Peter Church, managing director of leading lift truck component supplier, FB Chain Ltd, talks to Warehouse & Logistics News about his company and the safety critical products it supplies.
W&LN: When it comes to specifying lift truck chain what are the biggest influences on truck operators and forklift dealers?
Peter Church (PC): “With increasing health and safety legislation that, in some cases, makes company directors personally liable for work-related accidents, when it comes to components and spares for materials handling equipment, product quality has become a bigger influence on the purchasing decision than price.
More and more buyers put product integrity first – which, for a safety critical item such as leaf chain, is not surprising.
Of course, there are still buyers out there who believe that, when it comes to leaf chain and other safety critical mast components, there is little to choose between premium brand products and some of the low-spec, low budget alternatives that are on the market – but, thankfully, they are becoming rarer.
It is the responsibility of companies such as ours to continue to educate forklift manufacturers as well as lift truck dealers and repairers so that everyone realises that, because chain is safety critical, it is vitally important to specify the right product every time.”
W&LN: Presumably, in an industry where downtime cannot be tolerated quality of customer service is an important part of your business?
PC: “FB Chain was the first chain manufacturer to offer next day delivery of cut-to-length chain to forklift truck dealers and repairers and pioneered the ‘packaged solutions’ concept that has proved so popular among forklift manufacturers. Traditionally lift truck OEMs had always received chain in bulk, typically in coil lengths of 200 to 500 metres. The OEMs had to cut the chain to the desired length and add bolts etc before fitting it to the mast. Our expertise in not only the chain but also the associated parts led us to start providing kits of components – chains, bolts, pulleys and pins etc – directly to the truck manufacturer’s production line. It meant there was no wasted chain and the manufacturers saved considerable production time and labour costs. It also simplifies the purchasing process, reducing inventory levels and ensuring balanced stocks of the various parts. It could be said that we pioneered lean manufacturing even before it became a trendy management tool.
Such was the success of the ‘packaged chain solutions’ that direct sales to truck manufacturers soon became the biggest part of FB Chain’s business and we remain one of the leading suppliers of chain kits to the world’s top materials handling equipment brands.”
W&LN: There is lots of talk in the forklift industry about cheap and, some contend, inferior quality parts entering the market. How can truck users ensure that the chain on their forklift is appropriate for their application to avoid falling foul of the health and safety inspectors?
PC: “There are a number of things for lift truck users and dealers to consider that will help to ensure they get the right product for the job.
For example, your chain supplier should be able to offer expert guidance and be capable of discussing the various chain options available to you and be in a position to highlight any benefits or pitfalls you might expect with any given product. While it is hard to tell one make of leaf chain apart from another by simply looking at it, the material, the quality of press tooling, heat treatment processes as well as ancillaries such as corrosion resistant coatings and lubrication will all influence a chain’s product quality and performance.
Truck users should check that their chain is tested and traceable. We see more examples of chain entering the UK without any form of batch marking whatsoever. It is virtually impossible to recall a batch of potentially faulty and therefore, highly dangerous leaf chain once it has entered the market if the chain cannot be matched with a batch number.
Chain should also be able to demonstrate good fatigue resistance. Under European regulations, manufacturers are required to test leaf chain and issue a test certificate. Recent changes to ISO 4347 – the international standard governing the manufacture of the type of leaf chain used by forklift truck manufacturers – require chain manufacturers to demonstrate that their products offer high levels of ‘fatigue’ resistance.
Of course it is important that chain suppliers have the infrastructure and stock in place to be able to guarantee the highest levels of service and it also worth checking that your supplier is a member of a relevant trade association. FB Chain is the only leaf chain manufacturer represented on both the British Industrial Truck Association and the Forklift Truck Association committees. Our representatives also attend BSI Technical Policy Committee meetings and ensure that the company is always at the forefront of the latest chain manufacturing standards – improving the quality and safety of products and procedures for all.”
W&LN: You place a lot of emphasis on ‘chain traceability’. Why is this so important?
PC: “Historically all leaf chain manufacturers supplied chain with its own unique batch traceability code clearly shown. These days very few do which means that, in the event of a failure, they would not have the ability to identify a batch, trace and recall the products.
We are seeing more examples of chain entering the UK without any form of batch marking whatsoever. It is virtually impossible to recall a batch of potentially faulty and, therefore, highly dangerous leaf chain once it has entered the market if the chain cannot be matched with a batch number.
Under European regulations, manufacturers are required to test leaf chain and issue a test certificate. Unless, clear reference to each batch test is identified frequently on the chain future traceability is all but impossible. Some manufacturers identify a chain with simply the generic part number which gives no batch traceability whatsoever. Even worse, some have no markings at all.
To ensure total traceability, FB Chain fits an identification plate to every metre of chain within each batch it produces and supplies. The plate is inscribed with a batch number that relates to its test certificate. Thus, should a specific batch of chain need to be recalled, it is relatively straightforward to identify forklifts fitted with the problem product.
This means that in the event of a problem with even one batch of chain we can cross reference all other chain supplied from the same suspect batch. Our system allows us to trace precisely all deliveries of chain from the batch allowing us to recall and replace if necessary. In the last 25 years this has happened only twice but our traceability system worked perfectly on both occasions and we had the ability to react responsibly and effectively.
It is comforting for both our customers and us that we know where every batch of chain and every safety critical part is sold and we can, if necessary, trace it. Very few chain manufacturers offer a chain batch marking service such as ours.”
W&LN: What is a chain’s ‘fatigue resistance’ and why is it so important?
PC: “Forthcoming international standards for leaf chain require chain manufacturers to be able to demonstrate that their products offer high levels of ‘fatigue’ resistance (dynamic strength). In simple terms, fatigue resistance is the chain’s ‘endurance’ level.
A chain’s ability to provide good ‘fatigue’ resistance whilst maintaining high breaking loads is an accurate guide to the chain’s quality and suitability.
Most good chain manufacturers will know the fatigue limits of their products and engineers looking to design in or replace a lift truck chain should be taking fatigue limits into consideration as well as breaking loads.
Anyone tasked with acquiring new leaf chain should ensure that what they are buying has been thoroughly tested for both breaking load and fatigue resistance.”
W&LN: A forklift chain is obviously vital to the safe running of any lift truck. FB Chain produces a simple to use tool that allows truck users or engineers to check the safety of their forklift chain. Can you tell us something about it?
PC: “Yes, our Chain Wear Gauge is a very popular device that’s been sold in over 40 countries throughout the world. It allows forklift engineers or anyone charged with on-site vehicle maintenance, to quickly and easily assess if a lift truck chain is reaching the point where it might become hazardous.
Importantly, unlike other ‘Go or No Go’ chain gauges on the market which only indicate if a chain is either worn or not worn, FB’s chain wear gauge enables chain elongation – the most common cause of chain failure – to be measured to within one quarter of one per cent. This level of accuracy enables the engineer to decide if a chain could become dangerously worn out before the next service.
The gauge is simple to operate and has no electronic parts that can malfunction, and it’s easily read scale means the engineer simply has to hold the tool against the chain to take an accurate reading.
Your readers can visit our website (www.chainweargauge.com) and see a video – starring me! – that demonstrates how easy it is to use the gauge.”
W&LN: How do you believe the UK lift truck industry will develop in the coming years?
PC: “It is clear that the lift truck industry is becoming sharper and more sophisticated and the influences of scale and competition are more prevalent.
Independent dealers are likely to get bigger and exert even more influence in the years ahead while the relationship between forklift manufacturers and their suppliers is likely to get closer. By this I mean that manufacturers will seek suppliers who are comfortable with sharing their business information in a partnership approach – a similar model to that employed by the automotive industry. As international competition for a global demand increases, margins will be squeezed so an open and honest partnership is essential to ensure continuity of production in an efficient and cost effective manner.”
Sealed For Life forklift chain rollers cut downtime and make servicing simpler
FB Chain Ltd has recently developed and launched a new ‘Sealed For Life’ chain roller that reduces forklift downtime and increases the time between forklift service intervals.
Unlike conventional designs, the new FB Chain ‘Sealed For Life’ roller does not require greasing: thanks to its self-lubricating bearings and state-of-the-art sealing technology , the roller’s lubrication remains where it is needed – inside and on the working surface of the chain roller itself.
Peter Church, managing director of FB Chain Ltd, commented: “Forklift engineers often need to access the top of the truck’s mast to lubricate chain rollers. With taller masts – the tops of which can be some considerable height from the floor – this can present a problem.
We discussed this issue with one of our bearing suppliers and they were able to show us new bearing technology that we have adopted in the design of our new chain rollers.
Trucks fitted with FB’s ‘Sealed for Life’ rollers will require infrequent or even zero maintenance, which is good news for both the truck user and forklift service engineers who will spend less time struggling to lubricate hard to access chain rollers.”
The new FB ‘Sealed-for-life’ rollers have been extensively tested and can withstand over 60,000 cycles when lifting a 4-tonne load to a range of heights.
What does your role as Managing Director of FB Chain involve day to day?
“A large part of my time is involved with customers and sales. We have a good team in place and they keep me away from a number of tasks as they say I only create more work if I try to help out!”
Who owns FB Chain?
“FB Chain Limited is the UK arm of the FB Group, which is owned by Swedish company Addtech AB. Addtech currently owns 120 different businesses, predominantly located in Scandinavia.”
When was FB Chain founded in the UK?
“We were registered as a UK company in November 1984, but we had supplied Lansing Bagnal directly from Sweden for a few years before this.”
What does ‘FB’ stand for?
“When the company was originally formed over one hundred years ago it was called Eskilstuna Fabriks Bolaget (EFB) , the FB was taken from this.”
What’s it like working for a Swedish company?
“Swedish companies do things differently to British ones. They tend to think long term, and take collective responsibility for individual parts of the business. The Addtech Group printed a book for staff with their core values in 1985 and when it was reprinted in 2012 it was almost unchanged.”
Where are you based in the UK?
“We’re based in Letchworth, Hertfordshire. We have an advanced production facility which focuses on making chain anchors bolts which hold leaf chain on to the equipment it’s fitted to. We have a technical team which works on improving product performance and helping customers select the correct chain for any new application. Alongside this we have an after-market team which supplies replacement chain for almost any type of materials handling equipment.”
Is FB Chain growing?
“We’ve gone from 10 people in 2011 to 27 in 2014, and we plan to move to a new building early in 2015.”
Are you exhibiting at any industry trade shows this year?
“We will be at Modex in Atlanta with one of our sisters companies in the ADDTECH group and TOC in London toward the end of the year.”
Where do you see FB Chain going from here?
“We’re working on plans to move into a new building early next year with double the floor space. We’re moving from an old, low-rise building to a new high rise one. We’re expecting to break our records for turnover this year, and continue to set new records moving forward, developing new products and supplying tailored solutions to our customers.”
We notice that just lately some of your competitors have adopted some of the messages that you have been putting out in the market to promote their own products. Does that bother you?
“Not at all. They say imitation is a form of flattery after all! We’re aware that a number of articles that have hit the trade press recently border on plagiarism but take the view that if everyone is working to drive up standards and safety in the sector that can only be a good thing.”
For further information visit www.fbchain.com