Rough-terrain equipment will continue to play a crucial role in materials handling and Melissa Barnett examines several of the issues all around the rough and prepared vehicles.
One of the primary issues facing all manufacturers is tightening environmental regulations, along with us authorities this coming year rolling out the final phase of Tier 4 regulations for engines between 75 and 175 HP.
In accordance with the United States Of America Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), off-road engines are responsible for the emission of 47% of particulate matter (PM) and 25% of Nitrogen oxides (NOx) coming from all mobile sources. Particulate matter is minute particles of carbon as well as other poisonous substances created if not all fuel is burned during combustion. NOx – commonly nitrogen monoxide and nitrogen oxide – can also be produced during combustion.
Machinery exhaust, particularly diesel, contains both PM and NOx, as well as other poisonous substances. Tier 4 regulations, by several means, try to reduce the production of these by-products, thereby significantly reducing the amount of emissions-related health problems. The EPA believes that a decrease in these emissions will, by 2030, bring about an estimated decrease in 12,000 premature deaths, 8,900 hospitalisations and one million lost work days throughout the USA.
But how has it affected the rough-terrain forklift market? Most manufacturers have embraced the engine and chassis changes which were expected to conform to the regulations. Guido Cameli, sales manager for Canadian manufacturer Manitex Liftking, says that although major investment was required, Liftking saw the adjustments in regulations being an opportunity. “Achieving Tier 4 directives required extensive vehicle redesign and new technology including advanced cooling, exhaust and treatment systems. Packaging of those new systems has allowed us the opportunity to improve other areas of our vehicles, for example sight-lines and maintenance access,” he explains.
Xavier Perramon, products strategy manager for Spanish manufacturer AUSA, notes that considerable financial investment was necessary to meet Tier 4 standards. This season, AUSA will launch its 4-5 T range of rough-terrain and semi-industrial forklifts with 56kW Deutz engines fitted with Diesel Oxidation Catalysts (DOC). The engines not only meet Tier 4 requirements, but anticipate the mandatory 2017 normative.
Italian telehandler manufacturer Merlo’s Uliano Bellesia states that new Tier 4 engine adaptations and subsequent testing were expensive and time-consuming. Changes mainly affected Merlo’s 55 kW to 130 kW telehandler range. Above 130 kW, merely the ROTO (slewing turret) telehandlers required modification – these have been fitted with a selective catalyst system (SCT) which meets Tier 4 standards.
Spanish manufacturer Bomaq has redesigned equipment parts and integrated one more postfilter burner to its rough-terrain machines. Managing director Antonio Martinez states that an additional issue arising from Tier 4 requirements is using electronics from the engines. “Up to now, we have used mechanical systems for fuel injection, but to attain the desired new degrees of regulation, usage of electronics will likely be compulsory,” he explains.
There are other issues, as Richard Rich, wholesale manager of Canada And America-based dealer H&K equipment, highlights. Rich states that from the sales perspective, Tier 4 implementation causes a lot of problems, at least in the united states, that most of his customers are attempting to purchase anything they may that is still Tier 3-rated. “We have not seen just one company change over or update yet,” he says. Rich identifies a number of impediments including the requirement to use ultra-low sulphur fuel when many companies continue to have huge reserves of diesel onsite, additional maintenance issues like managing an additional fluid compartment for urea and the usage of specific engine oils which individuals will not be used to yet. An intriguing result of this reluctance to purchase Tier 4 equipment, Rich says, is the fact companies have improved the caliber of their in-house services to help keep existing equipment running so long as possible. Despite his reservations, Rich recognizes that Tier 4 is here to be and eventually companies will adapt – nevertheless the process will take many years.
Many in the business are worried regarding the inevitable purchase price increases due to engine re-designs and upgrades. Rich says the requirements could add USD 8,000 to USD 12,000 on the price. Cameli, however, believes that any price hike is much more than offset by operational savings. “Yes, our Tier 4 forklifts are inherently more costly than our Tier 3 variants (but the difference are often more than offset by lower overall operating costs including as much as 5% better fuel efficiency and extended service intervals). The operator will notice improved engine response, with the opportunity of increased productivity. Additional benefits are quieter operation and reduced emissions,” Cameli explains.
Bellesia says initial feedback on Tier 4 engine performance has been positive, but Merlo has had to mitigate price rises with offers of extra options. The company strategically timed the release of their new telehandler range so that increased prices may be cushioned with the novelty of the latest operational systems and options.
Pundits have been killing off of the rough terrain forklift for sale for several years. First, it was the development of telehandlers and today there is certainly talk how the market has reached ‘maturity’. Figures from the Industrial Truck Association for class 4/5 (class 7 figures unavailable) for 2013 US shipments show sales of 66,473 units – up from 58,483 this year.
Martinez says the current market is hard to predict, but believes rough-terrain forklifts have developed their very own niche and definately will expand with other applications if manufacturers take note of the needs of users. He says the key markets for Bomaq continue being in mining, agriculture along with the military.
AUSA specialises in rough-terrain forklifts for agriculture, especially in the vegetable and fruit sector and then there is high demand for rough-terrain forklifts in the lighter, more compact 3T (6,000 lb.) two-wheel-drive range. Perramon states that globalisation has established ‘new rooms’ in countries where you can develop new markets. AUSA is keen to grow into the US and Eurasian horticultural sectors. He adds that AUSA’s semi-industrial models, depending on a rough-terrain chassis – but more compact, with higher diameter wheels and increased ground clearance – are gaining interest in wood recycling, metal foundries and outdoor warehouse operations. These appliances offer added value as soon as the forklift has got to push and pull pallets during loading/unloading of trucks.
Bellesia believes the telehandlers’ versatility has protected them through the market changes. “In Europe, Canada and Australia, Merlo sells mainly into the agricultural sector. In the united states, this is basically the construction sector. The balance in between the two sectors is our strong point. For now, sales are consistent with the expected trend, ” he says.
Cameli agrees the current market is mature, but says and this is what makes it a robust and growing field as customers realise the machine’s value and satisfaction in rough terrains. Features for instance a tight turning radius, compact length, simplicity of design, comfort of maintenance and overall cost imply that the rough-terrain market is growing. Cameli says new markets in construction, lumber, oil and gas and concrete industries are continually emerging, and also new geographical markets including Peru and Columbia, where the price of labour has grown and greater productivity is essential within the burgeoning mining and infrastructure sectors.
Rich says that sales of rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers, particularly in the 5-6 T (12,000 lb.) range, are already slow and believes that things won’t improve with the development of Tier 4 compliant machines. “Some rough-terrain forklift manufacturers have already informed us they are not having enough their allocations of Tier 3 engines and are only capable of offer Tier 4 when April, 2015,” he says. Rich believes the cost of the brand new machines will negatively affect sales.
However, the rough-terrain rental market has become excellent, Rich adds. “Rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers are being used a lot inside the construction and drilling industries, each of which rely heavily on rentals; so while we don’t see any new markets coming online, the rental demand is increasing.” The process, he says, is always to keep H&K’s flow of rough-terrain forklifts high enough to fulfill demand.
Roll-overs and tip-overs are an occupational hazard for rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers. Uneven ground, slopes, dips, mud and unbalanced loads will be the main dangers, but Luc Pirard, CEO for Belgian company Comatra, strongly believes that uneven tyre pressures are a hidden reason for many roll-overs. “We feel that this particular incident occurs far more often than acknowledged,” he says. The Safety and health Executive of the UK, the building Plant-Hire Association in the UK and also the Telescopic Handler Association of Australia supply acknowledged that a minimal 5% drop in tyre pressure is effective in reducing stability and safe lifting capacity by around 30%. “Because tyres deflect and distort under load, they have a significant impact on stability and load-carrying ability,” Pirard explains.
Comatra specialises in safety products to the materials handling industry and it has developed a unique internal valve-mounted sensor system to monitor tyre pressure in rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers. “Most rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers are fitted with pneumatic tyres because they provide far better flotation on soft ground. The disadvantage, however, is a pneumatic tyre can be damaged or punctured. By far the most critical situation is actually a flat or under-inflated tyre having a load from the air – altering the forklift or telehandler’s stability and resulting in a possibly fatal tip-over.” Comatra’s pre-programmed sensors are mounted behind the rim, resistant to dirt and also other corrosive materials, along with a monitor is fitted within the cab. Once the forklift/telehandler is turned on, tyre pressure is measured in just one minute. The kit can easily be fitted by a skilled tyre-fitter.
Whilst pneumatic tyres are definitely the preferred option for most rough-terrain forklifts, in recent years alternatives are already developed. Chinese-based tyre manufacturer IST (Industrial Solid Tyres) Company has released an excellent tyre for rough-terrain vehicles. Brine Jiang, spokesman for IST, recommends OTR giant solid tyres for rough-terrain forklifts, particularly for the construction and mining sector, while they feature better puncture resistance than pneumatic tyres, 76dexmpky traction on difficult terrain, and stability under heavy loads. Solid tyres provide better low-rolling resistance which, therefore, will deliver less tyre wear, less heat build-up inside the tyre and improved fuel consumption.
AUSA has evolved a number of safety measures which it says are limited to its machines. AUSA’s High Visibility System (HVS) allows operators an unrestricted view both forward and in reverse while carrying a complete load on account of two infrared cameras mounted on top of the cabin plus a colour TFT monitor inside of the cabin. The infrared cameras let the operator to keep working safely in extremely low light. AUSA’s FullGrip System is a joystick control that allows the operator to engage/disengage four-wheel-drive whilst in motion in the press of the mouse.