Productivity within the warehouse owes a lot to the efficient running of the lift truck fleet. Down-time is what all logistics managers want to minimise, but that depends on how the fleet is run and maintained. A planned maintenance contract with a lift truck manufacturer can ensure that the fleet is mechanically sound and fit for purpose, but it is important too that forklift drivers are adequately trained – developing a culture of pride in the vehicle and work environment can have a dramatic impact on vehicle care and accident records.
Getting the most from a fleet depends on how you manage it and there are now software tools available that help that process.
Zetes, known for their auto-ID solutions, has just become the preferred implementation partner for a US developed forklift fleet management solution. The wireless system is designed to reduce maintenance costs through preventative maintenance planning and eliminates paper-based record keeping into the bargain. Zetes” system supports automatic scheduling of preventative maintenance based on weighted factors, real-time notification of emerging repair issues identified by drivers, and (for electric vehicles) automatic software-based battery rotation management.
Operator safety is improved by restricting driver access using rfid key or pin-based systems and in-built automated vehicle health check procedures. The system will also detect driver training requirements and incidents of dangerous driving. Operator productivity is said to be improved through effective management of warehouse traffic hot spots with real-time location tracking and monitoring of vehicle usage patterns including peak usage reports.
Of particular use is the reporting data which could well help with identifying under-utilised vehicles, perhaps, enabling you to trim the fleet size. All in all, Zetes” claim a return on investment within 12 months is feasible.
Pan-European fleet deals
With regards maintenance contracts, many companies with sites across Europe are looking at single sourcing the maintenance contract. In particular, third party logistics service providers have sought to gradually replace nationally based forklift procurement contracts with pan-European fleet deals. But there can be complicating factors.
According to Bill Goodwin, sales director, Jungheinrich UK, ”The leading forklift truck manufacturers have always sold and serviced their products either directly, as in the case of my own company, or through a network of regional and, in some instances national, independent dealers.
”Across Europe there are literally thousands of independently owned forklift dealerships who will gladly supply you with a lift truck and undertake to maintain it throughout its working life. The majority are highly professional and well-run organizations, but some of them, most definitely are not. And, the enlargement of the EU in 2004 and the subsequent restructuring of the European economy has brought the issue into sharper focus: quite simply, the quality of many of the dealers operating in the countries that once formed the Eastern Bloc is well below that which we have come to expect in the UK and throughout most of Western Europe. Sadly, in some cases, this is also true for dealers operating in mature markets.”
Goodwin argues that dealing with a forklift truck manufacturer that retains ownership of its downward supply chain by taking the direct route to market ensures that a uniform standard of service is achieved across the fleet – regardless of where in the world the trucks are working.
So far, over one hundred retailers and logistics services providers have international sourcing agreements with Jungheinrich and, as more such companies seek to develop their businesses across continental boundaries and, at the same time, look to achieve the economies of scale that international lift truck procurement deals can bring, Goodwin believes that this figure is set to grow significantly in the years to come.
Of course, good design plays a big part in productivity and low maintenance requirements. The latest example being Toyota”s upgrade of its BT Reflex M-series reach trucks.
Mark Ogden, applications and product manager for reach trucks, Toyota Material Handling UK, says: ”Our research has shown that greater operator comfort delivers greater productivity. With this in mind we have upgraded the BT Reflex to ensure that our clients can achieve optimum performance from the trucks and their operators.”
The improved drive unit requires less maintenance, providing a more reliable truck, and the new cabin interior is more comfortable, with many adjustable features to suit each operator. All controls are designed to be as intuitive as possible so that the operator can concentrate on the job throughout a shift.
PIN code access eliminates the need for keys, allowing only authorised people to start and operate the truck. Not only that, particular performance settings can be allocated to each PIN, meaning that the truck optimises itself for each operator when his or her access code is entered. Programmable settings include steering sensitivity, top speed, acceleration rate and auto-braking.
The Reflex M-Series is comprised of three models: RRE120M, RRE140M, and RRE160M, with respective lift capacities of 1200, 1400, and 1600 kilograms. All Reflex M-Series trucks have a narrow chassis, allowing them to work in narrower aisles that are not accessible to larger trucks. The trucks can lift up to 8.5 metres, making the Reflex M-Series a natural choice for pallet handling in small to medium-size operations.
But overall, it”s worth remembering that it”s the driver that really counts and that comes down to good training. l”Overall,
it”s worth remembering that it”s the driver that really counts and that comes down to good training”
Case study – For a longer life
When Yale launched the Veracitor VX series of engine powered lift trucks in 2005, one of the benefits highlighted by the company was that its smooth operating characteristics would extend tyre life by up to 75 per cent – Rockwool Group agrees.
With a fleet of over 100 Yale VX Series 1.6 – 3.5 tonnes capacity lift trucks at its ”Rockpanel” production facility at Roermond in the Netherlands, Rockwool has considerable experience of operating the new Veracitor VX Series supplied by Wynmalen Materials Handling BV in Vlaardingen, the Yale Dealer for the Netherlands.
Manager of the Technical Department at Rockwool in Roermond, George Vassen says: ”Tyre wear and the cost of replacing tyres has always been a major concern for Rockwool but the introduction of the Yale VX Series with ADS (Auto Deceleration System) and CPR (Control Power Reversal) has prolonged tyre life by 40 per cent in outside areas and by a massive 75 per cent when operating inside on smooth floors.”
When Yale launched the new Veracitor VX Series, it claimed the engine powered lift truck had the operating characteristics of an equivalent electric truck – for example regenerative or ”plug” braking, controlled power reversals and overall controllability. The evidence of three years operation at Rockwool shows this has dramatically prolonged tyre life and helped to reduce the overall cost of lift truck operation.
With over 30 years experience of operating lift trucks at Rockwool, Vassen is not surprised, saying: ”Before changing our fleet to Yale, lift trucks operating seven days a week and 24 hours a day were constantly having to have their tyres replaced. The results of our study using the Yale VX Series categorically prove average tyre life when used outside has increased from 1200 to 1700 hours, with average tyre life inside increasing from 4000 to 7000 hours. Based on an average replacement cost of €1000 for four tyres, you can see that we have saved a significant amount and also increased the trucks uptime.”
The ”Rockpanel” plant at Roermond is a modern facility manufacturing insulated façade panels, where trucks have multiple operators, each with their own driving style, working around the clock, with short runs, fast acceleration, constant direction changes and heavy braking, all contributing to tyre wear.
Assisted by the on-board Intellex VSMTM for fault diagnosis, Rockwool has been able to keep accurate records for its Yale trucks, the savings on tyre wear and tyre replacement helping Rockwool to dramatically reduce the overall operating costs for its lift truck fleet.
Vassen adds: ”The introduction of the Yale VX Series in 2005 with its good ergonomic design, smooth driving characteristics and focus on reducing down-time, has been a great success, with some of the 100 strong Yale fleet still operating on their original factory fitted tyres, showing the benefits of the ADS and CPR system to improve driving technique and reduce tyre wear.”
As a leading manufacturer of energy efficient insulation products, The Rockwool Group claims to improve the quality of life for millions of people by helping to alleviate environmental problems such as the greenhouse effect, smog and acid rain, with Rockwool insulation saving 100 times the energy used to manufacture the product. ”This focus on the environment extends to all manufacturing processes and the saving on lift truck tyres makes an important contribution to our environmental policy” concludes Vassen.