“Customers are constantly looking for increased productivity as cost effectively as possible and a multi functional truck is one way to deliver this aim,” says Phil Pearson, Head of Marketing at Linde MH UK. Never a sluggard industry for innovation, forklift manufacturers will deliver more innovation over multi functionality but it is about striking the right balance between the need for fewer trucks and overall product performance.

There is, of course, nothing new in broadening a single truck’s handling capabilities. The first move in this direction came with the multitude of attachments for handling almost any kind of product imaginable but that did not necessarily reduce the overall fleet size. Since then, however, the advent of articulated forklifts raised truck flexibility to new levels that could deliver substantial cuts in fleet sizes as well as reduce interface costs like warehouse rents, rates and energy.

Further development with articulated trucks will see the opening up of new application areas.
Examples of these include the Arctic cold store truck and pedestrian, articulated, powered pallet truck from Translift Bendi. The Arctic works in only 1.6 mt-wide aisles whereas until now the cold store truck of choice was the reach truck, requiring at least 2.6 mt-wide aisles. To a much lesser extent, VNA trucks are also used but these cost far more to purchase and need more aisle changing space. Given the high cost of energy, accounting for 20-30% of total cold store running costs, the reduction of a cold store’s footprint could tempt many to switch to articulated trucks. The Bendi pedestrian, powered pallet truck is also receiving much interest from leading food retailers and DIY stores like B&Q because they solve the safety issues surrounding the use of conventional forklifts in areas where the public are walking around.

Linde has also picked up on new application markets by developing its Citi truck, designed to make light work of handling and delivering palletised goods in challenging environments. Manoeuvrable in confined spaces and able to overcome difficult terrain such as cobbles, manhole covers and slopes, it fits easily into the back of delivery vehicles. Much more innovative, however, is Linde’s concept truck, the Epion, unveiled at CeMat last month. A one-drive multiple truck, it requires a one-off investment in a drive unit with battery and controls. The only other outlay is in the purchase of attachment tools such as fork arms to turn the unit into a pallet truck or a monomast to change it into a pallet stacker. Remote control is also a feature, and motive power is by lithium-ion batteries.

Perhaps the most remarkable truck innovation, however, will be Still’s Cube XX concept truck which offers maximum flexibility owing to its combination of six proven types of vehicle. Its cab is retracted in standby mode or during an automated journey. The cab extends to provide the driver with enough space for a standby/leaning seat. The truck will turn 180 deg and on full lock its wheels allow 360 deg turn on the spot. It will move sideways and so make better use of space. Forks can be folded in so that they are flush with the mast and if working on rough yards an optional counterweight can be added and simply uncoupled when not needed so it cuts weight and energy consumption. If pulled off, this could be the most remarkable innovation in forklift history.

As for innovation in motive power spurred by environmental considerations, there are still significant cost barriers that could see their take up a slow process. Andreas Krause, Clark Europe’s Technical Director, is almost dismissive about true hybrid drives, hydrogen fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries. ‘Real’ hybrid trucks use least at least two energy converters or motor systems and two energy stores, e.g. a fuel tank and a battery. Two systems mean doubled costs, including maintenance. There would also be more stringent safety requirements.

As for fuel cells, Mr Krause says the current status quo is 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 says. We shall see.

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