Lift Truck Tips: Are electric trucks right for you?

A power study will tell if electric makes sense for your operation.
By Josh Bond, Senior Editor
January 18, 2011 - MMH Editorial

Fans of electric and internal combustion (IC) lift trucks often find themselves on opposite sides of a Red Sox/Yankees-style rivalry, with outspoken champions and staunch critics residing in each camp.

While this column is not likely to result in many converts either way, it should be noted that electric lift trucks have continued to gain significant market share over recent years. With this in mind, Modern recently spoke with representatives from the NAACO Materials Handling Group for their thoughts on what edge, if any, electric lift trucks might have.

David McNeill, manager of product strategy for Class I electric lift trucks for NMHG, says the number of electric lift trucks in service began surpassing its IC counterpart about 15 years ago. “At that time, it was about 50/50,” says McNeill. “Now 61% of lift trucks are electric.”

That growth is driven by the potential for multifaceted savings, says McNeill. Fewer emissions reduce the need for air turnover inside indoor facilities, creating energy savings. Fewer moving parts in electric lift trucks mean less maintenance costs over the life of the truck. And, at 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, electricity costs about $150 per month per truck, as opposed to as much as $600 per month for liquid propane, according to McNeill.

McNeill recommends a power study at the outset of any potential fleet reconfiguration. If it’s determined that electric is a good fit, Lou Micheletto, manager of warehouse product strategy for NMHG says there are a few ways to enhance the lifespan and efficiency of electric lift trucks. Tires with a low friction coefficient might increase efficiency, while modern quick-charge or opportunity-charge technology can sustain uptime and replace the need for multimillion-dollar battery rooms.

That said, there are still a few reasons why many choose not to pursue an electric lift truck fleet. “People have always recognized the benefits of electric,” says Micheletto. “But the problem has always been the discipline required to manage electric trucks. When an IC truck runs out of propane in the middle of a shift, I can go get another can, and I’m back up and running. But I can’t get a can of watts.”

While managers are considering the increased discipline required of an electric fleet, Micheletto suggests that electronic lift truck components might also lead to further efficiencies in warehouse management. Truck-mounted accelerometers can track and reduce shrinkage and equipment damage by increasing accountability, says Micheletto. “Trucks are designed not to run into things, but to lift things,” he says. “And whenever a truck does hit something, ‘I Don’t Know’ is the guy who did it.”

The same culprit is usually responsible when an electric lift truck overheats and powers down due to excessive strain. With truck-mounted monitoring equipment, undesirable incidents such as collisions or overworked trucks are tied to individual operators. The data can be used to educate against recurrences, allowing managers to prevent, monitor and remediate such events.
“If you teach operators how to avoid the negative and show them you are tracking the negative, then the negative has a tendency to disappear,” says Micheletto.

About the Author

Josh Bond
Senior Editor

Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.

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