Elevate Truck Acquisition & Use Traits

Despite all the shifts and outright changes industry has undergone in the past 18 months, attitudes toward lift truck acquisition and usage have remained relatively steady. That’s at least somewhat reassuring in a time of so much change.

In a year of unexpected economic fluctuations, the perceived impact of the economy on lift truck acquisition decisions did not wander much. According to a national survey conducted earlier this year, 27% of lift truck users said the economy has an impact on the buy/lease decision to a “great extent” compared to 29% from last year’s survey. In both years, 38% said the economy has an impact “to some extent.”

Both surveys were the annual Modern Materials Handling “Lift Truck Acquisition and Usage Study.” They were conducted for Modern by Peerless Research Group. This ongoing series of annual surveys of our readers provides the industry with a baseline for trends in lift truck acquisitions and use.

For instance, the number of trucks in fleets didn’t fluctuate much between 2020 and 2021. Those companies with 100 or more trucks in their fleet stayed steady year to year at 12% of survey respondents. The largest segment here, those with three to nine trucks, rose from 32% of companies to 36%.

Meanwhile, the average age of trucks in fleets last year was nearly eight years and the age of the oldest truck was 14 years. Both numbers increased by only a single year in 2021, about what you might have expected.

Readers said purchase price, quality of trucks and safety remained the three most important characteristics when evaluating which trucks to buy.

That’s the top line summary of recent activity in lift truck acquisitions and usage. From here, we drill down to the story behind that story.

A little background first

Perhaps most importantly, the specifics of the survey offer some insights into how your peers are managing lift truck fleets in these times.

Survey respondents in the 2021 survey described the primary activity at their location as manufacturing (39%), distribution (32%) and warehousing (22%). The average number of employees at those companies is nearly 300 and average revenue is just more than $500 million.

In other words, survey respondents are fairly evenly spread across the major activities of industry and are of a substantial size. But as you read through this report, you’ll see that smaller companies are also represented here, making the survey a strong indicator of actual lift truck buying and usage trends.

So many trucks to count

It’s also worth noting that 45% of respondents to this year’s survey say they operate a core fleet of trucks. In contrast to that, 55% rely primarily on a less-utilized reserve fleet. That’s another way of saying lift trucks are central to materials handling at 45% of those companies. That’s impressive.

As you might imagine, the largest single segment of trucks in operation are electric-powered rider trucks (Class 1) with 57% of companies using them. Electric-powered pallet trucks (Class 3) account for 44% of vehicles and electric-powered narrow-aisle trucks (Class 2) are at 43% of companies.

As the chart shows, there have been some fluctuations in the past 24 months in the relative popularity of these and other truck types. But nowhere is there a pronounced shift from one type to the other. The largest shift here is in internal combustion counterbalanced trucks with cushion tires (Class 4). That moved from 41% in 2019 to 29% last year and back up to 37% this year.

The survey included a question about the adoption of autonomous and semi-autonomous forklift technology. It’s no surprise that the numbers are fairly small, coming in at 14% in this year’s survey. In 2019, that number was 21% and last year at 19%.

Despite those numbers, the use of semi-autonomous and autonomous lift trucks is probably not bouncing around that much. Instead, the number should be used as a general indicator of lukewarm buying activity at best as this technology continues to evolve. And it’s certainly a number to watch in coming years.

As was said earlier, fleet size has remained stable. The average fleet size in the 2021 survey is 27 trucks, exactly the same as last year and an increase of one from 2019 levels. The chart shows a breakout of lift truck fleet size from more than 100 to fewer than three. It’s worth noting that 54% of companies have fleets of nine trucks or fewer.

Buying plans

Looking forward, 64% say they plan to buy or lease lift trucks in the next 12 to 24 months. That’s a notable increase from 2020 survey results when 51% had plans to buy or lease in that same time period. Which, if you think about it, was an especially strong number given the grips of Covid a year ago.

The average number of trucks expected to be acquired in the next 12 to 24 months continues to sit at just over seven. Fifty-five percent of acquisitions are an addition to the fleet while 45% are a replacement. On average, trucks are replaced every 7.3 years, a few months less than the 7.7 years in both 2020 and 2019. See the chart for more details. Interestingly, 39% of respondents hold on to or store replaced lift trucks “just in case we need them.”

Then there’s the matter of expected spend on lift trucks. The median spend, according to the 2021 survey, is $50,000 and the average is $156,000.

Spend on replacement parts is important, too. As the chart shows, wheels and tires lead the way with batteries and their accessories following up.

Respondents were also asked for their reasons the economy has a “great impact” on lift truck acquisition decisions.

As would be expected, the dominant response was a variation on: “if the economy is good, we purchase equipment.” But there’s more to their thinking than just that.

Time and again, stories in Modern have reported on the heightened level of activity recently, especially in warehousing and distribution. And that has affected decision making regardless of the state of the economy.

As one respondent said, “when we have a lot of work, it requires more trucks to ensure proper delivery.” Or put another way, our specific “business demands dictate purchases.” Perhaps the best summary was “our need for forklift trucks is driven by how our business is doing.”

Then there’s the matter of when the economy has “no impact” on lift truck decisions. These range from “equipment is essential to operating the business” to “we purchase by necessity,” and “we identify our needs and proceed from there.” Perhaps the most colorful response was “we run them into the ground then need to replace them to keep operations running.”

Who buyers work with

From buy/lease to maintenance and training, companies rely on a web of specialists to meet their lift truck needs.

For instance, lift truck dealers continue to dominate sales. Eighty-six percent of respondents buy or lease direct from dealers while 24% work directly with lift truck manufacturers. Clearly, some companies out there use both channels.

The buy/lease decision is almost exactly evenly split with 51% purchasing trucks and 49% leasing.

As was said initially, price (75%), quality (72%) and safety (67%) are the three characteristics considered most important when companies make their buy/lease decisions. Next on the list is the cost to run the truck over its lifetime (55%), parts availability (53%) and service response time (46%).

That said, don’t underestimate the importance of the company’s relationship with its local dealer. Thirty-nine percent of respondents ranked that characteristic highly. Financing options (20%) are also important. Mixed in here is specific performance and productivity features (35%) and breadth of features (14%).

Of special note is the importance of green/environmentally friendly lift trucks. Only 17% say that is an important consideration when buying or leasing. In a world where electric trucks account for 60% of sales, the industry has already turned the corner on the importance of green and just doesn’t give it as much overt thought as others do. No one would have expected lift trucks to be a leader in green, but they are and have been for some time.

A question was also asked about servicing and maintaining lift trucks. Just over half outsource to the dealer with 29% relying on in-house staff. Nearly 20% outsource to a maintenance/service contractor.

When it comes to training of operators, the preference is clearly to internal programs. In fact, 85% of companies go that route, and have in all previous surveys, too. Only about 14% rely on dealers and barely more than 10% on independent service providers.

So there you have it, another year of trends in lift truck acquisition and use. If there is any central theme, it’s this: Keep doing what you’re doing as long as your trucks provide sufficient support for your business needs. That approach works for your competition and other peers.

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Prime 20 elevate truck suppliers 2021

For all the technology offered by today’s lift truck suppliers, the core products themselves are physical pieces of hardware essential for moving goods and materials in warehouses and other facilities. During the depths of the past pandemic year, when many regions were experiencing disruptions or even production shutdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic, acquiring more equipment to run operations was not exactly a high priority, if even feasible.

As a result, it’s not too much of a surprise that our annual Top 20 Lift Truck Suppliers list saw a slight drop in total revenues among the companies who made the list. When looked at cumulatively for all 20 suppliers on the list, total revenue came in at $42.89 billion, down 1.3% from the suppliers’ 2019 total of $43.47 billion. And, if we compare the 2019 total for the slightly different makeup of last year’s Top 20, the drop is 1.6%, down from $43.61 billion.

Either way, a less than 2% drop-off isn’t that bad, considering the magnitude of the global pandemic. This likely speaks to the fact that even with all the pandemic impacts, industries such as food and beverage, as well as e-commerce fulfillment warehouses, were busy getting goods out to consumers, which brings with it the need for lift trucks, especially electric trucks commonly used indoors.

This slight decline in revenue for our Top 20 Lift Truck Suppliers list is consistent with North American data on lift truck industry sales tracked by the Industrial Truck Association (ITA). According to ITA, 2020 forklift truck sales in North America were down by 5.1% compared to 2019. The market decline can be partially attributed to the impact of Covid-19, ITA leadership stated.

“The industrial truck industry had its third best year on record in 2019, and the sales decrease in 2020 with Covid-19 was not unexpected,” Jay Gusler, chairman of the board of directors for ITA and executive vice president of operations for Mitsubishi Logisnext Americas Group, said at the time of the ITA announcement. “Our industry performed well throughout the pandemic thanks to the essential nature of our products and the dedicated associates in our industry.”

Not all classes of trucks saw a decline in ITA’s figures. While Class 5 trucks saw a significant drop of 19.7%, Class 2 and Class 3 trucks saw a small increase from 2019 at 2% and 1.1% respectively. Generally speaking, Class 2 and Class 3 trucks are heavily used in consumer goods and food and beverage industries, which even during the pandemic remained busy keeping goods flowing to consumers.

Among the suppliers in this year’s Top 20 list, there were varying results. Many of the Top 20 saw a modest decline in sales from the previous year, while others actually enjoyed an increase. Since our list is global in nature, some suppliers in China or other parts of Asia may have benefits from an early curve to the pandemic in their key markets, with an earlier lifting of pandemic closures or restrictions, and a return to more robust sales of lift trucks to support materials handling requirements in a resurgent economy.

The annual lift truck survey is based on revenue figures obtained from a questionnaire. As in previous years, it asks for the previous year’s calendar or last full fiscal year revenues related to the sale of lift trucks (see box at the end of the article for more on our criteria).

While not a comprehensive study of lift truck market growth, it does indicate that many of the major suppliers weathered the pandemic quite well, advanced their technologies, and are poised for resumed strong growth for the remainder of 2021.

The Top 10

Toyota Industries Corporation (TICO) again held the No. 1 spot on our list. The company, which includes the Toyota and Raymond brands, saw its revenue decrease from $13.35 billion for 2019, to $12.67 billion for 2020, about a 5% decline. The company sold 265,501 units across all lift truck classes in 2020.

Early in 2020, Toyota completed its North American business unit integration process, which culminated in a single business unit, Toyota Material Handling Inc. (TMH). Some of the new products from TMH included electric trucks featuring Toyota-designed AC motors, as well as two new automated products, a Center-Controlled Rider Automated Forklift and the Core Tow Tractor Automated Forklift.

At No. 2, KION’s 2020 worldwide revenue came in at $6.92 billion, down from the 2019 revenue we listed for them at $7.17 billion. KION reported it sold 198,300 units of all classes worldwide. On the company leadership front, KION appointed key vice presidents in mid-2020. Brandon Flexsenhar took over as vice president of operations in July 2020, succeeding Daniel Schlegel, who was appointed vice president of customer service. David LaDue took over as vice president of sales and deaITA’s lift truck classes
ITA’s lift truck classes
The Industrial Truck Association (ITA, indtrk.org) has defined seven classes of lift trucks, or forklifts, which are defined by the type of engine, work environment, operator position and equipment characteristics.

Lift truck classes include:Class 1: electric motor trucks with cushion or pneumatic tires
Class 2: electric motor narrow aisle trucks with solid tires
Class 3: electric hand trucks or hand/rider trucks with solid tires
Class 4: internal combustion engine sit down rider forklifts with cushion tires, suitable for indoor use on hard surfaces
Class 5: internal combustion engine sit down rider forklifts with pneumatic tires, suitable for outdoor use on rough surfaces
Class 6: electric or internal combustion engine powered, rider units with the ability to tow (rather than lift) at least 1,000 pounds
Class 7: almost exclusively powered by diesel engines with pneumatic tires, these units are suitable for rough terrain and used outdoors.

Since primarily classes one through five are used in materials handling applications inside the four walls, Modern has only specified those on our supplier table.ler development on July 31, 2020.

In third place, Jungheinrich AG reported revenue for 2020 of $4.55 billion, down slightly from $4.57 billion we listed for them last year. The company reported its incoming orders for 2020 came to 111,400 units.

2020 Rank

Company

2019 Rank

2019Revenue*+(in millions)

2020Revenue*(in millions)

% Change 2019-2020

North American brands

World headquarters

ITA Class 1

ITA Class 2

ITA Class 3

ITA Class 4

ITA Class 5

Toyota Industries Corporation

1

13356

12671

-5.1%

Toyota, Raymond

Kariya, Aichi, Japan

x

x

x

x

x

KION Group AG

2

7173

6924

-3.5%

Linde, STILL, Baoli

Frankfurt, Germany

x

x

x

x

x

Jungheinrich AG

3

4576

4550

-0.6%

Sold in NA by MitsubishiLogisnext America

Hamburg, Germany

x

x

x

 

x

Mitsubishi Logisnext Co., Ltd.

4

4152

3786

-8.8%

UniCarriers, Mitsubishi, Cat,Rocla, Jungheinrich (NA only)

Kyoto, Japan

x

x

x

x

x

Crown Equipment Corp.

5

3720

3620

-2.7%

Crown, Hamech

New Bremen, Ohio

x

x

x

x

x

Hyster-Yale Materials Handling, Inc.

6

3291

2812

-14.6%

Hyster, Yale, Nuvera, Bolzoni,Hyster-Yale Maximal

Cleveland, Ohio

x

x

x

x

x

Anhui Forklift Truck Group Co., Ltd.

7

1438

1930

34.2%

Heli, CHL

Hefei, Anhui, China

x

x

x

x

x

Hangcha Group Co., Ltd.

8

1268

1268*

0%

HC, Hangcha

Hangzhou, China

x

x

x

x

x

Manitou

16

218

1252

474.3%

Manitou

Ancenis Cedex, France

x

x

x

 

x

Doosan Industrial Vehicle

9

1166

981.2

-15.8%

Doosan

Seoul, South Korea

x

x

x

x

x

Clark Material Handling International, Inc.

10

783

705

-10.0%

Clark

Seoul, South Korea

x

x

x

x

x

Komatsu Ltd.

11

642

605

-5.8%

Komatsu

Tokyo, Japan

x

x

 

x

x

Hyundai Heavy Industries

12

406

406*

0%

Hyundai

Ulsan, South Korea

x

x

 
 

x

Lonking Forklift Co., Ltd.

13

343

343*

0%

Lonking

Shanghai, China

 
 
 

x

x

Combilift Ltd.

14

335

366

9.3%

Combilift

Monaghan, Ireland

x

x

x

x

x

EP Equipment, Ltd.

15

310

359

15.8%

Big Joe

Hangzhou, China

x

x

x

 
 

Noblelift Intelligent Equipment

N/A

136.4

150

10.0%

Noblelift

Changxing, Zhejiang, China

x

x

x

 
 

Liuzhou LiuGong Forklift Co.,Ltd

18

94

94*

0%

LiuGong

Liuzhou City, China

x

 
 

x

x

Hubtex Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG

20

72

72*

0%

Hubtex

Fulda, Germany

x

x

 
 
 

Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd.

19

77.3

60.6

-21.3%

Not available in North America

Mumbai, India

x

x

x

x

x

 

TOTAL

 

Figures based on currency exchange rates as of 12/31/20.* 2020 revenues were not available by press time.Source: Modern Materials HandlingMitsubishi Logisnext retained fourth place on our list, with 2020 revenue of $3.78 billion, down from their revenue figure for the previous year of $4.15 billion. The company sold 85,000 units last year, it reported.

Last year was a year of organizational change for Mitsubishi Logisnext. In October 2020, Mitsubishi Logisnext Americas, the parent company for Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America Inc. (MCFA) and UniCarriers Americas Corporation (UniCarriers), announced it was integrating these group company operations within the Americas, going forward as Mitsubishi Logisnext Americas group. At the time, Ken Barina, president of Mitsubishi Logisnext Americas, said the integration allows for a stronger, more efficient organization to support customers and dealers.

Crown Equipment remains in fifth place after reporting $3.62 billion in worldwide sales for its fiscal 2020, down from $3.72 billion the previous year, which represents a 2.7% decrease. On the product front, key announcements from the company included the Crown MPC Series with QuickPick Remote, a semi-automated feature aimed at increasing productivity in low-level order picking, and a new tow tractor, which is capable of switching between manual and automated operation. The company also expanded its “V-Force” battery line and launched a new online store.

Hyster Yale held on to sixth place with $2.81 billion in revenue, down from $3.29 billion for 2019. The company sold approximately 85,500 units in 2020, down from 100,300 units in 2019.

Hyster Yale’s product approach involves modular and scalable product families covering both internal combustion and electric trucks. To name a few, in 2020, the company introduced a new 7-ton to 9-ton, lithium-ion battery electric counterbalanced truck. This truck complements the lower-capacity 2-ton to 3.5-ton lithium-ion version, also launched in 2020. The company also introduced a new reach truck for the Americas market in 2020.

In seventh place, Anhui Heli Co.’s revenues increased from $1.43 billion in 2019, to the $1.93 billion for 2020 revenue, representing a 34% increase. The company sold 220,678 units worldwide in 2020.

Eighth-place Hangcha’s revenues were not available as of press time, so we are placing them steady at the figure provided last year, $1.26 billion. We applied this same policy to five other vendors on the list.

Coming in at ninth is Manitou, which reported 2020 revenue of (converted from Euros) of $1.25 billion for its Material Handling & Access (MHA) division, which makes forklifts, as well as a range of other material handling equipment such as aerial work platforms and manufacturing telehandlers. Last year, the company’s list placing was based on a previous year response, whereas this year, it is based on the MHA divison’s total for 2020, converted to dollars.

Doosan secures the 10th spot this year, with 2020 revenue of $981.2 million, down from $1.16 billion in 2019.

Some up; more down
The rest of the Top 20 also experienced some declines, with others holding steady. Additionally, one new entrant was among the second half of this year’s list.

Clark Material Handling reported 2020 revenue of $705 million, down from $783 million for 2019, making it 11th on our list. In March of 2021, Clark introduced the WPL40 Electric Pallet Jack, which features a lithium-ion battery. In August of 2020, the company partnered with Flux Power to provide its dealer and end-users with lithium-ion power options. Presently, more than 250,000 Clark lift trucks are operating in North America and 350,000 units operating worldwide, according to the company.

At the No. 12 spot is Komatsu, which generated $605 million in 2020 revenue, down from $642 million in 2019. On the product front, the company introduced a large, internal combustion, hydrostatic lift truck (22,000 to 35,000 pound lift capacity) for the U.S. market, and an easy maintenance battery electric lift truck (5,000 to 6,000 pound capacity), for the Japanese market. This year also marks the 100th anniversary for the company.

Hyundai, which includes Hyundai Material Handling, did not respond by press time, so we held it steady at $406 million in lift truck related revenue, which put it into 13th on our list. In April of 2021, the company appointed Lewis Byers as vice president and COO of Hyundai Material Handling Forklift Division.

Also steady on revenue since their number was not available, is Longking Forklift Co., at $343 million in revenue. That puts them into 14th on our list this year.

In our 15th spot is Combilift, which had a growth year, reporting revenue of $366 million, up from $335 for 2019 revenue, which represents 9.3% growth. The company, which has U.S. headquarters in Greensboro, N.C., said its growth has been propelled by the nature of its trucks and their ability to support rapid fulfillment in narrow aisle environments. In 2021, the company launched its Aisle Master OP truck, which can do either bulk handling of pallets, or order picking, with the same unit, in narrow aisles. The company sold 6,477 units in 2020, versus 6,400 in 2019.

At No. 16 is EP Equipment, which offers the Big Joe brand of forklifts. The company showed healthy growth, reporting $359 million in 2020 sales, up from $310 million for 2019, a 16% increase. The company reports it sold 130,000 units in 2020.

The new entrant to our Top 20 at No. 17 is Noblelift, whose North American organization is based near Chicago. It reported 2020 revenue of $150 million, up from $136.4 million in 2019, which represents 10% growth.

Slotting in at No. 18 on our list is Luigong, with revenue of $94 million. Its product line includes electric forklifts, internal combustion forklifts, tow tractors and automatic guided vehicles.

At No. 19 is Hubtex, whose revenue listing remains unchanged at $72 million.

Rounding things out at No. 20 is Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co., reporting 2020 revenue of $60.6 million, down from $77.3 million in 2019. The company said it sold 2,469 powered industrial truck units in 2020.

With the pandemic appearing to be subsiding, the lift truck market stands to benefit from resurgent economies and the steadily increasing need to move more goods in the coming years. Most industry analyst firms project decent, single-digit growth the lift truck market through the mid-2020s, with estimates ranging from 3% to the 7% in terms of compound annual growth rate over the next few years.

The suppliers on our list stand to benefit from a resumption of growth at this pace, even as the larger suppliers expand on the technologies they offer, including fully autonomous lift trucks. Increasingly, some of the top suppliers in the lift truck market are no longer just “hardware” vendors, they are also suppliers of technology solutions that help improve fulfillment operations and materials handling processes.

How the suppliers are ranked

To be eligible for Modern’s annual Top 20 lift truck suppliers ranking, companies must manufacture and sell lift trucks in at least one of the Industrial Truck Association’s seven truck classes: electric motor rider; electric motor hand trucks; internal combustion engine; pneumatic tire; electric and internal combustion engine tow tractors; and rough terrain lift trucks.

Rankings are based on worldwide revenue from powered industrial trucks during each company’s most recent fiscal year. Revenue figures submitted in foreign currency are calculated using the Dec. 31, 2020 exchange rate. Percentage changes for certain vendors may vary from figures or percentages in annual reports or other sources, due to currency conversion issues and timing.

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Elevate truck equipment matter

August 10, 2021 ·

By Gary Forger, Contributing Editor ·

This is no time to make light of lift truck accessories. It just isn’t in your best interest to understate their importance to either a lift truck’s productivity or that of your people. Not to mention safety.

For this article, we talked to suppliers of traditional accessories—tires, seats, terminals and their mounts and attachments, to name four. We also talked to suppliers of fleet management technologies of various stripes. If you still don’t think those are part of the accessory picture, then you’re already underachieving.

It didn’t matter which accessory was the topic of the interview, the value of keeping lift trucks up, running and at their most efficient was always front and center. The same was true for operator safety and productivity. Clearly, accessory suppliers consider the truck and operator to be a single unit that they have at least partial responsibility for.

Tim Hall, account manager for materials handling seats at Grammer says this: “The philosophy of seats is changing. We’re moving from lowest cost regardless of operator comfort and shock mitigation to a much greater awareness of the seat’s features and their impact on operator comfort.”

He said that about seats? Seriously? After all, the United States has long been known to make lift truck seats a very secondary consideration. In fact, many companies would much prefer that operators stood, believing they remain more engaged and alert. That’s in stark contrast to Europe’s long-standing interest in seats for operator comfort and ultimately productivity. That’s worth at least one thoughtful moment on your part.

Reggie Collette, director of sales and marketing at Thombert, notices a similar trend with tires. “The approach of one-size-fits-all is gone from the tire decision now,” he says. “Warehouses are getting larger and lift truck speeds are often 10 mph not 4 mph. That adds to the wear on tires, so selecting the right compound is increasingly important. You also have to train operators on how to most effectively use that truck in these new, more expansive environments.” Tires matter, too? You bet.

Read on to understand the latest in several key lift truck accessories. It’s worth money to you.

Seats and tires

Since we’ve already introduced tires and seats, we’re going to stay with them for now.

Collette, whose company focuses solely on polyurethane wheels and tires, not rubber ones, says not only have warehouses changed, but so has usage of specific lift truck types.

That means you have to understand your floor conditions. For instance, one level of dampness dictates a specific tire hardness and design for maximum grip on the floor. A higher level of dampness requires grooves cut into the tires to displace water more actively and increase traction. But that’s only the beginning, Collette adds. It is now critical to monitor tire condition. You can no longer just assume they’re good enough. He recommends regular inspections and a maintenance schedule. It’s also important to record and track tire data.

Collette calls it manual telematics. And he assures those listening that the day is coming when tire condition will be part of the telematics monitoring already done electronically in the operator cab to track truck usage and condition. He says that understanding cost per hour of operation for tires is critical to understanding the real cost of ownership.

As was already said, seats are taking on new importance. It’s little wonder when operators get on and off trucks 50 or 60 times a day.

That means, says Hall of Grammer, that low-profile seats are in the spotlight as are built-in hip guards that maintain the position of the operator in the seat.

And a new control in seats can help operators avoid collisions. Called “haptic warnings,” these vibratory signals built into the seat warn the operator of a danger. Hall says the fact the signal vibrates makes it as prominent as possible, unlike audible signals that can get lost in all the other sounds of a warehouse.

Workhorse attachments

Whether it’s a carton clamp or a standard fork tine, attachments have long provided productivity leverage to lift truck operators. And with some new technology twists, that leverage is increasing. Or as Pete Drake, senior vice president of operations for the Americas at Cascade, says, “attachments are much more than steel these days.”

Jason Gaydos, major and national accounts manager at Bolzoni, says the latest improved attachments make load handling safer and more efficient while reducing damage to the product being handled. “In addition, there has been most recently an increasing emphasis on making the work safer for the lift truck operator. In fact, operator well-being is now at the forefront of most attachment selection decisions,” says Gaydos.

For instance, both Cascade and Bolzoni offer tines with high-resolution cameras and sensors that monitor load handling. The idea is to give the operator a strong visual with an onboard terminal of the relative position of the tines and the load. “This lets the attachment simplify handling,” explains John Regan, vice president of sales and marketing at Bolzoni.

Mobile weighing with scales built into the tines is another innovation from both Bolzoni and Cascade. Applications range from overload protection to inventory control and even order picking.

As Drake explains, these and related technology additions to attachments tend to take operator guesswork out of handling loads, especially ones that may be more prone to damage if mishandled. “Technology here has grown so much in the past 18 months with the acceleration in automation and e-commerce activity, making digital data available to systems ranging from on-board telematics to warehouse management systems,” Drake adds.

Operators connect direct to data and software that streamline processes through on-board terminals.
On-board terminals and mounts

“For the first time, mission critical information flow to lift truck drivers is now an imperative, not just a buzz phrase,” explains Glenn Lundgren, business development executive at JLT Mobile Computers.

Ultimately, onboard terminals of all shapes and sizes provide that information directly to the operator, ensuring information is available to streamline workflows and processes. While not new in and of itself, a proliferation of rugged onboard terminals includes full-size tablets, smaller handhelds as well as bar code scanners and on-board printers. “You have to put the right tech in place to connect to the right data and software to provide task specific information directly to the operator,” adds Lundgren.

Convenience for the operator is essential here, explains Chad Sullivan, design engineer at terminal mount manufacturer Gamber-Johnson. That requires mounts designed for ease of use when the device is sitting in place as well as ease of removal and replacement for mobile applications, Sullivan continues. This also requires attention to power cords required to run all tech without downtime.

Rugged design of mounts protects the devices from jostling as lift trucks, which don’t have shock absorbers, simply make their rounds in the facility, adds Sullivan. The objective is to get five to seven years of continuous use from tech devices on trucks, explains Lundgren.

Meanwhile, the technology inside the devices is changing. The current leading shift is to Android due to its openness and ease of use, adds Lundgren. However, the shift away from Microsoft as it withdraws support for these applications is still underway.

“In the end, devices and their mounts on lift trucks are all about making operators as safe and productive as possible without increasing their workloads,” says Lundgren.

Fleet management technologies

Adoption of technology to improve management of individual lift trucks and entire fleets continues to expand. In fact, 41% of companies say they have already adopted fleet management technologies. That’s according to the Modern Materials Handling “Lift Truck Acquisition and Usage Study” conducted earlier this year.

The top four uses of these technologies and software are to track maintenance history, safety, maintenance costs and level of utilization. As the survey indicates, success here is substantial with 43% saying their efforts are extremely or very successful and another 54% calling them somewhat successful.

Or as Erica Moyer, iWarehouse product manager for RTLS and Pick2Pallet at The Raymond Corp., puts it, “the future of this technology is now.” She continues to say, “fleet management and operator assist technologies are a fundamental aspect to improve operating efficiency while ensuring lift truck operators are confident and comfortable. They are operational table stakes going forward.”

Chris Reeves, product manager at Collective Intelligence Group, explains, “these technologies give managers more control and drivers more accountability. They create efficient, three-way communication between supervisors, forklift vehicles and drivers, and increase safety and productivity while helping to optimize fleet operations.”

Both Collective Intelligence and Raymond offer telematics that control who can actually drive the truck, how it is used and the condition it is in at any given moment. That allows fleet managers to better allocate their lift truck resources for maximum impact.

Most recently, Raymond has added a real-time location system that “reinforces facility rules and supports proper Raymond lift truck operation,” explains Moyer. The patented ultra-wide-band technology tracks trucks and pedestrians, ensuring they operate in designated areas to maximize routes and minimize congestion and potential incidents. It is fully integrated with the company’s telematics solution.

So, from seats to real-time location systems, lift truck accessories are bringing technology ever closer to the exact location where work is being done. That makes both operators and operations winners.

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