Lincoln Industries puts a finish on lift trucks
A fleet management software system has automated the paper operator checklist. The system ensures that only operators with up-to-date licenses can drive a truck.
If materials handling equipment were like athletics, conveyor, sorters and automated storage systems would be like the flashy quarterback who throws the winning touchdown and gets the girls.
Lift trucks might be the center—you can’t win a game without one, but few people notice his performance unless he drops the ball.
There are no materials handling quarterbacks at metal finisher Lincoln Industries. Instead, a fleet of 32 lift trucks (Yale, yale.com) are the backbone of the materials handling processes in the 334,000-square-foot plant in Lincoln, Neb. There, lift trucks get the glory.
“We rely entirely on lift trucks to keep product moving through the facility,” says Lincoln Industries’ vice president of operations Bill Ellerbee.
At the end of last year, Lincoln worked with a local distributor (Riekes Equipment Co., riekesequipment.com) to upgrade an aging fleet of 26 trucks. As part of the process, Lincoln Industries not only brought in new equipment, it also added lift truck attachments, fleet management software and opportunity charging to improve the operation of the fleet.
The result has been improved safety and productivity. “We’ve had the new fleet in place since February 2012,” says Ellerbee. “Since then, we’ve broken monthly sales records in four of the last six months. At the same time, we’ve kept up with the extra production with no additional overhead.”
More importantly, adds Ellerbee, “We have the security of knowing our team can do their work day in and day out safely and productively. Our people have the right tools to do their job.”
A unique culture
Based in Lincoln, Neb., Lincoln Industries is the nation’s largest privately held metal finishing company, providing 29 different metal finishes to world-class manufacturers like Harley-Davidson, Polaris, John Deere and PACCAR.
Family-owned, the company is as well-known for its unique business culture as it is for the quality of its work. Lincoln Industries has been recognized five times as one of the 25 Best Medium Size Companies to Work For in America.
“We are a people-oriented company,” says Ellerbee, explaining that Lincoln Industries doesn’t hire employees, it selects people to be part of its team.
The company culture includes a focus on developing individual talent, encouraging the health and wellness of its people, providing opportunities for education and career advancement, and maintaining a safe workplace.
Productivity and safety, both related to the business culture, were catalysts for the upgrade of the fleet. The company had 26 trucks, and they were all five years or older. A technician was on site 8 hours a day just to avoid downtime.
The fleet included three core truck types, but was a hodge-podge of styles and all had basic features. The mast heights were different and the options were different. One truck couldn’t necessarily operate in all parts of the plant.
Safety was also a concern. To accommodate the many different-sized pallets and containers handled within the plant, drivers had to frequently get off their lifts to adjust their forks. That was unproductive. Last fall, Lincoln Industries called in local forklift providers and asked for bids.
The goal was to bring in a new fleet with features that would improve productivity and safety. Lincoln Industries also wanted to make sure that the composition of the fleet matched the duties of the operators who would be using the trucks.
Lincoln Industries’ lift truck operators were a critical factor in the selection process. After all, they would be operating the vehicles and had a stake in how the trucks performed.
As the bid process unfolded, drivers were included on the selection team and were involved in every meeting with suppliers. Drivers were also encouraged to test each of the lift trucks brought in for evaluation.
Once a brand was selected, Lincoln Industries not only replaced its trucks, it brought in a new mix of vehicles with new features.
“We wanted to make sure that as we changed the composition of the fleet, we had trucks that matched the operator and the operator’s duties,” says Ellerbee. That included sit-down and stand-up style trucks along with some manual trucks. In total, Lincoln Industries brought in 32 new trucks.
New fleet, new trucks
One of the first noticeable changes in the new fleet was the style of truck employed in the plant. The sit-down trucks in the old fleet were comprised of higher chassis trucks with cushion tires. The high chassis required a three-step process to get on and off the truck; because of the style of tire, drivers felt every bump going over the dock and every crack in the floor.
The new fleet includes low chassis trucks with pneumatic tires and a zero-turn circumference. The trucks were also equipped with a full suspension seat. The combination resulted in a truck that was easier to get on and off, easier to handle and more comfortable to drive over a long shift. A full suspension floor was installed in standup trucks to reduce operator fatigue.
Lincoln also added five manual walkie reach trucks to the fleet.
“We used to spend a lot of time moving raw material from the warehouse to the individual production lines,” says Ellerbee. “To make that more efficient, we installed storage rack for high-volume products at the line. With the walkie reach trucks, our production people can get the material they need without waiting for delivery from the warehouse. That saves time.”
The new fleet also included several new attachments and features. For instance, side-shifting fork positioners were added to allow drivers to automatically adjust the position of the forks based on the size of the container and without ever getting off the truck.
“In receiving, it used to take about 45 seconds every time a driver got on or off a truck to change the position on a fork,” says Ellerbee, adding that each driver was getting on and off a lift 10 to 15 times a shift. It also eliminates driver’s risk of pinched fingers positioning the forks.
Similarly, automatic scales were added to weigh product in the shipping department. That change not only freed up space on the dock that had been allocated to manual scales, it also saved time since the weight is automatically registered when a driver picks up a load. The weights are saved in memory until the driver enters them into the shipping system. The return on investment was less than one year.
Finally, new reach trucks include a laser to highlight where forks are going to be placed on loads that are high up in the air.
Managing batteries and the fleet
The upgrades in performance didn’t end with the trucks. Lincoln also implemented new battery and fleet management systems.
Prior to the new fleet, operators spent 10 to 15 minutes each shift swapping batteries in a battery room that took up valuable production space. That system was replaced with an opportunity charging system that allows drivers to recharge during breaks or slow times. The space devoted to the battery room is now being used for production.
The last improvement was a fleet management software system. It is used to automate the vehicle check list, a process that was done manually before the drivers started their shift. “If there is an issue with a vehicle, the driver enters it into the system and generates an e-mail to a service technician, which saves a telephone call,” says Ellerbee.
Since each driver has an identification number, the fleet management system ensures that only operators authorized for that piece of equipment can operate a truck.
The system also includes impact management capability. This is a feature in the software that records when a driver bumps into something or there is some other jolt that could cause damage to the truck. The software highlighted a defect in the floor and an opportunity to change operator behavior that is reducing damage to trucks and product.
“We noticed that we were getting a number of impact reads,” Ellerbee says. “When we investigated, we learned that drivers were traveling with their forks extended when they were moving loads of bumpers that were 8 feet long. Every time they went over a particular crack in the floor, they were setting off the impact sensors and they were potentially damaging the fork carriages.”
Since then, the crack has been fixed and drivers have been retrained to travel with the forks in a lower position.
In the six months since the new fleet was put into operation, maintenance costs have been dramatically reduced.
“We have a technician who comes in to do planned maintenance and that’s about it,” says Ellerbee. More importantly, lift truck operators have the right tools to perform their jobs safely and productively.
Lift trucks: Yale Materials Handling Corp., yale.com
Systems integrator/distributor: Riekes Equipment Co., riekesequipment.com
Lift truck attachments: Cascade, cascorp.com/americas/en
Fleet management software: I.D. Systems, id-systems.com
Battery charging system: EnerSys, enersys.com