Rough-terrain equipment will continue to play a crucial role in materials handling and Melissa Barnett looks at several of the issues surrounding the rough and prepared vehicles.
One of the primary issues facing all manufacturers is tightening environmental regulations, around authorities this current year rolling 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) from all mobile sources. Particulate matter is minute particles of carbon as well as other poisonous substances created when they are not all fuel is burned during combustion. NOx – commonly nitrogen monoxide and nitrogen oxide – will also be produced during combustion.
Machinery exhaust, particularly diesel, contains both PM and NOx, as well as other poisonous substances. Tier 4 regulations, by a number of means, attempt to lessen the output of these by-products, thereby significantly reducing the quantity of emissions-related health issues. The EPA believes that a reduction in these emissions will, by 2030, result in approximately lowering of 12,000 premature deaths, 8,900 hospitalisations and one million lost work days throughout the USA.
So how has it affected the rough-terrain forklift market? Most manufacturers have embraced the engine and chassis changes which were required to comply with the regulations. Guido Cameli, sales manager for Canadian manufacturer Manitex Liftking, says that although major investment was required, Liftking saw the changes in regulations as being an opportunity. “Achieving Tier 4 directives required extensive vehicle redesign and new technology including advanced cooling, exhaust and treatment systems. Packaging of these new systems has allowed us the ability 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 required to meet Tier 4 standards. This year, AUSA will launch its 4-5 T array of rough-terrain and semi-industrial forklifts with 56kW Deutz engines fitted with Diesel Oxidation Catalysts (DOC). The engines not merely meet Tier 4 requirements, but anticipate the mandatory 2017 normative.
Italian telehandler manufacturer Merlo’s Uliano Bellesia says 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, just the ROTO (slewing turret) telehandlers required modification – these are already fitted with a selective catalyst system (SCT) which meets Tier 4 standards.
Spanish manufacturer Bomaq has redesigned equipment parts and integrated an extra postfilter burner to its rough-terrain machines. Managing director Antonio Martinez states that one more issue as a result of Tier 4 requirements is the application of electronics in the engines. “So far, we now have used mechanical systems for fuel injection, but to reach the desired new degrees of regulation, utilization of electronics will likely be compulsory,” he explains.
There are more issues, as Richard Rich, wholesale manager of America-based dealer H&K equipment, indicates. Rich states that coming from a sales perspective, Tier 4 implementation is causing numerous problems, at the very least in the us, that many of his customers want to purchase anything they are able to that may be still Tier 3-rated. “I have got not seen an individual company change over or update yet,” he says. Rich identifies numerous impediments including the need to use ultra-low sulphur fuel when many companies still have huge reserves of diesel onsite, additional maintenance issues like managing an added fluid compartment for urea and the use of specific engine oils which individuals usually are not used to yet. An intriguing outcome of this reluctance to buy Tier 4 equipment, Rich says, is the fact companies have improved the quality of their in-house services to keep existing equipment running so long as possible. Despite his reservations, Rich is aware that Tier 4 will be here to stay and eventually companies will adapt – nevertheless the process is going to take many years.
Many in the industry have concerns in regards to the inevitable purchase price increases due to engine re-designs and upgrades. Rich says certain requirements could add USD 8,000 to USD 12,000 on the price. Cameli, however, believes that any price hike is far more than offset by operational savings. “Yes, our Tier 4 forklifts are inherently more costly than our Tier 3 variants (nevertheless the difference are often more than offset by lower overall operating costs including approximately 5% better fuel efficiency and extended service intervals). The operator will notice improved engine response, with the chance of increased productivity. Additional benefits are quieter operation and reduced emissions,” Cameli explains.
Bellesia says initial feedback on Tier 4 engine performance continues to be positive, but Merlo has had to mitigate price rises with offers of extra options. The company strategically timed the release of its new telehandler range to ensure that increased prices may be cushioned by the novelty of brand new operational systems and options.
Pundits are already killing from the rough terrain forklifts for a long time. First, it was the roll-out of telehandlers and from now on there is talk 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 in 2011.
Martinez says the marketplace is hard to calculate, but believes rough-terrain forklifts have developed their own niche and will expand to other applications if manufacturers observe the needs of users. He says the main markets for Bomaq continue being in mining, agriculture and also the military.
AUSA specialises in rough-terrain forklifts for agriculture, especially in the vegetable and fruit sector and then there is popular for rough-terrain forklifts from the lighter, more compact 3T (6,000 lb.) two-wheel-drive range. Perramon states that globalisation has generated ‘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, based upon a rough-terrain chassis – but more compact, with higher diameter wheels and increased ground clearance – are becoming popular in wood recycling, metal foundries and outdoor warehouse operations. These appliances offer added value when the forklift needs to push and pull pallets during loading/unloading of trucks.
Bellesia believes the telehandlers’ versatility has protected them from 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 between your two sectors is our strong point. For the time being, sales are consistent with the expected trend, ” he says.
Cameli agrees the current market is mature, but says this is what can make it a strong and growing field as customers realise the machine’s value and performance in rough terrains. Features for instance a tight turning radius, compact length, simplicity of design, easy maintenance and overall cost suggest that the rough-terrain market continues to grow. Cameli says new markets in construction, lumber, oil and gas and concrete industries are continually emerging, along with new geographical markets including Peru and Columbia, where the price of labour has increased and greater productivity is necessary within the burgeoning mining and infrastructure sectors.
Rich says that sales of rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers, especially in the 5-6 T (12,000 lb.) range, are already slow and believes that things won’t improve with the introduction of Tier 4 compliant machines. “Some rough-terrain forklift manufacturers have previously informed us that they are not having enough their allocations of Tier 3 engines and are only capable of offer Tier 4 as soon as April, 2015,” he says. Rich believes the expense of the new machines will negatively affect sales.
However, the rough-terrain rental market is really good, Rich adds. “Rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers are used a good deal in 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, would be to keep H&K’s supply of rough-terrain forklifts high enough to meet 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 certainly are a hidden reason behind many roll-overs. “We feel that this sort of incident occurs far more often than acknowledged,” he says. The Safety and health Executive in the UK, the development Plant-Hire Association in the UK along with the Telescopic Handler Association of Australia have acknowledged that a good minimal 5% drop in tyre pressure is able to reduce stability and safe lifting capacity by around 30%. “Because tyres deflect and distort under load, there is a significant impact on stability and load-carrying ability,” Pirard explains.
Comatra specialises in safety products for your materials handling industry and contains 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 since they provide much better flotation on soft ground. The disadvantage, however, is the fact that a pneumatic tyre can be easily damaged or punctured. By far the most critical situation is a flat or under-inflated tyre using a load within the air – altering the forklift or telehandler’s stability and producing a possibly fatal tip-over.” Comatra’s pre-programmed sensors are mounted behind the rim, protected from dirt as well as other corrosive materials, and a monitor is fitted inside the cab. If the forklift/telehandler is excited, tyre pressure is measured in less than a minute. The kit can be simply fitted by an experienced tyre-fitter.
Whilst pneumatic tyres are definitely the preferred choice for most rough-terrain forklifts, recently alternatives happen to be 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, subsequently, will deliver less tyre wear, less heat build-up in the tyre and improved fuel consumption.
AUSA has created a variety of safety features which it says are only at its machines. AUSA’s High Visibility System (HVS) allows operators an unrestricted view both forward as well as in reverse while carrying an entire load on account of two infrared cameras mounted on the top of the cabin and a colour TFT monitor within the cabin. The infrared cameras let the operator to go on working safely in suprisingly low light. AUSA’s FullGrip System is a joystick control that permits the operator to engage/disengage four-wheel-drive while in motion with the press of a button.