Rough-terrain equipment is constantly play an important role in materials handling and Melissa Barnett examines some of the issues all around the rough and prepared vehicles.
One of the greatest issues facing all manufacturers is tightening environmental regulations, around authorities this season rolling out your final phase of Tier 4 regulations for engines between 75 and 175 HP.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), off-road engines are responsible for the emission of 47% of particulate matter (PM) and 25% of Nitrogen oxides (NOx) coming 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, together with other poisonous substances. Tier 4 regulations, by a variety of means, make an effort to decrease the production of these by-products, thereby significantly reducing the volume of emissions-related medical problems. The EPA believes that a decrease in these emissions will, by 2030, lead to approximately lowering of 12,000 premature deaths, 8,900 hospitalisations and one million lost work days all over the USA.
But just how has it affected the rough-terrain forklift market? Most manufacturers have embraced the engine and chassis changes that had been required to abide by the regulations. Guido Cameli, sales manager for Canadian manufacturer Manitex Liftking, says that although major investment was required, Liftking saw the adjustments in regulations for an opportunity. “Achieving Tier 4 directives required extensive vehicle redesign and new technology including advanced cooling, exhaust and treatment systems. Packaging of the new systems has allowed us the chance to improve other elements 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 needed to meet Tier 4 standards. This coming year, AUSA will launch its 4-5 T range of rough-terrain and semi-industrial forklifts with 56kW Deutz engines fitted with Diesel Oxidation Catalysts (DOC). The engines not simply meet Tier 4 requirements, but anticipate the mandatory 2017 normative.
Italian telehandler manufacturer Merlo’s Uliano Bellesia states 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, simply the ROTO (slewing turret) telehandlers required modification – these happen to be fitted having a selective catalyst system (SCT) which meets Tier 4 standards.
Spanish manufacturer Bomaq has redesigned equipment parts and integrated an extra postfilter burner to the rough-terrain machines. Managing director Antonio Martinez says that an extra issue as a result of Tier 4 requirements is the usage of electronics from the engines. “To date, we have used mechanical systems for fuel injection, but to attain the necessary new amounts of regulation, consumption of electronics is going to be compulsory,” he explains.
There are many issues, as Richard Rich, wholesale manager of America-based dealer H&K equipment, highlights. Rich states that coming from a sales perspective, Tier 4 implementation is causing countless problems, no less than in the USA, that many of his customers are attempting to purchase anything they can that is still Tier 3-rated. “I have not seen a single company change over or update yet,” he says. Rich identifies numerous impediments including the requirement to use ultra-low sulphur fuel when a lot of companies have huge reserves of diesel onsite, additional maintenance issues like managing another fluid compartment for urea and the application of specific engine oils which people are not employed to yet. An intriguing consequence of this reluctance to get Tier 4 equipment, Rich says, is the fact that companies have improved the grade of their in-house services to help keep existing equipment running given that possible. Despite his reservations, Rich recognizes that Tier 4 is here now to stay and eventually companies will adapt – although the process is going to take a few years.
Many in the marketplace are involved regarding the inevitable purchase price increases because of engine re-designs and upgrades. Rich says the prerequisites could add USD 8,000 to USD 12,000 for the price. Cameli, however, believes that any price hike is a lot more than offset by operational savings. “Yes, our Tier 4 forklifts are inherently more pricey than our Tier 3 variants (however the difference will be more than offset by lower overall operating costs like up to 5% better fuel efficiency and extended service intervals). The operator will notice improved engine response, with the potential of increased productivity. Additional benefits are quieter operation and greatly 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 organization strategically timed the production of their new telehandler range to ensure that increased prices may be cushioned from the novelty of the latest operational systems and options.
Pundits have already been killing off the rough terrain cranes for sale for years. First, it absolutely was the development of telehandlers and from now on there is talk the market has reached ‘maturity’. Figures through 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 this year.
Martinez says the industry is challenging to predict, but believes rough-terrain forklifts have developed their particular niche and can expand to other applications if manufacturers observe the needs of users. He says the key markets for Bomaq continue to be in mining, agriculture along with the military.
AUSA specialises in rough-terrain forklifts for agriculture, especially in the vegetable and fruit sector in which there is sought after for rough-terrain forklifts within the lighter, more compact 3T (6,000 lb.) two-wheel-drive range. Perramon states that globalisation has created ‘new rooms’ in countries in order to develop new markets. AUSA is keen to expand to the US and Eurasian horticultural sectors. He adds that AUSA’s semi-industrial models, according to a rough-terrain chassis – but more compact, with higher diameter wheels and increased ground clearance – are gaining interest in wood recycling, metal foundries and outdoor warehouse operations. These appliances offer added value once the forklift must push and pull pallets during loading/unloading of trucks.
Bellesia believes the telehandlers’ versatility has protected them through the market changes. “In Europe, Canada and Australia, Merlo sells mainly into the agricultural sector. In the us, this is the construction sector. The total amount in between the two sectors is our strong point. For now, sales are in step with the expected trend, ” he says.
Cameli agrees the industry is mature, but says and this is what causes it to be a robust and growing field as customers realise the machine’s value and gratifaction in rough terrains. Features say for example a tight turning radius, compact length, simplicity of design, easy maintenance and overall cost suggest that the rough-terrain market keeps growing. Cameli says new markets in construction, lumber, oil and gas and concrete industries are continually emerging, as well as new geographical markets including Peru and Columbia, where the cost of labour has increased and greater productivity is necessary from the burgeoning mining and infrastructure sectors.
Rich says that sales of rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers, particularly in the 5-6 T (12,000 lb.) range, have already been 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 able to offer Tier 4 once April, 2015,” he says. Rich believes the fee for the latest machines will negatively affect sales.
However, the rough-terrain rental market has been really good, Rich adds. “Rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers are employed a great deal inside the construction and drilling industries, both of which rely heavily on rentals; so while we don’t see any new markets coming online, the rental demand is increasing.” The problem, he says, is always to keep H&K’s source of rough-terrain forklifts sufficient to satisfy demand.
Roll-overs and tip-overs are an occupational hazard for rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers. Uneven ground, slopes, dips, mud and unbalanced loads are definitely the main dangers, but Luc Pirard, CEO for Belgian company Comatra, strongly believes that uneven tyre pressures are a hidden reason for many roll-overs. “We think that this type of incident occurs far more frequently than acknowledged,” he says. The Safety and health Executive in the UK, the development Plant-Hire Association of the UK and also the Telescopic Handler Association of Australia have acknowledged that also a minimal 5% drop in tyre pressure is able to reduce stability and safe lifting capacity by up to 30%. “Because tyres deflect and distort under load, these people have a significant effect on stability and load-carrying ability,” Pirard explains.
Comatra specialises in safety products for the materials handling industry and contains developed a unique internal valve-mounted sensor system to check tyre pressure in rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers. “Most rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers are fitted with pneumatic tyres as they provide significantly better flotation on soft ground. The disadvantage, however, is the fact that a pneumatic tyre can be simply damaged or punctured. One of the most critical situation is a flat or under-inflated tyre having a load from the air – altering the forklift or telehandler’s stability and creating a possibly fatal tip-over.” Comatra’s pre-programmed sensors are mounted behind the rim, protected from dirt as well as other corrosive materials, plus a monitor is fitted inside the cab. Once the forklift/telehandler is turned on, tyre pressure is measured in just a minute. The kit can be simply fitted by a highly skilled tyre-fitter.
Whilst pneumatic tyres would be the preferred option for most rough-terrain forklifts, in recent years alternatives have been developed. Chinese-based tyre manufacturer IST (Industrial Solid Tyres) Company has released a good 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, in turn, will deliver less tyre wear, less heat build-up in the tyre and improved fuel consumption.
AUSA has created a variety of security features which it says are exclusive to its machines. AUSA’s High Visibility System (HVS) allows operators an unrestricted view both forward as well as in reverse while carrying a complete load due to two infrared cameras mounted on the top of the cabin plus a colour TFT monitor inside of the cabin. The infrared cameras allow the operator to carry on working safely in very low light. AUSA’s FullGrip System is a joystick control which allows the operator to engage/disengage four-wheel-drive when in motion at the press of a button.