built materials, are delivered by trucks to residential construction sites. They would be too fragile and expensive to be handled without a TMF, Pohl said.
Competition is "fierce"
Outside the top two brands, Terberg Machines BV, of IJsselstein, the Netherlands, which produces the Kinglifter brand, competes with Palfinger, of Salzburg, Austria, and Manitou, of Ancenis, France. Terberg bought the Kinglifter product from Kingma Metals in 2002. Kingma's owner was an ex-production chief at Kooi. Bouwe Faber, Kinglifter export manager, said Terberg, which has an annual turnover of EUR500 million (USD635 million), had the financial resources to market the Kinglifter globally.
Like other TMF manufacturers, Faber is discreet about revealing sales figures. He said the industry was intensely competitive.
But, he said the company's turnover had "more than doubled" each year since 2002.
"In 2007 we will double turnover again because of new dealers entering our distribution network."
About 40 per cent of Terberg's sales are from the building materials market, with the beverage and distribution goods industries being other leading customers. Terberg does not sell to North America.
French TMF with a boom makes statement
In 2005, the 10th year anniversary of Manitou BF SA's truck-mounted forklift, the Ancenis-based company renewed the entire Manitransit range. With that step, Manitou made a statement that it was in "a good position to be a strong player", Manitransit sales manager Olivier Traccucci said. "We are much more dynamic and efficient in sales [for the TMF market]."
A Manitou truck-mounted forklift loading glass onto a truck.
Manitou's forklift stands out because it is one of the few TMFs in the market with a boom instead of a moving mast. There are nine models in the Manitransit range, manufactured in Texas, USA, and Ancenis, France. The company's sales are split 50-50 between North America and Europe. Other global markets contribute to the European sales. Princeton and Moffett compete with Manitou in the European and North American markets.
Traccucci said the boom solved "the main problems" associated with traditional masted TMFs.
"With the boom, you don't have maintenance problems associated with using a mast, like problems with bearings and chains. The system of using reach forks to lift from one side is very expensive. If it's damaged, it costs a lot of money," he said.
Like a masted TMF, the Manitou TMF loses load capacity when the load centre is extended. A 2.5 ton Manitou TMF can lift 2.5 tons from the near side of a truck but 1.5 tons from the far side.
"With the boom system, if a pallet is too heavy to lift from the far side, the pallet can be dragged to the near side using the boom extension and tilting the forks,"Traccucci said.
Manitou started producing TMFs in 1995 after its traditional customers, TMF users, asked the manufacturer to add the product to its range. Manitou's main customers are the building materials, poultry and beverage industries.
For its 10th anniversary, the entire Manitransit range went through upgrades that included more powerful engines, longer booms for increased reach and lowered engine positions for better stability.
Making a clean lift
Moffett Engineering Ltd was founded by Cecil Moffett in 1945 to produce agricultural equipment in Monaghan, Ireland. In 1986 the company started making the Moffett Mounty truck-mounted forklift. After merging with Kooi in 2004, the TMFs are now marketed as Moffett.
Moffett marketing manager Tabe Bruinsma said Moffett had a 60 per cent market share worldwide. The Irish company produced about 4,000 TMFs annually from plants in Ireland and The Netherlands.
Early this year, Moffett introduced the patented Lift Assist system. Moffett boasts the system can clean lift more than two tonnes from the far side and avoids product damage caused by dragging product for lifting from the near side. One-side lifting is possible with a boom, like the Manitou range, or by using reach forks and scissors (pantograph). However, load capacity is reduced when lifting from the far side of a truck.
The Lift Assist system comprises two hydraulically-operated arms attached to the forklift frame. The arms make up for the shortfall between the machine weight and the load. They rest against the trailer, using its weight to support the forklift as it lifts loads from the far side of the truck.
This year, Moffett entered into an agreement with Combilift Inc, of Monaghan, Ireland to develop a TMF with a boom. Bruinsma maintained Moffett's existing TMF with reach forks and pantograph performed one-side lifting well but a TMF with a boom was necessary to complete the company's product range.
Robust, rough-terrain but light
Sellick forklift mounted at the back of a truck.
Princeton's registered brand for its forklifts, "Piggyback", is apt for a machine that spends a lot of time riding on the back of a truck. Manufacturers consider two working environments when designing TMFs - on the back of a truck and on the ground. Both are harsh environments.
When a TMF is bouncing on the back of a truck, it is exposed to vibration and shock. Princeton's Bill Pohl said the design had to be "light yet durable".
"Quite similar to an airplane in that you can't put [in] all kinds of steel or it will be too heavy for the truck to transport, [but] it's got to be carefully designed to be durable for years ... it's taken Princeton years to refine the design."
Terberg's Faber said "there's more similarity between a TMF and a crane". "If you mount a crane, it also needs to be as light as possible."
On the road, a TMF is splashed with mud, water and chemical salts, just like a truck. During winter in North America and Europe, highways are spread with salt compounds to prevent ice forming. The salts are extremely corrosive. Unlike cars that are frequently washed, a TMF may go unwashed for a long period.
Manitou's Traccucci said TMFs' frames were immersed in a chemical bath, a treatment called cataphorisis, similar to that which cars undergo.
"The frame is protected using one of the best processes you can find. It makes up the primary coating protection," he said. The chemical bath kept TMFs rust-free for up to 10 years, their average lifetime.
Because TMFs become part of the truck they are mounted to, the forklifts are often painted in colours matching the truck. That is probably as far as aesthetics go for the machines, which work in the harshest environment for forklifts.