During the past decade, the advancements in forklift design and technology have allowed operators and businesses alike to optimise the way they work. Steven Hill, managing director, Crown Equipment, South-east Asia, writes more.
South-east Asia is rapidly becoming a manufacturing and logistics powerhouse. Companies establishing a presence in this region are in the unique position of being able to embrace third- and fourth generation concepts in warehouse and distribution centre design, along with the technological advancements made in the past decade in the area of material handling equipment.
Companies operating in long-established and mature markets such as the US, Europe and
Australia have seen a number of significant advancements in warehouse design and lift truck technology. As the technology has evolved, they have had to reinvest in facilities and equipment to maintain a competitive advantage.
However, companies either entering or rapidly expanding in the South-east Asian region are able to skip the early adoption pain and jump right in with the latest in design and technology.
During the past decade, we have seen advancements in forklift design and technology that have allowed operators and businesses alike to optimise the way they work. Leading companies across South-east Asia are capitalising on these advancements.
The three greatest driving forces in these advancements have been the desire to optimise the vehicle’s mechanical capabilities, the awareness of the benefits of optimised ergonomics and the growing need for more information surrounding the vehicle’s operation. All three of these factors have seen quantum leaps in terms of the total cost of ownership, operator safety and performance and operational efficiencies.
The following are some of the milestones achieved over the past decade that have helped forklifts move from what was seen by many as a commodity, to what is now seen as a critical element in optimising warehouse performance in terms of both efficiency and profitability.
Mechanical advancement has not been restricted to the areas of power and strength, although these have been significant. Few in the industry would have envisaged just a decade ago that a pantograph reach truck would be equipped with a traction control system designed to assist the truck from slipping on wet, dusty or sealed floors.
For example, Crown OnTrac AntiSlip Traction Control uses the integrated on-board control system to compare the truck’s speed with the number of revolutions per minute the drive tyre is turning to determine whether the truck has lost traction.
By reducing tyre spin during acceleration and preventing wheel lockup during braking, the system reduces slipping and sliding. This decreases tyre wear, increases efficiency, helps to reduce the risk of accidents and product damage, and improves operator confidence in slick conditions such as in refrigerated or freezer applications.
Even something as fundamental as a braking system has been optimised to the point where AC motor torque, instead of the consumable brake, is used to slow the forklift’s motion. This design significantly reduces the need to replace or adjust consumable parts and also utilises the momentum of the truck being slowed down to create regenerative electricity to “top up” the battery on the run.
Other advancements include “rack height select” functions that allow preprogrammed heights to be set to enable pallets to be put away quicker and safer with more confidence and “auto tilt levelling” to reduce pallet and product damage and make loading and unloading easier.
At Crown Equipment, we see this investment in mechanical research and development being conducted hand-in-hand with our desire to help reduce environmental impact within the material handling industry worldwide.
Every day, truck operators work in conditions that restrict workflow and reduce productivity. Constantly bracing for heavy impact caused by driving over dock ramps or keeping their footing on vibrating operator platforms are some of the challenges that confront operators working with conventional lift trucks.
The latest ergonomic advancements in something as fundamental as seating systems have reduced vibration by up to 80%. Floating suspension systems, among other things, have helped to reduce symptoms of operator fatigue and obviate knee and back pain. And shock-absorbing suspension, unheard of just a few years ago, has helped to smooth out the effects of uneven floors to the point where operators no longer have to slow down when crossing ramps, boards or sills.
In modern forklifts, performance parameters can be programmed for drivers with different skill sets, or adjusted for specific working conditions. Seats now boast high-tech polymer springs that allow for backwards flexibility, channelling jolts and vibrations away from the operator and into the shock-absorbing seat. The polymer spring also provides postural relief throughout a work shift. The ergonomic advancements in the design and construction of seat backrests, hip pads and adjustable armrests and footrests have also contributed to overall operator comfort, leading to improved performance.
Microprocessors and other enabling devices have advanced at speeds that were barely imaginable just a decade ago. Tens of millions of lines of code now command hundreds of millions of instructions per second on processing devices developed for cars, computers and handheld devices. For warehouse managers striving to get the most from their fleets and operators, the application of these technologies is now essential to the operation of a successful business.
These latest technologies help companies to manage their fleets with unprecedented customisation, resulting in a material handling industry that benefits from higher performance and productivity, improved safety, greater operator comfort, more convenience and the lowest total cost of ownership.
Technologies such as the Crown Access 123 monitor and control systems help to ensure superior safety, serviceability, performance and reliability in terms of:
- Information shared among traction, braking, steering, hydraulics and other truck systems to optimise performance and reliability.
- Each system making adjustments that improve safe performance and reliability, based on real-time information.
- Visual displays that communicate vital information to operators and technicians, including advanced diagnostics and troubleshooting.
- Switches, sensors, potentiometers, controllers and other communicating components that continually monitor truck lift systems.
- The direction of the truck, position of the forks, thermal ranges, operator performance levels and functions selected.
Additionally, the sophistication of today’s information management systems, such as Crown InfoLink, allow for the restriction of unauthorised access to equipment, safety checklist compliance, and the detection and recording of impacts while delivering a wealth of fleet operating data through simple yet powerful management interfaces.
We have also seen the rapid uptake of the Smart Battery Charger technology that allows batteries to be “opportunity charged” at any time.
Technology, along with the quest for knowledge, is now at the forefront of so many aspects of our industry, including operator safety, fleet optimisation and environmental best practices, and it will continue to drive us through the decade to come.
The decade ahead
There is no doubt that leading companies in our industry recognise the need to improve operational efficiencies while taking a leading role in driving more environmentally-sustainable business and operation practices.
Looking back, we can see vast advancements throughout our industry over the past decade — a decade that has without doubt changed the face of material handling forever. We look forward to the future, where research and development, design, mechanical advancements and the increased adoption of technologies will see further optimisation in the areas of safety, productivity and environmental practices.
With Crown Equipment’s rapidly expanding presence in the region, with direct offices in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor, Rayong, Bangkok, Seoul and Manila, the company is well positioned to be a leading material handling equipment company supporting its customers now and into the future.