For decades, the ratio of electric to internal combustion (IC) lift trucks in the field swung back and forth as costs and new technologies lifted one or the other to a majority. The general consensus now is the current electric market share of 65% isn’t going anywhere and will likely challenge IC performance in even more applications.
Although IC technology is continually refined to boost efficiency, the returns have clearly diminished, whereas electric technology in industrial applications has undergone a sea change. The replacement of direct current (DC) with alternating current (AC) motors has boosted efficiency and supported the growing “intelligence” of electrified equipment. The cost and capability of batteries and chargers have also changed the calculations when comparing the benefits of electric and IC. Looking forward, lithium-ion, fuel cells or other battery technologies could revolutionize the world, whereas IC technology has limited potential for improvement.
“We’re still seeing a tremendous flow of organizations moving out of IC to electric, which indicates the interest in the benefits of lower maintenance costs, lower energy costs and cleaner energy,” says Mark Koffarnus, director of national accounts for Hyster Company. “Portability of fuel has been an issue. It’s easy to fill, store and swap a propane tank. AC motors already allow you to create a lot of torque, enough to meet IC performance, so when batteries get to that same level of ease and portability there might be no reason to use IC.”
Hyster does plenty of business in IC lift trucks, but has seen the writing on the wall. Hyster is now testing high-capacity lift trucks with electric motors, and Koffarnus says that in the near future even ports and heavy industry will be able to electrify their fleets, producing zero emissions while achieving full-shift performance. Koffarnus says the benefits of electric go far beyond the energy costs, and that the inherent connectivity of AC motors helps unlock benefits.
“AC is displacing DC, but it’s more about what that allows, which is data points and information gathering,” he says. “That data might go into standard vehicle management systems, or to give feedback to operators, or it might be routed through some sort of telematics device and into a master data repository that allows you to analyze and massage and extract intelligence from that data.”
As internal components age, this data becomes more valuable, Koffarnus says. The predictability of scheduled downtime gets significantly better, uptime improves, and utilization of labor and assets increases. Although electric equipment is uniquely positioned to support data collection, older lift trucks from any brand or power source can be folded into a telematics program for simple but significant rewards.