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Lift Truck Progress: Cleaner, Greener, Smarter

Dec. 10, 2008
Design trends boost lift truck efficiency in terms of productivity, emission control, safety and durability.

While the continuing transition to electric battery-powered lift trucks may suggest only environmental concern, the trend is really part of a broader search for new levels of performance and productivity.

The shift to electric continues to be the biggest and most evident trend in the industry, says Martin Boyd, national product planning and marketing manager at Toyota Material Handling USA Inc. (TMHU). "If you look back 12 or 15 years, the split between electric lift trucks and internal combustion models was about 60% to 40% in favor of internal combustion. Since then that trend has flipped in favor of electric," he says.

A contributing factor is the growing emergence of technology to transition lift trucks to become better and stronger competitive differentiators, says Jim Malvaso, president and CEO, Raymond Corp. "Lift trucks aren't a utility that is there just in case of a need to move a pallet. They are integrated into the customer's system for a dedicated, competitive payoff."

According to Boyd, "Much of the current progress in electric lift trucks can be attributed to the shift to AC technology." The result, he says, is the closing of the performance gap between electric and internal combustion-powered models.

Instead of starting with battery-powered designs, tomorrow's fuel cell lift trucks will be specific to that power source, says Toyota Material Handling USA Inc. Pictured above and below is a TMHU prototype, the FCHV-F.
Adds Malvaso: "With AC technology, we have been able to extend the performance life such that operators have eliminated stopping during heavy-duty shifts to change a battery. That enables users to pick up as much as 60 minutes per shift." Additionally, the AC system contains no motor commutator, brushes or springs, which equates to reduced maintenance costs, he says. Raymond, Toyota and Hyster are among the early adopters of AC technology.

"AC systems encouraged a lot of customers to rethink their ideas on using battery-powered technology," says Boyd. "Not only did they gain enhanced battery-powered performance, but that improvement was obtained without producing emissions such as carbon monoxide. In addition, the battery-powered lift trucks make little noise and are typically small enough to permit operation in narrow aisles."

To further facilitate the use of battery-powered lift trucks, TMHU has teamed with the provider of PosiCharge fast charging systems, AeroVironment Inc. Its systems are designed to maximize operator uptime and throughput by eliminating the need for complicated charge schedules. "PosiCharge," says Boyd, "ends the need for battery changing rooms and manual battery handling. That minimizes the danger of lead acid spillage and other environmental and safety hazards." He says the extended lifecycle of batteries combined with a company's reduced battery inventory also means that fewer batteries are heading to landfills. With the fast charging concept, only one battery per truck is required. Boyd says fast charge batteries are charged throughout the day -- whenever the truck is idle.

Meanwhile Toyota maintains a commitment to the clean and green internal combustion (IC) lift trucks. For example, its 8-Series IC lift truck, powered by liquefied petroleum gas, compressed natural gas or gasoline, produces 70% less smog forming emissions than allowed by federal regulations, says Boyd.

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