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CeMat 2011 points to rosy future

Tuesday, 10 May 2011 ( #513 ) - Hannover, Germany
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By Bill Redmond at CeMat

CeMat 2011, the world’s pre-eminent logistics trade fair held at Hannover every three years, ended its five-day run on May 6 on a rising tide of global optimism. If the show is any guide, it dispelled most doubts about the sustainability of the global recovery because CeMat 2011 outperformed CeMat 2008, which took place before the global economic crisis.

Of the 1,084 exhibiting companies from 38 countries, roughly half were from abroad. Particularly impressive was the strong contingent of Chinese forklift companies which, in time, will make life interesting for indigenous European forklift producers.

There were about 58,000 visitors to the fair, of whom 35% came from abroad. Of these, 75% were from other European countries. The quality of visitors was also remarkably high, with 40% reporting their positions as top executives. According to Andreas Guchow, managing board member of Deutsche Messe, the majority of visitors came with concrete investment plans and major projects, an investment volume up 20% on average over CeMat 2008.

Attachments maker TVH Parts, which attended CeMat for the 12th time, describes the even as the best ever. Spokeswoman Debbie Manhaeve notes that CEMAT 2011 received about 2,000 visitors less than in 2008, "TVH, however, received approximately 500 visitors more than in 2008". She says about 1,500 visitors from all over the world went to the TVH stand. News’ own poll of exhibitor comments during the first two days echoed the sentiments expressed by Deutsche Messe’s board but went further to look at future developments, while sounding a cautionary caveat on the global recovery.

Long regarded as a mature industry with predictable cycles, the forklift sector is a reliable bellwether for national economies. It is usually the first industry into recession and the last out, but the last five years or so have seen a sea change, generated by the rise of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) in particular. According to Ken Biedeger, forklift product manager for LiuGong, arguably the world’s biggest maker of construction equipment, the Chinese market for forklifts in 2009, in the depth of the global recession, was as good, if not better, than 2008. "So is the global forklift market recovering strongly?" asked News. "It depends on the area," said Ken. "We have seen some areas grow beyond our expectations, such as South America, but North America is much slower to recover."

Some high fliers
Little known as a forklift producer outside of China, LiuGong sees a void in the European market left by indigenous producers who have pushed up costs through adding much sophistication to trucks. "We are intentionally keeping our designs straightforward for simplicity, reliability and ease of maintenance," added Ken, because customers want a price-conscious, reliable machine which does not need a technician with a laptop to fix it.

JCB’s international sales manager, Mike Poxon, agrees with LiuGong that the overseas market, with minor exceptions like financially troubled Portugal and Spain, is growing, especially among the BRIC nations, "which have helped us through the recession".

Jungheinrich was a little more subdued on the outlook. "Since last year, the market is widening and going up but we see nothing dramatic," said Jan Kaulfuhs-Berger, corporate communications spokesman.

Mitsubishi and Hyster were similarly upbeat. "I can feel many people are positive about the market," said Marijn Nijhof, marketing communications co-ordinator for Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks, while Hyster’s David Rowell, senior product marketing manager for Nacco Materials Handling Group, noted that "the emerging markets are coming back very strongly".

Like others, Clark sees "significant market improvements" and has an interesting view on why electric forklifts have not ousted LPG and diesel trucks in the warehouse. Klaus Krentscher, Clark’s service manager, believes warehouse managers are still afraid of issues surrounding battery recharging. It is about keeping people sufficiently disciplined to recharge and maintain the batteries properly.

Clark also has strong views over new alternative power sources and developments like the lithium-ion battery. Andreas Krause, Clark’s technical director, is almost dismissive of hybrid trucks, fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries. ‘Real’ hybrid vehicles incorporate at least two energy converters or motor systems and that means doubled costs and maintenance and service and more stringent safety requirements. On fuel cells, he says they are unable to stand up to operating cost and environmental protection parameters. "The manufacture of hydrogen, the costs and the lack of infrastructure indicate that the future of industrial vehicle drives does not lie in fuel cells," he claims.

The controversy over fuel cells, however, did not stop Linde from showing off its fuel cell tow tractor with a 3T pulling force. The Fronius energy cell’s design makes it suitable for pallet trucks and order pickers and, by extending the application area, the hope is that the economies of scale will improve the economic case for fuel cells. In time, the aim will be to produce hydrogen from renewable resources like solar and wind energy or biogas.

Still, part of the Linde group, sees recyclable materials, engines with low consumption and lower exhaust emissions and sustainable technologies as the environmental topics of the future. To meet such environmental concerns, it has developed its Cube XX, an intralogistics concept vehicle that offers maximum flexibility owing to its combination of six proven types of vehicle. It will have a retractable cab for standby mode or during an automated journey. If manually operated, the cab extends to provide the driver with enough space for a standby/leaning seat. On full lock, the wheels will turn 360 degrees. It will move sideways to save on valuable aisle space and the forks can be folded in to be flush with the mast. With an optional counterweight and extending castor wheels in its forks, it will even work outside on yards. If Still pulls this one off, it will probably be the most remarkable forklift innovation in history.

So is the forklift industry justified in its rosy view of global prospects? Yes, but with one crucial caveat. The BRIC nations, in particular, will be a strong engine for growth. Most estimates agree, for example, that India’s current 9,000 or so trucks sold per annum will reach 100,000 in as little as five to 10 years. All that, however, would be upset if the world does not successfully solve the sovereign debt issues built up by financially delinquent governments. There must also be a diversification of supply sources away from such choke points as Japan and south-east China, areas prone to huge natural calamities.
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