With the Wal-Mart mandate looming large in the food industry, radio frequency identification (RFID) is front and center in most food distributors' minds these days. Many suppliers are scrambling to see how they can fit the technology into their day-to-day processes.
The industrial truck industry has also been at work figuring out how the technology can fit into its capabilities. Several companies have announced efforts to tie RFID into their trucks and others are hot on their heels.
Putting RFID to work on lift trucks is just one of the many ways in which the industrial truck industry is beefing up its vehicles. Manufacturers have added a wide variety of truck enhancements that improve performance and make the trucks more comfortable for operators.
With a healthy number of industrial truck suppliers out there, the variety of trucks available is sure to guarantee that there's a truck for every application. This carries over into recently added features as well, where the breadth of enhancements is wide.
Most of the manufacturers get their ideas for these new features from actual end users out in the field. This has been the case at Cat Lift Trucks, based in Houston. "We design prototypes and take them to customer sites," says Nick Adams, product marketing manager. "We ask operators to try them out and give us feedback. Then we apply the results."
Among some of the latest features added to trucks is an attention to detail. New Bremen, OH-based Crown Equip'ment Corp., for instance, has focused efforts of late on truck accessories. "It's the small items and details that make the operator's job easier," says Jim Blanchard, marketing product manager. "For in'stance, we've added a new steel tube for mounting RF terminals. This puts the terminal out of the operator's visual field and it makes the operator more productive at the same time."
Other small touches on Crown trucks include additional storage areas, fans for operator comfort and mounted clip boards. "We send our designers out into the field," says Blanchard, "and what we've learned is that many users were fabricating things like these. So we look for ways to help the users by adding features they want and need."
Manufacturers have also focused ef'forts on improving the operator interface. "This is key because it makes operators more efficient," says John Colborn, marketing director at Raymond Corp., Greene, NY. "In many food operations, trucks are running 24/7. It gets expensive if you have inefficient operators."
The Raymond reach truck, for in'stance, now has single-access control, making the trucks less tiring to operate. There is also a new, information-based display. "This gives operators information like the date and time of the last battery change and the weight on the forks," Colborn explains. "It's a large display that is easy to read and it makes the operator more capable."
Another design change of late on Raymond trucks has been the addition of a more adjustable cab, including the control handle set up. "This makes the cab more user friendly to a variety of sizes of operators as the demographics of DC employees continues to change," says Colborn.
Irvine, CA-based Toyota Material Handling USA Inc. has also put design efforts into its control unit. "We've installed a three-position handle to suit all heights of operators," says Adam Hughes, material warehouse products manager. "The handle was designed with ergonomic comfort in mind."
Hyster Co., Greenville, NC, has added a new line of counterbalanced trucks with a new transmission system. Some of the new features included in the trucks include new clutch pack designs with improved cooling characteristics to maximize operation, reduce cycle times and maximize up-time, according to Geoff Beale, sales director at the company. "The trucks also offer state-of-the-art engine options and electro-hydraulic controls with either cowl-mounted or seat-side controls," he says. "Our focus was on ease of service, operator comfort and lowest cost of operation."