Monday, February 10, 2014

The Myth of the Articulated Fork Lift Truck - Narrow Aisles Means More Freight Stored but...

...Space Saving Genius or Awkward Compromise?
Shipping News Feature

UK – WORLDWIDE – There is something about an articulated fork lift truck that arouses the ‘Marmite’ factor in those in the supply chain industry – you either love them or hate them, but according to one stakeholder, admittedly with a vested interest, those against the concept simply haven’t given it a fair trial. Designed specifically to optimise space in warehouses holding freight stacked on racking, thus enabling the use of narrower aisles, they are at first sight unarguably a touch unorthodox.

There is no doubt however that, in a warehouse environment requiring such an intense racking system, that the machines that bend in the middle come into their own and, as more and more warehouse operators realise the space saving benefits of the articulated forklift truck concept, sales of such trucks are rising significantly. However, despite the large, and growing, number of articulated trucks in operation worldwide, and their proven ability to maximise storage and handling efficiency, some potential users hesitate to invest in the technology.

This reticence can be because of a, some would say misplaced, perception that compared to other equipment types such as traditional counterbalanced or moving mast reach trucks, articulated forklifts are hard to drive. John Maguire, Sales and Marketing Director of Flexi Narrow Aisle, manufacturer of the Flexi articulated truck range, insists that these ‘operator difficulty’ concerns are groundless, saying:

“Flexi trucks are in use at thousands of sites in 40 different countries around the world and our sales have been driven to a large extent by the fact that operators enjoy working with their Flexi trucks. Indeed, a truck operator at one of our customers’ sites told me recently that it is easier to stack pallets with a Flexi than it is to park a car!

“People seem to have all sorts of misconceptions about articulated trucks. I have heard them described as difficult to drive, likely to damage loads and racks and even slower than other truck types. We have been designing and building Flexi trucks for over 20 years and in truth every aspect of the Flexi design concept has been optimised to ensure easy driving, safe and highly productive pallet movements and long battery shift life.

“For example, wheel arches have been designed out of the Flexi’s unique `True Radius’ chassis which means that the risk of pallet rack or product damage when turning at 90° in the aisle has been eliminated - no matter which rack aisle or pallet load configuration has been chosen – because the operator can see exactly where the outer radius of the truck is in relation to the pallet racks and loads in the aisle.

“This narrow rear axle development across the Flexi range is even more important when travelling at speed down narrow rack aisles. Trucks with wide wheel arches are prone to striking pallet loads on the ground level and these `high speed’ incidents can often lead to major product and rack damage. In Germany, for instance, the strict DIN aisle security standard for Very Narrow Aisle operation can easily be achieved by the Flexi, as its wheel arch-free design provides maximum security clearance when travelling at high speed down the aisle. It is impossible for a Flexi operator to damage loads or pallet racks when turning so, after a short conversion training, forklift operators are soon able to achieve optimum safe productivity rates.”

And therein is possibly the key to the prejudice which some operators have regarding what is undoubtedly a very versatile machine. The actual mechanics of driving a flexible truck as opposed to conventional counterbalance unit are as different in some ways to operating a side loader or simply making the transition from front to rear wheel steering. Given a reasonable time to acclimatise a capable driver will soon adapt and may well grow to prefer the manoeuvrability which such a machine offers, whilst owners will hope to see the resultant fall in damage claims whist effectively reducing the price per square metre they pay for storage space.

To ensure that all drivers and warehouse operators not only get the best from their Flexi but work safely, Flexi Training offers a number of on the job, training courses. The courses are approved by HSE through an authorised training board and conducted by factory trained and registered instructors at a user’s premises or at Flexi Training’s centre in Droitwich.

The Flexi range includes seven different models and each has been designed and developed to allow loads weighing up 2.5 tonnes to be lifted to heights of over 14 metres safely and efficiently. The Flexi’s `True Radius’ wheel arch eliminating design and minimal use of plastic covers and other easy to damage components, means that repair costs incurred due to truck damage are minimal. Indeed, thanks to their robust design and easy-to-operate functionality, John Maguire says most Flexi Trucks finish a typical five year contract hire agreement with zero or minor return costs.