Despite the general downturn in sales and production over the past few years, a number of materials handling companies, both large and small, have been busy finding solutions to client problems by developing new and exciting technology. Safety, efficiency and environmental concerns appear to be the main drivers of innovation in 2011.
Hyster's new tyre-saving drive axle, the AxleTech XTL, is typical of the new thrust, and picked up the environmental award at the recent FLTA 2011 accolades. The patented axle technology, which has been in development for seven years, was launched in 2010 and is in use on Hyster's H16.00-20.00XM-12EC series of empty container handlers. Hyster promises that the new technology, which has the differential mounted in the wheels' ends at each side of the axle, thereby allowing the wheels to rotate independently and minimising tyre scrubbing, will "drastically reduce" the overall cost of operations.
The XTL reduces the time spent on tyre changing and also reduces the amount of rubber waste, which Antoon Cooijmans, Hyster's product manager, says, "leaves a better environmental footprint". He adds that the XTL axle also improves handling, turning and manoeuvrability and will be fitted to Hyster's heavy-duty forklifts and container handlers over the next few years.
Attachments manufacturer, E-L-M has recently developed two new products. iFOSS utilises an integrated pin-type fork positioner, without a middle support, creating an unparalleled view through the side-shift and allowing the forks to move over the middle point of the attachment, so expanding the forklift's reach beyond the usual carriage width. This also allows the forklift tynes to stretch further into the container, minimising damage to goods and container walls and maximising use of the space within the container.
The second product, the iFEXS or integrated fork position with extra stability, focuses on safety, as well as improved efficiency. The iFEXS is a unique double-axle sideshift attachment, with axles at the top as well as the bottom, which can both clamp and sideshift the load. It was specifically designed in response to requests from heavy industry. Bo Dissing, head of development, explains that heavy industry clients had requested an attachment which could offer stability under extreme conditions, while clamping and shifting a load of up to 8 tons.
Another recently launched innovation which addresses improved efficiency is Crown's RM6000 series. Previewed in Forkliftaction.com News
last month, the RM 6000 series builds on the strengths of the RR 5700. Crown believes the RM6000 reaches higher and faster than any other single-mast pantograph on the market, with a reach of 505 inches (12.6m) and a lift speed of 153 feet (3.8m) per minute.
Like E-L-M, Crown has responded to customer feedback. "The RM 6000 changes everything at a time when our customers are looking to maximise existing space in high-density warehouses and distribution centres", says Maria Schwieterman, a Crown marketing product manager. "Warehouse managers can gain 15% more pallet positions simply by filling open slots at the top of racks".
HLOP view of mast sway
Driver safety in particular, appears to have been the main stimulus for many of the recent technologies. Cat Lift Trucks, for example, recently won the FLTA award for Ergonomics with its Active Sway Control (ASC), a software application that minimises sway by automatically controlling acceleration and braking, ensuring the driver's compartment remains stable at all heights. Monica Escutia, marketing spokesperson for Cat Lift Trucks, says that "mast sway on high-level order picks can be up to 20cm between forward and backward pitch. Each time the mast sways between moves, the operator must wait up to 10 seconds before they can safely carry out the pick". She adds that "the ASC can improve driver comfort by eliminating the motion sensation that can sometimes disorient operators, so they remain alert and focused at all times".
Another FLTA 2011 nominee is Canadian company, Flexico Industries. Flexico has developed the Flex1500, an onboard alarm system which tells the operator when the load is placed at dangerous positions, either horizontally on the fork tynes or vertically while lifting, which could result in a tip-over. Sensors are placed at the top and bottom of the mast which calculate the load weight in regard to the lever effect. An indicator is placed inside the cabin and sounds an alarm if the ratio is compromised.
Many of the safety devices developed over the last few years have utilised computer software, video and RFID technology. The International Materials Handling Exhibition (IMHX 2010) judges of Konecrane's award-winning safety technology, NearGuard, were impressed with how technology can be used to improve safety issues between machinery and personnel.
NearGuard was initially developed in response to a customer's desire to improve the safety of operators when driving under a conveyor belt, which they did many times a day. When the forklift is driven towards the conveyor belt with its forks above the freelift height of 1,600mm, Konecrane's NearGuard safety system sounds an onboard audio alarm and a flashing display is activated by radio frequency identification (RFID). A minimum of two sensors are mounted on the forklift, one at each end. RFID tags are then attached to any customer-defined object; in this case, the conveyor belt. Once the tag is located, NearGuard activates a radar-like screen that gives drivers a clear visual indication of the direction and proximity of any RFID tag. The system engages at a range of 50 meters.
Keytroller LCD -601
Safety monitoring systems manufacturer, Keytroller's access monitoring systems have been using RFID technology since the 1990s to monitor and record operator usage, utilise keyless technology and monitor maintenance schedules and alert operators to maintenance issues. The new LCD-601 device, launched last year, does all this, but is also designed for tough outdoor conditions and uses a colour LCD screen, a larger and faster microprocessor, allowing for the development of new features through firmware enhancements, plus an embedded WiFi radio, allowing all the features to be fully automated.
Italian safety equipment manufacturer, Miretti also believes that taking some tasks out of the hands of the operator and handling them through technology can improve operator safety. Its newly launched EOS gas detection system has a new automatic recalibrating device. Miretti spokesperson Laura Grassi sees the self-regulating feature as crucial. "This means that after the system shuts down, the operator no longer needs to recalibrate the sensor", leaving minimum room for error in some very dangerous working environments.
However, not all safety technologies need to be complicated, some are just well-thought out - like the delightfully simple Safe-Bump forklift bumpers developed by US company LiftTruck. The system uses large rubber and polypropylene bumpers which attach to the forklift with magnets and two-way tape. LiftTruck spokesman David Cormack says that testing over the past two years has proven that the bumpers absorb a significant amount of energy on impact and protect equipment and materials from damage. The Safe-Bump bumpers were launched in early 2011.
Europe has some of the toughest emission regulations and highest fuel costs in the world, so it is no surprise that German company Still is a leader in developing fuel-efficient equipment. At CeMat 2008, Still presented hybrid fuel technology which has now been put into production with the launch of the RX70 HYBRID at CeMat 2011. Based on the successful RX70 diesel, the new model "is the first diesel truck with energy recuperation and electric power transmission," according to Christian Baerwolff, vice-president of Still marketing.
The forklift is fitted with two energy storage systems. Beside the diesel tank, the truck is fitted with Ultra Caps mounted on the rear of the truck. These high performance double-layer capacitors are charged with the energy released when braking. On acceleration, the energy boost from the Ultra Caps provides additional performance, which would otherwise have to come from the diesel engine.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) will also showcase hybrid technology at this year's CeMat with its "world's first" lithium-ion-battery/diesel-engine 4.0-5.0 ton forklift series. MHI believes its unique powertrain design of high-capacity lithium-ion battery: a compact, low emission diesel engine, two induction motors and an inverter will cut engine displacement by one third and significantly reduce CO2 emissions, whilst demonstrating a 39% increase in fuel efficiency.
Linde's nifty little CiTi Truck, winner of the 2011 FLTA award for innovation, was released in June 2010. The CiTi introduces a new model classification between hand pallet trucks and electric pallet trucks and addresses a number of environmental and safety issues, as well as the increasing challenge of delivering goods to inner-city businesses in areas that are pedestrian only.
Christophe Lacaze, international product manager for Linde Material Handling, explains that "the CiTi has a number of innovative features, it is extremely compact, light and highly manoeuvrable. The Citi has a service weight of only 100 kg and can carry loads of 500 kg.
Lacaze also points out the unique shape of the rear load wheels which rotate on crossing obstacles; the standard booster which automatically provides an extra torque surge over potholes and rubber cushion design of the wheels, including the large diameter front wheel. The design ensures the CiTi is quiet and meets new EU noise regulations.
Noise and vibration are becoming increasingly important issues for regulatory bodies, manufacturers and forklift end-users. AEM, the American Equipment Manufacturers Association, has planned a seminar in April, 2011 to discuss these issues. Mark Benishek, AEM technical and safety services manager, says that "customer demand for quieter equipment is making noise and vibration an increasingly important issue in the industry". He adds that identifying needs and adapting products to meet customer expectations can provide a competitive advantage. The European Union has already put a number of directives in place.
Haldex CALMA pump
German manufacturer Haldex Hydraulics has recognised the need by developing a new super-quiet gear pump, the CALMA. The CALMA reduces noise by up to 10dB or 50% to 85% in low speed applications, including steer, tilt and lift. The pump features a newly engineered tooth geometry and innovative true dual-flank gear engagement which reduces pressure pulsation by up to 75%, the key factor to determining a pump's noise levels.
Simon Brown, managing director of Translift Bendi, believes that "R&D should be closely aligned with the demands of the marketplace, with new technologies and new vehicles deployed to meet the client's needs". To this end, the company has recently developed the Bendi Arctic Truck. A 1.6 m width very narrow aisle (VNA) machine with enclosed cab for cold storage applications, it is an elegant and simple solution. The Bendi Arctic was launched late last year at IMHX and successfully addresses the issues of maximum storage utilisation and the problems encountered in cold environments by traditional wire guided vehicles by combining its VNA versatility with a fully heated cabin.
Spanish rough-terrain forklift manufacturer AUSA has also come up with a disarmingly simple solution to a common problem - changing and variable work surfaces. The FullGrip On Demand 4WD system allows the operator to choose between 2WD or 4WD at the touch of a button, by means of a unique oil-immersed multidisc clutch. The forklift is able to operate in 2WD in normal conditions, thereby saving fuel and reducing emissions and engaging the 4WD option when encountering rough terrain.
Customer demand and manufacturer response is what has been the common denominator in all of these new technologies. In a climate where the user is determined to get the best out of the machine for the longest possible time, while complying with environmental and safety directives, it makes good economic sense to listen.