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Why Articulated Forklift Trucks are the world’s most powerful business tool, a 12 point guide to what you need to know, by Paul Casebourne

Simon Brown of Bendi," two hydraulically operated legs were used to support the truck on either side….the Bendi breakthrough was the introduction of a fixed rear axle adequate counterbalancing and a floating front axle"…the Bendi was born!

‘I can confirm first hand that it is possible to take a small warehouse struggling to turnover £2m and explode the performance to £6m in under 3 years.’

How it all started
As far as I can tell this could actually be the original concept patented by Walter M. Shaffer. He was a talented design engineer with his name to over 20 patents in the U.S.,some of which are held by Caterpillar Inc during the ’70’s. This design has an uncanny resemblance to the current designs. Walter Shaffer had a keen interest in drive and hydraulic systems so he was right on the cutting edge of the concept.

Fred Brown (Bendi) proving it could be done!
Walter Shaffer had started a fire and his ideas were blazing. Within a short space of time he was joined by Fred Brown (Translift Bendi), Robert Moffett, (Moffetts, Combi and Aislemaster,) Marcel Baud (Manitou) and soon after Peter Wooldridge and Callan Thomas of Narrow Aisle UK – AKA Flexi. These people changed and adapted mechanical handling to do work at speed and in conditions where no other equipment is as efficient or as economic. They make enormous contributions to our daily lives.

Peter Wooldridge and Callan Thomas’s The ‘Flexi’
These men have been part of an engineering break through which is practically unequalled in our industry creatively overcoming business, engineering and design complications which were all but unsolvable but these are no ordinary people. A quick look at the associated patents tells you that help was at hand and the engineers globally were using drive systems and power packs to achieve new levels of stability, speed and performance which was about to change the middle band of warehousing for ever.

Gerry McHugh, Robert Moffett, Joe’O Brien, Gerry Harte and Martin McVicar – The’ Aislemaster’
Perhaps not surprisingly these people spare each other no quarter for they are fierce competitors. They have achieved all this under commercial battlefield conditions with resources derived from the sole success of their personal engineering achievements. Materials handling equipment is no place for the feint hearted. If you ever doubted the need for the warrior classes in this end of engineering you should be prepared. The mere mention of the word ‘fork truck’ will send the industry into a feeding frenzy and the infantry will line up in your visitors car park with an array of handling weapons which would wilt even the strongest of wills in the most battle hardened of managers, beneath the prospect of cost reductions of leviathan proportions……but is it all true? Can you save or create 50% more space out of nothing? I went to find out.

Fred Brown – The’ Bendi’
Can you really double the capacity of your warehouse?
The answer to that is yes and all these world class engineering men know only too well exactly how to do it. The most recent entry to the arena is Robert Moffett who went head to head with Manitou’s Marcel Baud in the 70’s and turned the HGV into a mobile warehouse by parking a fork truck in its tail. All of them hold the same philosophy " cut your customer’s costs and everyone prospers".

If you are using yard trucks you will need 4m aisles for storage and set down unless you block stack. I can confirm first hand that it is possible to take a small warehouse struggling to turnover £2m and explode the performance to £6m in under 3 years with the same staff, the same property and the same transport arrangements using this type of equipment and that was just one articulated truck!

Why are they your best business bet?
If you want to survive in business surround yourself with the people who know how to do it, if you want to lead the field pick leaders. Flexi, Bendi and Aislemaster have some of the finest people in the industry working not just for them but also for you, you should expect and get a very high standard with specialist truck makers. Narrow Aisle are leaders and specialists in warehousing concepts, they have not spread their resources across a large range they made a choice with their products and excelled with highly relevant and well chosen operationally dynamic specifications born out of experience and which is highly adaptable and very efficient. Translift on the other hand, the original inventors of the articulated forklift, were committed to the concept design in the early days and now have added many other design features which were partly market lead and partly driven by competition. Finally Combi entered the ring and the gloves really came off. Robert Moffett is one of the great design engineers of our current age, he was not about to be handcuffed with standard range limitations as he has demonstrated this to amazing effect with the Combi-lift. Walter M. Shaffer held patents for very similar equipment, but it was Robert Moffett that finally perfected an all terrain 4 directional truck that worked inside and out in narrow aisle conditions. So when he turned his attention to articulated fork trucks the others should have been rightly worried.

Pick your champion from any of these three cultures and you will be in for cutting edge performance.

In my experience the top men and women in these companies will know about your enquiry, they will care and they will want your business. They know your business inside out and know just what to do to help you. They also pick their battles carefully and will not think twice about walking away from a job where they really don’t provide the sort of solution you may need.

Where to start:
If you are interested in this sort of equipment but don’t fully appreciate what is out there it may pay you to start not with the trucks but with your own operational needs and for that you might be better off with a materials handling engineer who should help you in areas in which the truck makers would not normally involve themselves. The local dealers, unless they have the specialist knowledge again, may struggle to provide you with the level of helpful support required in the early days, so keep them for later.
A good materials handling engineer will be able to help you pick the best team for your type of operation based upon the right truck for the application. At this stage such a person would involve one or more of these specialist manufacturers who will then provide information, demonstrations and advice on mission specific equipment. This may save you having to barricade the car park since the manufacturers will know where they have equipment new and used and who can service best your local or multiple needs or work objectively with your current provider to produce the best results.

So who is the best?
A leading question:
Ranges: Flexi have some amazing experience, hugely reliable and well thoughtoutdesigns. Bendi build a lot of trucks and have a large range and some varied and interesting choice options not available elsewhere. Aislemaster have a degree of engineering muscle to provide solutions that might be hard to find when technical engineering response is demanded. They are all Anglo-Irish companies with a now global presence in a market that has not flinched greatly from its growth curve. The people I have spoken to in these companies all say they are now ahead of the good years pre-recession.

Used equipment:
If you choose used I would advise you to do so through approved sources. I have found Aislemaster extremely helpful with budgets and keen to help bringing in equipment specially from Portugal to meet the price expectations of one needy customer. The equipment, as with the Combi precedent, holds its value well. Beware of seemingly good deals on used gear especially Bendi, they make the most so there is most of it about and not necessarily the bargains they appear to be, so seek professional advice and ask them, they know what it was designed for and how much work it is likely to have done. If necessary get a second opinion and a full service history. Flexi try to keep ahead of their equipment and prefer to maintain high operational performance by refurbishing equipment. Not that the others don’t, only this is pronounced with Flexi. This makes them seem perhaps at a price disadvantage, but I like and respect this concept because your bargain basement price looks pretty poor value when you can’t operate your warehouse. That saving can very quickly turn into angry customers and lost business when you can’t delivery. For this reason Flexi trucks hold their value well.

In the few experiences I have had with customers (especially food related) getting real unbeatable deals it has always been followed by a much greater cost and inconvenience later which would have made the refurbished price look the real bargain it didn’t at the time. – I wish I could report otherwise.

There are issues here, I am not going to elaborate on these as they are relatively minor, but remember if you choose rear or 4 wheel drive equipment someone has to take the thing to bits to maintain it. Ask how easy this procedure is and how long it takes. If you only buy one truck and you have aisles that only it can work in what is plan ‘B’ when it is in bits – which, if you keep it long enough, it will have to be at some stage.
Electric equipment needs batteries loading and maintenance methods vary in ease of use.

If you intend to use the trucks outside or experience wet conditions check the tyre specifications carefully, it might sway your choice on drive systems and power packs especially on slopes and remember winter conditions – ask about what measures can be provided.

Warranty is always worth a good old investigation, you can get some good warranty deals if you push and local dealers may be keen to go the extra mile to get your business. So it is well worth questioning.

What are the best applications and things to watch out for?
Any, but not limited to, warehousing work. This equipment will run to heights of over 12m, I have some working quite happily at 11m but there are some basics to consider:

• 13m takes longer to reach than 7m and your costs of operating high loads to those heights goes up with time and lower weight restrictions.
• If you also want to manually pick in the aisles, trolleys and pallets need to pass each other. 1600mm is impressive for warehousing but awkward for pickers.
• If you are going very high plan your warehouse management system carefully, otherwise you will have cross drivers waiting whilst you get your most popular items down from the highest, furthest, slowest points and you may find what you gain in height you lose in supplier discounts.
• Most applications don’t require cameras under 6m
• Think about turning the truck at aisle ends and marshalling carefully.
• One of these trucks can usually handle about 128 cycles a shift off a lorry into the rack so I have been reliably informed – it is worth a thought at all events.
• Make sure doors (heights) and fork truck masts are matched!!
• Manufacturing industry will be just as happy if they need to use fork lift trucks in production space, a smaller operating space means more production space, a 4m aisle is a lot of machine tool space!
• If you intend to use these trucks for other applications such as ro-ro cargo handling on raised docks direct to trailer seek advice.
• You will need conversion driver courses and time for drivers to adapt to the new equipment. It varies from about £500.00 per day but will often include several drivers. They usually last between 3 and 5 days and certificates are issued on successful completion.
• They can be used for drive in applications but seek advice. This was not part of the original design vision and other equipment is likely to perform such a task with greater agility.
• Avoid excessively long aisles without access breaks

If I could give any advice to the troubled new build project manager it would be:
1. Plan the lighting with the racking
2. Check your floor loadings, especially on piled ground
3. Doors and mast heights matter
4. Beware of slopes, especially around loading bays
5. Plan charging stations and requirements carefully
6. Trucks can take up to 15 weeks to design and make
7. Electricity supplies can be about a 12 month wait
8. Structural engineers are cheaper than re-work!
9. There are many alternative building designs to achieve budgets and time lines
10. Used equipment is an unregulated market place.
11. Give yourself quality time with these expert engineers, it’s the best investment you will ever make

Front wheel, rear wheel, all wheel drives:
The argument for these drive systems is not likely to die down. Bendi stand by rear wheel drive. Their success was hard won and it still accounts for 60% of their output but you do have other choices. Flexi have very strong technical arguments surrounding the efficiencies for front wheel drive and their equipment has some very pleasing and functional design lines and has caught the attention of other manufacturers and customers alike and are gaining ground as awareness grows, but they also will provide drive solutions that will accommodate the needs of your business. Aislemaster are probably the ones to watch. New into the market by comparison they have a very strong engineering bias and they don’t view the market in the same way as the others. For this reason they have an arsenal of weapons to deal with warehousing issues in ways the others can’t match and they are experts in all drive systems and not afraid to pioneer solutions.

In my experience you need to be very wary of any ‘deals’ below £20,000 but it is not hard to part with £40,000 for this amazing equipment and if you think that is expensive wait until you try to move warehouse. This equipment really ‘works out’ your business and it will sweat your asset removing the Teflon coating from the fixed cost of operations so that money then sticks to your business. Your costs go out every second of the day – the second you equip correctly they stop and the tide reverses!

These incredible engineers set out to save you money and they put theirs on the line to prove to you that they meant it. The wrong trucks cost industry well over a billion pounds a year in damage and inefficiency – you now have a choice you can trust and better still it is an idea pioneered on our little islands that is providing great opportunities and felling operating costs on a global basis.

Paul Casebourne is a specialist working materials handling engineer, being an industry expert, Paul has written this article specifically for Materials Handling World Magazine, and as such all content of this article is copyright.

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