Following retirement from his most recent role as Senior Product Marketing Manager for Hyster UK earlier this year, David Rowell reflects on some of the developments he has witnessed over 44 years in the materials handling industry, and shares his thoughts about the future.
Q: What was the industry like when you first started with Hyster?
A: This was 1972 and I was surprised to find an American owned multinational company manufacturing forklift trucks 10 miles from my home in Scotland. I was employed as a Junior Sales Coordinator, supporting dealers from Canada to South Africa. In the 70’s we introduced a new line of electric forklifts and for me this was the start of an exciting career. If you had suggested this to me back then I would have called you crazy – but I stayed working for Hyster because they were an enlightened employer. They were developing exciting new products. Across the industry, mass markets were developing and Hyster was meeting this challenge. The design philosophy evolved to provide quality equipment at an affordable price.
Q: What key innovations came with the UK manufacturing operation in Craigavon?
A: We had changed our design philosophy, as well as manufacturing and distribution methods. Initially dedicated to the production of internal combustion engine (ICE) trucks, the operation in Craigavon, Northern Ireland, opened in 1981. The well-known Hyster® H40-60 XL (2-3 tonnes capacity) forklift truck was the first product manufactured there. At the time, it was a popular truck aimed at companies in food and drink. It set the standard for quality, robustness and functionality. It fast became a popular export truck, with around 3,000 H40-60 XL trucks made in the first 20 months.
This began the “XL” era, and Hyster soon started to build other models including options with cushion tyres and pneumatic tyres, featuring power steering and fully automatic transmission as standard. It wasn’t until 2009 that Craigavon became a mixed plant for both ICE and battery products, with a major change to the layout of the plant to accommodate production of both. Today, there are over a dozen different types of 2.5 tonne Hyster® counterbalance trucks rolling off the production line.
Q: How has the electric truck market changed?
A: The first range of Hyster® electric forklift trucks was launched in the 1970s. Numerous developments followed, including the release of the XL electric series in the 1980s. Perhaps the most significant change, was when we introduced the XN and XNT series of electric forklifts in 2008. These continued the company’s strategy of modular design and innovation offering customers outstanding performance and significant savings.
Q: Would you agree that the industry seems less product driven? How did this evolution come about?
A: In the 1990s, the focus for Hyster® shifted to benefits for the operator. Because operator comfort has an impact on productivity, efficiency, and morale, ergonomic design was given greater importance. With the XM product, Hyster set a new ergonomic standard. Better seating, lower noise levels and new ergonomically designed operator controls were prominent features.
Q: What other focuses have changed in the market?
A: Energy efficiency, economy and reducing emissions have become a higher priority, with updated legislation for emissions and a greater consideration of environmental impact. In the 1990s, the XM design took these important points into consideration. Featuring the Perkins diesel engine, it offered high power with lower fuel consumption and greater efficiency.
Q: What changes did the new millennium bring?
A: Hyster began working more closely with dealers to offer more choices to customers. Modular product designs helped speed up production, whilst maintaining consistent quality, as well as offering various configurations, which further enhanced the available options to suit customer needs. In 2005 the Hyster® Fortens® FT series was brought on to the production line. This has been the premium brand for the last decade, offering a wide range of choices. The Fortens® range also offers excellent customisation options. Configurations are available to match specific application needs.
Q: How would you summarise the key focuses for Hyster in the current market?
A: I think one of the most important changes over the years is the focus on the application. Hyster has developed a clear understanding of how the choice of forklift can significantly affect the overall performance and cost. The tasks performed by the trucks and the application itself drives the customer’s choice, so Hyster is giving customers application-centric, tailormade solutions.
One of the last Hyster projects I was involved with was helping bring the new Hyster® XT forklift truck to market in 2016. The XT is a new costeffective product that sets a standard. It still offers class-leading features, some shared with the Fortens®, using proven engines and transmissions to deliver the right performance.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: I enjoyed my 44 years working within this industry immensely and it was great to work with Hyster, a company which is collaborating with customers in meaningful ways to this day.