Cat Lift Truck's pallet stacker
The range of materials handling equipment is vast and, depending on a business's requirements and budget, there is a piece of equipment out there that can handle most lifting jobs. With so many choices, it can be difficult to choose what is best for your business and lifting needs.
The choice is particularly difficult for lifting needs. If the budget allows, a business can spend up big and buy a forklift but, in unstable economic times, many businesses are seeking a more cost-effective solution. For smaller businesses or businesses with limited aisle space, a pallet stacker may be the best choice.
Brett Levin, sales manager from MHS Lift Inc, says walkie stackers are crucial in the materials handling environment. "Warehouse spaces require equipment that can manoeuvre in tight spaces without damaging products or, more importantly, without injuring the operator."
Pallet stacker manufacturers are focusing on better quality products and more safety features to ensure users get the most out of their machines. Pallet stackers offer businesses of any size a versatile, low-cost solution for medium-height stacking over a range of distances.
In the last 12 months, several new pallet stackers have been launched by some of the leading manufacturers. Forkliftaction.com News
reported on Hyundai's launch of its new warehouse range than includes double-lift stackers (Forkliftaction.com News # 383
Komatsu updated its 1.05-1.2-ton MWS series electric pallet stackers with three-phase AC technology last June (Forkliftaction.com News # 365
). Still and Toyota Material Handling introduced new stackers in May 2008 (Forkliftaction.com News # 359
Less expensive than a forklift and able to be operated without licence, a pallet stacker can be easily integrated into any operation.
Changes to power source
Human force, batteries and AC electric can power pallet stackers. However, AC is one of the biggest changes manufacturers have introduced over the past two years. George Marshall, director of fleet services for Hyster Company, says the advent of AC has swept through America.
"The benefits of AC are better performance with a slightly better power consumption," he says. "This generally leads to improved productivity and, in the long run, lower operating costs. Stackers with brushless motors also require less maintenance."
Andrea Lucchi, general manager of warehouse equipment for Yale Europe Materials Handling, agrees the introduction of AC technology in the 'low-technology segment' of the market is a major change.
Ernst Visser, warehouse trucks product manager for Cat Lift Trucks, says AC technology gives a stacker higher performance and better control. "AC technology is available in all our stacker range. AC delivers smooth control, rapid acceleration and a high drive speed - with or without a load. AC drive motors deliver high performance, due to better control over speeds, torque and comfort."
Rocco Ferrigno, warehouse trucks specialist for OM Carrelli Elevatori Spa, says OM stackers' functionality and ergonomics have improved. "The pedestrian pallet stacker CLac, introduced at CeMAT 2008 with six other new products, reflects our current trend toward AC technology advantages."
Better quality in demand
North America's largest manufacturer of polyurethane wheels and tyres for narrow aisle electric lift trucks, Thombert, has observed several changes in the pallet stacker market. Reggie Collette, sales marketing manager of Thombert, says the main changes at OEM level have been twofold: higher quality and lower truck demand. "OEMs are tightening quality standards so they can deliver improved quality to customers."
Collette says customers want the longest life possible from their equipment, so use of the best components is the key to improving standards.
Customers are the driving force behind many changes in pallet stackers. They want to see a reduction in lifetime equipment costs and better productivity through improvements in quality.
Yale's Lucchi says Yale is following its customers' request to deliver better options for safety and ergonomics in its pallet stackers by introducing new features. "The introduction of power steering and key-pad access systems addresses customers' needs," he says. "The reasons for these changes are cost reduction, ergonomics and safety."
MHS Lift's Levin says reliability is the most important feature when considering buying pallet stackers. "A stacker is still a piece of industrial equipment and will require maintenance," he says. "The key is to purchase a stacker that will not require a lot of maintenance.
"I look at the history and expertise of the manufacturer because not all of them dedicate a lot of resources to this type of equipment."
Cat Lifts Trucks' Visser says customers are interested in ergonomic solutions and low operating costs. "Cat Lift Trucks has a 'customer voice' program where customers can tell us what they think about our products and [what] we need to consider when offering them real solutions.
"We have given our customers products with great ergonomics, masts with high visibility - PoweRamic - and drive systems that are easy to manoeuvre and comfortable for the operator."
Changes and innovations
Translift Bendi is working on a European-specific product that is a compromise between a forklift and a pallet stacker. It has built and tested several machines successfully. The company has identified a way to reduce the cost of an articulated forklift by applying the principle of a stacker to the new product. Simon Brown, managing director for Translift Bendi, says the machine is capable of handling Euro pallets in 1.8 metre (5.9 feet) to 6 metre (19.6 feet) lifts at a fraction of the cost of a traditional stacker.
Brown says the machine offers space advantages and versatility to customers. "We appreciate not everyone wants to pay a small premium over a conventional stacker, if they are already getting what they need from their existing machinery. We feel we will make a big dent with customers who will gain value from extra space and the ability to back up VNA applications."
Cat Lift Trucks has introduced a new aluminium tiller arm to its pedestrian stacker and platform stacker models. Visser says the tiller combines durability and strength to give operators a comfortable way of working. "The ergonomic design makes the truck easy to control and keeps the driver relaxed."
Visser says the ergonomic design on stand-on and sit-on stackers gives the operator better mobility and comfort. "The steering console has been designed to provide good ergonomics and control."
Jungheinrich is another company working to get an edge over its competitors with innovative products. Greg McNamara, Australian product manager for NTP Forklifts, says Jungheinrich's proportionate hydraulics allow lifting and lowering of the forks to be varied by the amount of pressure applied to the lift button by the operator. "This gives the 'feel' and infinite control to the operator over lifting and lowering of the most delicate loads."
OM's pallet stacker
Ferrigno says OM's attention to operator comfort has seen the introduction of forks control using a proportional butterfly switch (potentiometer) on the tiller. "The introduction, on the tiller head, of an electronic card with multi-layer technology and thermo-compensation circuit keeps the tiller head's internal temperature between 36°C and 42°C and works without problems, even inside cold stores."
Companies like RICO work on one truck at a time, engineering it specifically for end users' needs and applications.
Koen Lisman, from Lisman Forklift Trucks, says used equipment is an option in uncertain economic times. "Used machines provide customers with the opportunity to invest less money in materials handling and give them more flexibility.
"Especially since equipment such as stackers are not normally used in heavy-duty applications," he says.
"A used machine costs about 50% of the investment of a new machine. It is a serious alternative."
Lisman says stackers are the sole category of warehouse trucks that keep value well because they are usable in multi-purpose environments.
Manufacturers globally, whether they want to or not, are turning their attention to reducing the impact their machines have on the environment.
John Maguire, sales and marketing director for Narrow Aisle Ltd, says there is less demand for LPG-powered units, due to CO2 emissions and high-energy costs. He says there is increased demand for the latest intelligent chargers and many of Narrow Aisle's customers are taking the greener option. "They cut the charge time down to as little as two hours and can save up to 30% of traditional recharge costs.
"Recharge emissions are much lower with water required only once every three months rather than 10 days," he says. "The units are costly to buy but with record energy costs and taxes, the payback is often less than one year."
Hyster's Marshall says awareness of environmental issues has spurred OEMs to design systems that decrease fluid spillage and to change the design of fuel use and delivery.
McNamara, from NTP Forklifts, says more customers are becoming aware of the efficient use of energy. "The running lifetime costs of equipment are now an important part of the purchase of a pallet stacker."
Patrick Richardson, from RICO Equipment, says his company has been an innovator in heavy-duty capacity forklifts by incorporating the 'go green' attitude. "The majority of our products are electric powered."
Ferrigno says OM's range respects the environment and uses energy efficiently with low fuel or energy consumption. "Most of our products are electric and equipped with energy saving systems. Our pallet stackers are characterised by energy consumption on the lowest levels and equipped with modern electric motors and electronics allowing energy regeneration."
Cat lift Trucks takes a proactive approach to addressing its equipment's environmental impact. "In the care of warehouse equipment, the concern in the market was to reduce vibrations and noise levels, and we have done this," Visser says.
The future of pallet stackers
Manufacturers will continue to improve their products ensuring they meet environmental standards and customer demands.
Cat Lift Trucks plans to include PoweRamic masts in all stackers. "The mast delivers great visibility and stability, making the operator's job easier and safer," Visser says.
From a tyre perspective, Thombert is looking to improve performance of its tyres and wheels. "Customers understand that the total cost of ownership means everything associated with a machine," Collette says. "Customers are seeking the lowest cost per hour of operation and increased productivity.
"This is not an easy bill to fill, given [customer] demands. Customers do not want to see gimmicks or flash-in-the-pan products."
Hyster's improvement to the power-assisted electric steer on pallet stackers will enable the equipment to be used by female and male operators because the effort of steering has been eliminated. "Over a full shift, productivity is improved as operators are less fatigued," Marshall says.
RICO Equipment sees the future of pallet stackers being driven by customers. "The next big thing for RICO is yet to be seen," Richardson says. "We are only limited by our clients' needs and demands. Whatever challenges are presented to us by clients, we will meet with efficient, innovative and productive solutions."
McNamara, from NTP Forklifts, says Jungheingrich released 'Concept 08' at CeMat in Germany that improves energy efficiency and ergonomics. "Concept 08 involves a ride-on pedestrian pallet truck with a completely new storage and drive device.
"Lithium ion batteries and a direct drive will ensure better energy efficiency than the three-phase AC technology," he says. "Concept 08 is very compact - about 630mm shorter than an analogue electric pallet truck."
OM is working on extending AC technology to its entire stacker range. Ferrigno says that will increase performance and efficiency. "The introduction of high-frequency chargers is a good way to improve the trucks' battery life and performance. If lithium batteries are positively received, OM won't lose that opportunity."