Photo courtesy of Narrow Aisle Inc.

For a few days, it was the nation’s largest new vehicle showroom. When the Material Handling Industry Association hosted its ProMat 2009 convention this January at Chicago’s McCormick Place, the event gave 300,000 square feet of exhibition space, in part, to new lift truck technologies.

The event gave prospective buyers a chance not only to see the latest lift trucks, but also to literally kick the tires and poke around both interiors and exteriors of new designs, technologies and equipment improvements. Moreover, the convention proved that industry suppliers (including some not even present) have been busy addressing operator needs for improved driver comfort and safety, as well increased vehicle efficiency and productivity.

One active ProMat exhibitor was Hyster Co., Greenville, N.C.

“We featured our new E45-70XN electric truck and it created a lot of ‘buzz’ in the marketplace,” says Mark Hoch, Hyster industry manager for Food Warehouse and Distribution.

“Our goal was to provide our customers with the latest technology to help them improve productivity and decrease cost of operations,” he continues. “Meanwhile, we emphasized ergonomics. We have completely redesigned the operator compartment to provide operators with more foot room, increased visibility and an overall more comfortable ride.”  

Hoch says the new E45-70XN has increased floor space, a tilt steering column with telescoping function and tilt memory and new full-suspension seats with mini-levers that are fitted to the armrest and are adjustable for operator preference.

Other improvements are just as important - even though they are not as immediately apparent.

Notes Hoch, “Our previous lift truck already was perceived as a leader in energy management. However, our goal was to exceed our previous generation truck and we were able to do this by up to 10 percent energy savings from the previous model and up to 31 percent over some competitors.

“We also are now able to offer a PowerPlus Performance option. This was designed to make the Hyster E45-70XN truck a clear leader in electric truck travel speeds, allowing for overall increased productivity. With the PowerPlus Performance option, this series of lift trucks is a possible replacement for an internal combustion truck.”

Information is power

Also upping the power ante is the latest offering from Crown Equipment Corp., New Bremen, Ohio. The Crown Insite is a suite of software modules that collects, integrates and analyzes vehicle, operator, fleet and application data to increase productivity.

“Crown has applied its material handling and lift truck knowledge to put together a productivity optimization system,” says Crown President Jim Dicke III. “By capturing and applying data in ways only Crown can, Crown Insite gives our customers a more comprehensive picture of their fleet in real time. More than just the data, it’s the collective knowledge and systematic interpretation of data that leads to better decision making.”

The Crown Insite suite includes an InfoLink fleet management system, FleetSTATS service tracking system, SureSpec application and Access 1 2 3 comprehensive system control. These tools help operators (1) gather information about each lift truck, (2) track the use of truck components and systems, (3) track the age and types of trucks in the fleet, (4) identify usage patterns and (5) track maintenance costs. Details are presented in customized reports and spreadsheets.

In practice, Dicke says InfoLink data might show that to increase productivity, a customer needs to make a few modifications to its fleet mix and allocation within a warehouse. In another instance, FleetSTATS data might reveal that a customer is frequently replacing wheels on a certain truck - necessitating that a facility manager check the floor quality and remove excess debris in the area where the truck is used.

Crown says Crown Insite technologies are best maximized when used together and on Crown equipment (some offerings are exclusive). However, some of the modules, such as InfoLink and FleetSTATS, can be used with non-Crown equipment.

Size matters

Want another way to increase productivity? Dallas’ Narrow Aisle Inc. says operators can simply add more storage capacity and decrease the travel space between aisles.

 “When compared to reach trucks that require 9-foot aisles, our Flexi model is designed to operate in aisles as narrow as 3 feet - plus the depth of the pallet. So the requirement is 7 feet with a standard 48-foot deep pallet,” says Jeff Fisher, national sales manager. “By shrinking the aisle by 2 feet, an owner can typically store 20 percent more goods in the same cubic area.

“This 20 percent increase in space is available at a cost less than he can acquire it otherwise (buy, build, rent or lease) and it comes to him with no increase in utilities, maintenance, taxes or insurance. Taking all of these factors into consideration, the ROI can be less than a year, rarely more than two.”   

Narrow Aisle says its Flexi G4 Model (with cold storage package) is the industry’s only front wheel drive, 4,000-pound capacity articulating forklift. The company notes that front wheel drive design keeps maintenance costs down (compared to rear wheel drive units). A cantilevered overhead guard with no front posts also ensures complete operator visibility.

Fisher says Narrow Aisle recently enhanced the vehicle’s electronic control system. It replaced Flexi’s former SCR controller with a Zapi H2B MOSFET controller.

“MOSFET systems are more finely programmable to various applications,” Fisher notes. “They generate less heat and have fewer moving parts so maintenance costs are reduced.  “And as far as durability, the Flexi has always had the longest warranty of any very narrow aisle truck available, three years or 3,000 hours, whichever comes first, on the entire forklift.”

Save space, energy

The Raymond Corp., Greene, N.Y., also targets narrow aisle applications. Yet Susan Comfort, Raymond Class II product manager, says Raymond’s latest offering focuses on energy savings.

The 9000 Series Swing-Reach lift trucks now offer such features as (1) AC technology for longer battery run times, (2) regenerative lowering that automatically recharges the battery and (3) LED compartment lights. The company says its exclusive ACR System combines AC drive motor and AC lift motor for quicker acceleration, smoother direction changes and quiet, precise traction and lift. The ACR system also delivers more run time per battery charge and experiences less reduction in truck performance as the battery discharges for greater reliability.

Notes Comfort, “Regenerative lowering recharges the battery. The forks are lowered, which allows for longer battery life. When lowering the forks with a load, the motor generates energy that is fed back into the battery, maximizing battery efficiency and providing a more consistent lifting and lowering speed.”

Raymond says its 9000 Series Lift Trucks may be used for both pallet handling and case picking for flexibility in changing warehouse environments and narrow aisles. New Swing-Reach trucks can elevate up to 45 feet (12.8m), can handle loads up to 60 inches (152.4 cm) deep or 108 inches (274.32 cm) wide, and can operate in aisles as narrow as 66 inches (167.64 cm).

Comfort says the 9000’s twin tubular mast design provides optimum rigidity when traveling with the forks loaded and elevated. Moreover, dual I-beam construction and a wide footprint keep the operator’s platform rock solid, even at the highest applications, for greater operator stability and enhanced visibility. Various driving positions enable lift truck operators to choose the best position for the application, such as sitting or standing, to enhance productivity and reduce fatigue.