Lift truck tips: Use attachments to handle items with care

Force control attachments aim to take the guesswork out of clamping.
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By Josh Bond, Associate Editor
February 01, 2011 - MMH Editorial

Statistics on the amount of product damaged from lift truck attachments and clamps are hard to pinpoint, but the tally is undoubtedly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, according to Brad Vandehey, product manager for attachment manufacturer Cascade (http://www.cascorp.com).

In recent years, advances in on-board lift truck computing and aftermarket attachments have added brains and finesse to the brawn of the warehouse workhorse. Still, load clamping remains a perennial source of shrinkage. Lift trucks have always preferred the blunt technique of a spatula over the delicacy of a thumb and forefinger, but new force control clamp offerings aim to bestow lift truck operators with the precision needed to cut product loss and boost productivity.

The problem is most notable in operations where loads of variable weight are handled, according to Vandehey. A 2,800-pound pallet might look nearly identical to one that weighs closer to 400 pounds, and the operator might assume the same clamp force will work for both.

“If they’re going from a stack of eight washers to a single unit, that one washer could be in trouble,” says Vandehey. “The operator should not have to guess how much force to apply.”

When working to identify the sources of shrinkage, Vandehey is careful to distinguish between poor driver habits and the limitations of the machinery. Even if a driver has a pretty good idea of how much force to apply, the mechanisms for applying that force cannot be accurately controlled by the driver. In electric lift trucks, the motor spools up at such a speed that it can get away from even an experienced driver, Vandehey says. With variable clamp force pressure regulators that offer a stick-shift interface, operators must learn the gears and use them.

With force control technology, the operator is taken out of the equation. Each load is automatically weighed and no more than the needed force is applied. In the near future, radio frequency identification tags (RFID) might integrate with a warehouse management system to provide even more specific information about proper load handling—again without any reliance on the operator.
When force control was implemented at one paper facility, the manager informed Vandehey that the difference was immediate.

“After it was installed, he told me, ‘One day the operators were crushing rolls, and the next day they were not,’” Vandehey recalls. “The plant manager said ‘it was intuitively obvious that we are saving money.’”

At an estimated retrofit cost of $5,000 to $6,000 for some models of automatic force control technology, Vandehey estimates the savings could be easily recouped within a year, and warehouse managers won’t be the only ones happy to avoid damaged goods.

“How hard is it for the average shopper in the supermarket to walk past the crumpled paper product in favor of the one that looks like it hasn’t been crushed?” asks Vandehey. “Hopefully one day that won’t be a problem.”



About the Author

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Josh Bond
Associate Editor

Josh Bond is an associate editor to Modern. Josh was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and contributing editor, has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce.


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