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Lift Trucks: 15 ways the lift truck is evolving

Today’s lift trucks offer more in the way of technology, power and performance than ever before. Here’s a look at the latest innovations available in today’s trucks.
By Modern Materials Handling Staff
August 01, 2011

8. Smarter lift trucks. What might the lift truck of the future look like? According to Lyndle McCurley, sales and marketing manager for Doosan Industrial Vehicles America, it’s a truck that’s smarter, more ergonomic and flexible. Last month, Doosan previewed an electric concept vehicle at the British Open. The glass on the truck’s cab is clear when operating indoors and tints to keep out sunshine and heat when it’s operating outside. As the forks are raised, the cabin rises slightly and tilts backward so that the operator can look up at higher elevations without straining his neck. Heads up displays include graphics of the height of the forks, the weight of the load and the tilt angle. Finally, the truck can change its center of gravity and wheel base—automatically elongating or retracting the length of the wheelbase—depending on the size of the load and the operating environment. “Instead of a 5,000-pound truck, we’re developing multi-capacity trucks that can adapt to the operating requirements,” McCurley says.

9. Inhibitor functions. Inhibitors are designed to predict the unsafe operation of the truck for the operator, says Cianci. These functions automatically reduce the forward and reverse travel speed of the truck at different heights and automatically control tilt angles.

10. Get on the bus. The lift truck industry, like other mechanical solutions, is moving from preventative maintenance toward predictive maintenance. “We’re not there yet,” says Ed Campbell, sales manager for the materials handling group at Landoll Corp. “But with the CAN BUS system, we get two-way communication with the components. That lets us know whether we’re operating a higher temperature, which allows us to react to something before it fails.” 

11. Hydrostatic drives. “The vast majority of the equipment in use today is powered conventionally with IC engines or battery power,” says Mark Roessler, general product manager for Linde Material Handling North America. “Because of that, our focus has been on optimizing those designs for the end user.” At Linde, that translates into hydrostatic drives that use oil flow and pressure to accelerate and decelerate the truck in either direction. “With hydrostatic drives, there are no friction brakes, no mechanical transmissions, no drive shafts and no U joints,” says Roessler. “That allows you to eliminate the wear and tear in the drive system.”

12. Getting narrower in narrow aisle. As warehouses strive to get more storage in the same amount of space, narrow and very narrow aisle lift trucks are key. “When we first started in this business, our trucks operated in a 7-foot aisle,” says Landoll’s Campbell. “Today, we’re operating in less than 6 feet in articulating trucks.” Part of that is attributed to redesigning the articulation assembly of the trucks so they are more compact and thinner to work in a narrower aisle. Another is to design a front end that can rotate 200 degrees instead of 180 degrees.

“As you’re pulling the forks out, they start to turn. That allows you to keep the forks straight until you get them out of the pallet, which makes it easier to stack in a narrow aisle,” Campbell explains. Since narrow aisle trucks are often working in high elevations, Landoll has added a low-cost camera system to provide visibility above 25 feet as well as software that can detect and display the height elevations in every row in a warehouse.

13. Integrated scales.  Burger King created a business out of letting customers have it their way. Toyota Material Handling U.S.A. (TMHU) sees a similar interest in customization among lift truck users. “Forty percent of our orders are customized by the customer and many of those innovations turn into options that are later integrated into options on the trucks,” says Cesar Jimenez, national product planning manager for TMHU. The recently introduced integrated forklift scale is an example of a feature that was developed for a customer and is now a standard option on Toyota trucks. The scale, which is accurate to within half a pound and is legal for trade, allows an end user to weigh and capture the weight of a load while lifting a pallet and loading it on a truck. In its current configuration, the system can store information about 350 loads that can be downloaded to an enterprise system. “We have the ability to add Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to automatically transmit the data,” Jimenez says.

14. Lithium ion batteries. Earlier this summer at CeMAT, Jungheinrich introduced a walkie for the European market powered by a small lithium ion battery the size of a brief case that can be replaced by the operator with no special tools. “The size of the battery results in a very maneuverable truck,” says Bowles. “But, as with most new technologies, cost is the issue and at present, the cost per kilowatt hour is greater than a lead acid battery.”

15. A hybrid lift truck. In Japan, Toyota has introduced a true hybrid diesel truck in an 8,000-pound capacity truck. The truck operates on electric power for applications like travel, but automatically switches to diesel when extra power is required for an application, just like the consumer car Prius. And, like a Prius, the batteries are recharged when the truck is under diesel power. “Because you’re not consuming electricity from the grid, the design has resulted in a 50% reduction in fuel consumption and emissions,” says Jimenez. Toyota plans to introduce a propane-based indoor cushion tire hybrid truck in North America. “Propane is the No. 1 selling fuel for us in the United States,” says Jimenez. “That’s what we’re pushing our parent company to design.” 

Companies mentioned in this article
Doosan Industrial Vehicles America
Landoll Corporation
Linde Material Handling North America
Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America, MCFA
NACCO Materials Handling Group
Nissan Forklift Corporation North America
Toyota Material Handling USA

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