Empire Merchants North exchanges propane for electric lift trucks

The wine and liquor distributor replaces IC propane sit-down trucks with electric stand-up counterbalanced trucks.

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In 2008, Empire Merchants North’s Tony Amalfitano had a decision: Should the wine and liquor distributor’s Lyons, N.Y., warehouse swap its internal combustion (IC) propane sit-down trucks for electric stand-up counterbalanced trucks or not?

As distribution center manager for the 240,000-square-foot facility, Amalfitano certainly had reasons to switch. After all, the IC trucks required frequent propane tank changes and preventative maintenance. And, soot residue lingered throughout the warehouse.

But he was concerned that electric counterbalanced trucks may have issues with performance demands. “The stock shelf height in our Lyons warehouse is 20 feet,” Amalfitano explains, “and we’re not lifting paper towels—our pallets are more than 2,200 pounds.”

He was also doubtful about the proposed battery and opportunity charging system, fearing it would be prone to battery overheating or that it wouldn’t charge the batteries quickly enough for the warehouse’s 24/5 workflow.

To answer his concerns, he used a customized application analysis from a battery supplier. Generated with proprietary software, the analysis applied data about the warehouse, its IC propane trucks and the new electric trucks. In doing so, it determined the optimal battery and charger, as well as the project’s total cost of ownership (TCO) and return on investment (ROI).

The analysis predicted that, within five years, the solution would deliver a 116% ROI, cut TCO by 34% and slash the warehouse’s annual CO2 output by 61%. Amalfitano wanted to see the solution at work, so his operators began to test one electric counterbalanced truck, powered by a fast charge battery and charger, alongside his IC propane fleet.

In just weeks, it was clear the solution would work. Soon after, the facility started to retire its IC propane fleet and practices. Rather than changing tanks, operators simply pulled their vehicles up to a charging station and plugged them in at predetermined intervals. Maintenance was also easy, as the batteries work with an irrigation system that allows water to be injected directly into the cell.

Since adopting the solution in 2008, the Lyons warehouse has never had a moment of unplanned machine downtime. “Our fleet is exactly what we need,” says Amalfitano, who is now director of operations. “We really hit a home run.”

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