Forty Years of Forklifts: Q&A With David Rowell

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 working with Hyster?

A: This was in 1972 and I was surprised to find an American owned multi-national company manufacturing forklift trucks only 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 that would last over 40 years.  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 for customers in heavy industrial applications.

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, and this was firmly behind the development of both the Hyster® XL series and the electric forklift truck range.

Q: What key innovations came with the launch of 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 manufacturing and distribution. 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 approximately the first 20 months of production.

This began the “XL” era, and Hyster soon started to build other models at the factory including options with cushion tyres and pneumatic tyres, featuring power steering and fully automatic transmission as standard.  Ease of control, especially for inexperienced drivers, was of high priority in the design.

It wasn’t until 2009 that Craigavon became a mixed plant for manufacturing both ICE and battery products, with a major change to the layout of the plant to accommodate production of both lines. Today, there are over a dozen different types of 2.5 tonne Hyster® counterbalance trucks rolling off the Craigavon production line.

Q: How has the electric truck market changed over the last four decades?

A: The first range of Hyster® electric forklift trucks was launched in the 1970s. Numerous developments followed over the years, 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 trucks continued the company’s strategy of modular design and innovation offering customers outstanding performance and significant savings on operational costs. They also cemented Hyster as a world-class provider of low energy consumption trucks, with reduced maintenance requirements, minimised operating costs and zero emissions.

Today, a varied range of Hyster® electric trucks is available, with powerful, robust and high capacity trucks, alongside small, three-wheel electric forklifts which are among the most energy efficient in their class.

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® trucks 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 design features.

This was the start of the company’s solutions-based approach, that focused on solutions to meet the real needs of the customer, rather than just the product.

Q: What other focuses have changed in the market? 

A: Energy efficiency, economy and reducing emissions have become a higher priority across the industry in recent years, 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, which also helped to reduce operating costs.

Q: What changes did the new millennium bring about within the industry? 

A: In the new millennium, Hyster began working more closely with dealers to offer more choices to customers with application-focused solutions. Modular product designs had helped to 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 to customers.  This range of ICE trucks provides a premium option to suit any application, with everything from the compact H1.6-2.0FTS to the H4.0 -5.5FT being produced at the Craigavon plant for customers in Europe.

The Fortens® range also offers excellent customisation options. Configurations are available to match specific application needs, including those with attachment usage in the paper, manufacturing, recycling, beverage, metals or construction industry.

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 a forklift can significantly affect the overall performance and cost of an operation.

The tasks performed by the trucks and the application itself drives the customer’s product choice, so Hyster is giving customers application-centric, tailor-made solutions. This helps to overcome specific daily challenges while suiting all of the different aspects of an operation – cost, fuel efficiency, low emissions, and productivity over time. The focus is very much on what can be done for the individual customer.

One of the last Hyster projects I was involved with was helping to bring the new Hyster® XT forklift truck to market in 2016. The XT is a new cost-effective product that sets a new standard. It still offers class-leading features, some shared with the Fortens® range, using proven engines and transmissions to deliver the right performance that meets the requirements of the majority of users, based on their application needs.

Hyster® forklifts are built for all types of operations, from high intensity at full capacity to standard, everyday use.  Often the trucks look similar, but it is what is going on inside that really counts.  Continual development is key to the Hyster® product offering. The company is enhancing its already wide range of products and I look forward to seeing where it will go from this point.

Q: Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

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.

About David Rowell

David Rowell joined Hyster in October 1972 and worked with the company for 44 years. His roles included Product Sales and Marketing, Sales and Distribution Manager and Operations.  David also served 4 years as president of the British Industrial Truck Association (BITA), where he played an active part in shaping the industry over the last 20 years.

Marking his career of more than 40 years with Hyster, David received a lifetime achievement award at the 2017 FLTA (Fork Lift Truck Association) Awards in March 2017.

Source: www.hyster.eu

Forklift Battery Handling And Maintenance Best Practices

Forklift batteries cost $1,500 to $5,000 a piece. So, not giving importance to the proper maintenance might result in great financial loss or higher operating expenses in your business. Nearly all lead-acid forklift batteries provide approximately 2,000 charge cycles. This means a battery normally lasts around 5 years. But to have the maximum service life of a forklift battery, you need to take proper care of it. Without proper maintenance, your forklift battery may not even last 5 years. You can expect to use a battery longer than 5 years if you strictly follow the forklift battery handling and maintenance best practices.

Following are some useful battery maintenance and handling best practices and tips that you should follow:

1. Charge the Battery the Proper Way

People tend to charge forklift batteries whenever they feel convenient, known as “opportunity charging.” But this is a poor practice as forklift batteries should be charged only to certain degrees and at certain times. You should charge the battery until it is full every time it dips below 30 percent charge. It is important to note that both undercharging and overcharging a forklift battery can considerably lessen its life span. The best way to charge is having a fixed charge cycle and not interrupting the cycle. Never charge a forklift battery twice a day as it can cut its service life in half.

2. Regularly Equalize the Batteries

You must regularly equalize wet or flooded cell batteries. When the battery acid gets more concentrated at the bottom of the battery, the equalizing process reverses the chemical stratification. Acid and water stratification make it harder for the battery to hold a charge. Proper equalizing eliminates sulfate crystals from the plates of the battery and rebalances the electrolyte concentration. Equalizing is possible only when a battery charger has an equalizing setting. While maintenance specifications can vary from battery to battery, most batteries require equalizing almost every 5 to 10 charging cycles. Make sure you check the specifications before initiating the equalization process.

3. Frequently Check Fluid Levels

To work properly, forklift batteries require the perfect amount of water. Every 5 charge cycles, open up the battery to check the fluid levels. Check 2 to 3 battery cells and make sure that there is sufficient fluid to cover up the plastic element of the battery. In case if you are not sure checking only 2-3 cells, check all the cells and be sure about the fluid level. If you find that there is not sufficient fluid, you need to add water.

4. Maintain Correct Water Levels

Roughly every 10 charge cycles, you need to check the water level and add water to maintain right water level. Just top off the fluid in the battery and add sufficient water to cover the plastic element protector of the battery.

Just like not adding water when needed is harmful, adding extra water can be equally harmful. It is important to note that maintenance-free batteries are required to be topped off. Make sure you top off the battery only when it is fully charged. Adding water before charging the battery is a common mistake. Between 5 and 7 on the pH scale is the recommended limits for impurities. Remember, putting impure water into the battery can lead to damage of the battery.

5. Keep Forklift Batteries at a Safe Temperature

The temperature not exceeding 45℃ (113℉) is regarded as safe temperature to keep forklift batteries. For optimal cooking, try to ensure enough air circulation in and around the battery compartment. Charging a battery in extreme heat or cold can damage the battery and its service life. If you want to be 100% sure about the perfect temperature to keep and charge the battery, contact the manufacturer because the temperature can vary from battery to battery and model to model.

6. Have A Separate Battery Room

Having a designated area for charging the forklift battery is an OSHA-recommended best practice. Keep the room well ventilated. Make sure there is no open flame or smoking near batteries.

7. Move the Batteries the Right Away

As forklift batteries are quite heavy, do not allow a single person to move a forklift battery. Use special equipment such as walkie pallet jack equipped with a transfer carriage to move the battery.

8. Clean The Battery

At least once a month clean the battery with battery cleaner or warm water. Not cleaning the battery can cause faster self-discharge, voltage tracking, tray corrosion and even affect the electronics within the forklift. Some manufacturers waive the warranty if they find forklift batteries unclear.

9. Never Forget Worker Safety

It is recommended that the workers wear steel toe work boots to ensure their safety while handling a forklift battery. Having necessary arrangements for eye and hand washing nearby too are recommended to avoid health risks of the workers. Workers must wear chemical-resistant gears as well. Lead-acid battery cells contain a large volume of sulfuric acid, which can be the reason for serious chemical burns on human skin.

10. Miscellaneous

Never keep any metal objects on batteries as batteries are electrically live all the time. Metal objects can catch electricity and cause accidents. Always allow the battery enough time to cool before recharge or discharge. Never add acid or any other solutions to the battery. And never allow unauthorized representatives to service the battery. To prevent arcs and sparks, always turn off the charger before disconnecting the battery.

In a Class of Their Own: an Overview of Lift Truck Classification


A review of the 7 forklift classifications.

Class 4 forklift internal combustion

Wikimedia Commons

 

forklift history,history of lift truck

By 1927, forklifts had evolved to include back tilt. Source: Palletizer Magazine.

These days, forklift trucks are integral to material handling in manufacturing plants, distribution centers, and other operations. The first ever lift trucks were developed in the early 1900s. In fact, early models didn’t have forks at all. They had a single lift plate. As such, the earliest skids did not have a center stringer to accommodate the early lift truck. But forklifts have improved significantly over the years. Those in use today have evolved tremendously from those early beginnings.

Modern day forklifts have many different power options including electrical battery, liquid propane gas (LPG), compressed natural gas (CNG), gasoline, and diesel. There are many different types of lift trucks suited to different lift operations. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  classifies lift trucks into 7 different types based on their power options and purpose of uses. Following are those 7 different classes of lift trucks:

Class I- Electric Motor Rider Trucks

Used in versatile applications, electric motor rider trucks are equipped with either pneumatic tires or cushions. The pneumatic-tired lift trucks are good fits for use in dry outdoor applications. On the other hand, the cushion-tired motor rider trucks are made for indoor use on smooth surfaces.

Powered by electric batteries, these lift trucks use transistor motor controllers to move and hoist functions. Air quality factors are important considerations when choosing an electric motor rider truck for indoor use. These lift vehicles are mostly used in storage facilities and loading docks.

Most of these lift trucks are counterbalanced rider type. Three Wheel Electric Trucks also fall under this category.

Class II – Narrow Aisle Electric Motor Trucks

Class 2 forklift

Wikipedia Commons

Made for use in narrow aisle operations, narrow aisle trucks allow operators to maximize their use of storage space. Because they can operate efficiently in narrow passageways, storage racks can be set closer together than they could be in a conventional facility, providing greater storage capacity. Reach type outriggers, order pickers, side loaders and turret trucks are examples of narrow aisle electric motor trucks.

Class III – Hand-Rider or Electric Motor Hand Trucks

These are comparatively smaller capacity lift trucks that run on industrial electric batteries. As the name suggests, this kind of truck is hand controlled. The lift controls of the truck are mounted on top of the tiller and the operator moves the tiller side to side to navigate the truck. They are frequently used for palletized loads both in low and high lift operations.  

Class IV – Cushion Tired Internal Combustion Engine Trucks

Used indoors on smooth dry surfaces, these lift trucks are used for transporting palletized loads. These forklifts are commonly used in storage and load areas. As cushion-tired lift trucks are lower to the ground than pneumatic-tired lift trucks, cushion tired internal combustion engine trucks are used mainly in low clearance applications.  

Class V- Pneumatic Tired Internal Combustion Engine Trucks

Most commonly used in warehouses, these lift trucks are used both indoors and outdoors for many different types of applications ranging from a single unit load to a 40-foot container. These lift trucks are available for use with compressed natural gas, diesel, gasoline and LPG as well.

Class VI- Internal Combustion and Electric Engine Combo Tractors

Very versatile in operations, these lift trucks have options to power using both internal combustion and electric engines. For indoor use, electric power is preferred. For outdoor use, the powerful internal combustion engine is used.

Class VII- Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks

These are quite large lift trucks with huge floatation type tires. These trucks are capable of working on difficult outdoor surfaces. They are quite frequently used in large construction sites for lifting building materials. Auto recyclers and lumber years too frequently use rough terrain forklift trucks.

 

Should I Buy New Or Used Forklifts?


When deciding to buy either a new or used forklift, there are several factors to weigh.

Wikipedia Commons. Photo by Patsy Lynch/FEMA

Forklifts are expensive machines, so do your homework before you make a buying decision. Given an unlimited budget, everyone would like to have a shiny, new forklift with the latest technology, but for a lot of operations, the decision of whether to go with new or used mobile equipment is a difficult one. There is no easy and straightforward answer to the question of whether to buy new or procure a used unit. Take the time to assess the pros and cons of both options before you make a final decision.

The Cost Difference between New and Used Forklifts

Unfortunately, budgets are often constrained, and people look for ways to cut the cost. Going for a used forklift can offer significant price savings may turn out to be an ill-advised move if you end up paying too much for maintenance and a machine that is only going to have a short remaining service life. Let’s have a look at the price difference:

An electric warehouse forklift with standard capacity like 5000 pounds will cost you $15K-$25K. You need to spend another $2k to $5k for a battery and its charger. A brand new internal combustion (IC) forklift with similar capacity can cost as much as $30k. A high-end forklift that can handle even 35,000 pounds at a time can cost more than $100k.  

On the other hand, a used but well refurbished used electric forklift with 3000-pound capacity will cost $5k-$10k. A similar capacity IC forklift will cost $10k-$15k. So, going for a used forklift, you can expect to have 30% to 50% cost savings. But cost saving should not be the only factor when deciding whether to buy new or used forklifts.

Pros And Cons Of Buying A New Forklift

Pros

  • Buying a new forklift allows you to have the newest and latest model in the market.
  • You pay the listed price with no need for bargaining.
  • A new forklift should last longer and handle long hours at an efficient pace under proper maintenance.
  • Higher overhead.
  • All the parts of the forklift will be brand new contrary to used forklifts.  
  • You get precisely what you want.
  • You get a 12-36 months warranty.

Cons

  • Very expensive.
  • Financing, purchasing can involve lengthy paperwork

Pros And Cons Of Buying A Used Forklift

Pros

  • Huge cost saving (30%-50% less than brand new forklifts).
  • Quicker purchasing process.
  • Quicker delivery.

Cons

  • You normally don’t get a forklift as per your desired specifications and forgo some features.
  • You don’t get the newest model in the market.
  • The price valuation of the used forklift is important. If you do it wrong, you might lose big in the bargaining.
  • Less overhead.
  • Won’t work as efficiently as a new one.
  • Higher maintenance cost.
  • No or very limited warranty.

When To Buy Used Forklifts

According to experts, buying a used forklift is a good idea if the required daily use of the forklift is less than 4 hours. If you plan on using a forklift for more than 4 hours a day, it might not perform well for long enough. Still, the used forklift needs to be in good condition. It requires exceptional valuation and negotiation skills to buy a used forklift. Again, there remains the risk of buying from an uncertified seller. Buying a forklift from an individual is always risky. So, consider finding a certified dealer before you proceed. Availability of used and refurbished forklifts is another important consideration.

When To Buy New Forklifts

As mentioned before, when the required daily use of the forklift is more than 4 hours, you consider a new forklift. The 12-36 month warranty is a very important advantage that is money well spent for such heavy use.