Overall cost of ownership is what drives truck features at Cat, according to Adams. "The food industry is very competitive and so companies must be cost efficient and productive," he says. "We design around that so that users get the lowest cost of production."
Cat recently introduced the industry's first all-AC reach truck, which includes AC-driven lift functions, steering and travel. "The truck is fully programmable, so operators can program in lifting speeds and adjust the reach mechanism and steering. If a user needs to travel full speed and a long distance, he can program the truck accordingly."
At Nissan Forklift Corp., Marengo, IL, design enhancements have culminated in an electronic coast control feature called "click-n-coast" for its end control walkie/rider pallet trucks. "This feature will im'prove order picking efficiency for the operator through push button activation of the coast-control feature," says Keith Allman'dinger, director of product support.
Another design enhancement that several manufacturers have added is the availability of triple-length forks, which extend to 144 inches. Crown's new PE 4000 series is among those offering this feature, allowing operators to transport three to six pallets at a time, reducing the number of trips and improving productivity up to 50 percent.
In general, operators are going to find that today's trucks are easier and more efficient to operate than ever before.
Recent design improvements on lift trucks focus on more than just performance. They also include operator comfort, with the philosophy that a more comfortable operator is a more productive operator. "Our new walkie/rider pallet truck was designed to provide exceptional comfort to the operator," says Nissan's Allmandinger. "The rider platform offers a thick cushioned rubber platform mat. The cover design also provides lots of leg space, giving the operator sufficient room to maneuver and control the truck."
Crown has also focused on the floor mat of its pallet trucks. "We spent close to three years designing and testing the mat and getting feedback from users," Blanchard says. "It makes a big difference in operator comfort."
At Hyster, design has also been focused on operator comfort. "We have incorporated state-of-the-art ergonomics to maximize operator comfort and ensure im'proved productivity," says Beale.
A lowered step height that allows easier access and 20 percent more operator floor space are included in the latest Hyster trucks. Other advances include a smaller steering wheel with standard steer knob and improved seat design for enhanced driver comfort.
Colborn says that Raymond has made its trucks' step height eight inches for entering and exiting their equipment. "We wanted to make it close to normal step orientation so that it would be easy to get on and off," he says. "We also designed our trucks to prevent a lot of twisting and contorting."
Cat has added a flexible side stance to its trucks. "This allows the operator to get into better position by standing in position and being able to operator in either direction," says Adams. "We also offer electric power steering, which has high sensitivity."
As lift truck manufacturers look for new ways to improve their trucks and make end users more efficient, they are increasingly looking into alternative fuels such as hydrogen fuel-cell power. Raymond, for instance, has spent the last two years investigating its viability. The company recently debuted a concept truck at ProMat to introduce users to what may soon be a reality.
When adopted in real applications, fuel cells would replace batteries, generating a savings by eliminating battery change-out and enabling longer run times. When exactly the technology might take off, however, is anyone's guess. "The costs must be in line and the infrastructure must be set up," says Colborn.
Cat is also looking into fuel cell technology. "The viability to take the hydrogen and alter it for fuel is there," says Adams. "But right now the cost needs to come down to make it a reality."
Adams estimates that if hydrogen fuel technology can't get below a cost of $3.50 per kilo, it won't be economically viable. Also, in the food industry, the additional issue of how well the technology could work in the freezer must be addressed.