• Securing external expertise: The planning process is much less overwhelming when support from external sources is secured. This includes engineering or design firms, of course, but also should include manufacturers of material handling systems and lift truck manufacturers and dealers.
Regarding the last point, it’s prudent to use the front-end planning process to carefully review the credentials of all external participants to ensure appropriate experience in similar projects. Keep in mind that special design considerations are necessary for specific facility types. For example, a cold storage or blast freezer facility typically requires maximum storage density, due to the very high cost of construction. A 3PL may wish to use a design that maximizes flexibility in layout and storage to serve a wide variety of customers.
Virtually every decision made during the front-end planning process for a retrofit project or a brand-new facility will affect the existing lift truck fleet. Either project type is a great opportunity to re-evaluate the existing fleet mix, but such an evaluation is best completed by a trusted lift truck manufacturer or dealer. With the proper credentials and experience, either can objectively assess multiple issues, such as:
• The fleet’s age and service condition: That includes not only the mechanical condition of individual units, but also related issues, such as the method of equipment acquisition and the most cost-effective maintenance approach. Note that reviewing a lift truck manufacturer’s or dealer’s credentials can help determine its ability to provide effective ongoing training and support, as well as its ability to be a reliable long-term partner and provide a solutions-oriented approach.
• The fleet’s ability to meet future needs: The potential of increased demand, new customers and new products are crucial variables that should be factored into the decision-making process. With the short product life of many consumer products, it’s more important for a manufacturer and its warehouse or distribution operations to be flexible and react rapidly to changing economic conditions.
• The fleet’s ability to be used efficiently in a new layout or storage configuration: Obviously, a new warehouse or distribution center likely will be substantially different from an existing facility, but a retrofit project can completely change storage density and workflow as well. Recent material handling and storage trends also will affect fleet makeup. For example, one such trend is high-bay and cube utilization analysis.
To reduce a facility’s physical footprint, especially in larger urban areas where space is at a premium, there is currently a tendency to build vertically and maintain manageable costs. Thus, the planning phase will focus heavily on cube design and racking structure, and the options that are borne from that process will require varying approaches based on truck type, such as whether deep-reach lift trucks or very narrow aisle (VNA) lift trucks are needed.
Of course, the chosen design approach will be influenced by multiple factors beyond lift trucks, including everything from building codes to seismic activity to labor pools. A lift truck manufacturer or dealer with extensive experience will be able to account for these variables and recommend changes that result in the best possible fleet mix.
Powering The fleet
All lift truck fleets require power to operate at any throughput level, but those that use batteries must take into consideration issues like charging and electrical costs in the front-end planning process.
A great external resource in this area can be the local electrical utility, which can recommend more cost-effective ways to use electricity based on throughput levels. For example, it may recommend battery charging at times when both peak electrical demand and rates are lower.
Remember: It’s in the local utility’s best interest to work with customers to reduce peak electrical demand to avoid brownouts or blackouts, and many provide financial incentives to do so. In addition, a hard look at electrical power needs and efficiencies also can help ownership and management meet sustainability and reduced carbon footprint goals.