by Steven Hill, Managing Director, Southeast Asia, Crown Equipment
Southeast Asia is rapidly becoming a manufacturing and logistics powerhouse. Companies establishing a presence in this region are in the unique position of being able to embrace third and fourth generation concepts in warehouse and distribution centre design, along with the technological advancements made in the last decade in the area of material handling equipment.
Companies operating in long-established and mature markets such as the US, Europe and Australia have seen a number of significant advancements in warehouse design and lift truck technology. As the technology has evolved, they have had to reinvest in facilities and equipment to maintain a competitive advantage.
However, companies either entering or rapidly expanding in the Southeast Asia region, are able to skip the early adoption pain and jump right in with the latest in design and technology.
During the last decade, the industry has seen advancements in forklift design and technology that have allowed operators and businesses alike to optimise the way they work. Leading companies across Southeast Asia are capitalising on these advancements.
The three greatest driving forces in these advancements have been the desire to optimise the vehicle’s mechanical capabilities, the awareness of the benefits of optimised ergonomics and the growing need for more information surrounding the vehicle’s operation. All three of these factors have seen quantum leaps in terms of total cost of ownership, operator safety and performance and operational efficiencies.
Below are some of the milestones achieved over the last decade that have helped forklifts move from what was seen by many as a commodity, to what is now seen as a critical element in optimising warehouse performance in terms of both efficiency and profitability.
Mechanical advancement has not been restricted to the areas of power and strength, although these have been significant.
Few in the industry would have envisaged just a decade ago that a pantograph reach truck would be equipped with a traction control system designed to assist the truck from slipping on wet, dusty or sealed floors.
As an example, Crown OnTrac™ Anti- Slip Traction Control uses the integrated on-board control system to compare the truck’s speed with the number of revolutions per minute the drive tire is turning to determine whether the truck has lost traction.
By reducing tyre spin during acceleration and preventing wheel lock-up during braking, the system reduces slipping and sliding. This decreases tyre wear, increases efficiency, helps reduce the risk of accidents and product damage, and improves operator confidence in slick conditions, such as refrigerated or freezer applications.
Even something as fundamental as a braking system has been optimised to the point where AC motor torque, instead of consumable brakes, are used to slow the forklift’s motion. This design significantly reduces the need to replace or adjust consumable parts and also utilises the momentum of the truck being slowed down to create regenerative electricity to “top up” the battery on-the-run.
Other advancements include “rack height select” functions that allow pre-programmed heights to be set to enable pallets to be put away quicker and safer with more confidence and “auto tilt levelling” to reduce pallet and product damage and make loading and unloading easier.
Every day, truck operators work in conditions that restrict workflow and reduce productivity.
Constantly bracing for heavy impacts caused by driving over dock ramps or keeping their footing on vibrating operator platforms – these are some of the challenges that confront operators working with conventional lift trucks.
The latest ergonomic advancements in something as fundamental as seating systems have reduced vibration by up to 80 per cent. Floating suspension systems have helped reduce symptoms, such as operator fatigue and obviated knee and back pain. And shock-absorbing suspension, unheard of just a few years ago, has helped to smooth out the effects of uneven floors to the point where operators no longer have to slow down when crossing ramps, boards or sills.
In modern forklifts, performance parameters can be programmed for drivers with different skill sets, or adjusted for specific working conditions.
Seats now boast high-tech polymer springs that allow for backwards flexibility, channelling jolts and vibrations away from the operator and into the shock-absorbing seat. The polymer spring also provides postural relief throughout a work shift. The ergonomic advancements in the design and construction of seat backrests, hip pads and adjustable armrests and footrests have also contributed to overall operator comfort leading to improved performance.
Microprocessors and other enabling devices have advanced at speeds barely imaginable just a decade ago. Tens of millions of lines of code now command hundreds of millions of instructions per second on processing devices developed for cars, computers and handheld devices. For warehouse managers striving to get the most from their fleets and operators, applications of these technologies are now essential to the operation of a successful business.
These latest technologies help companies manage their fleets with unprecedented customisation, resulting in a material handling industry that benefits from higher performance, productivity, improved safety, greater operator comfort, convenience and lowest total cost of ownership.
Additionally, the sophistication of today’s information management systems, such as Crown InfoLink®, allow for the restriction of unauthorised access to equipment, safety checklist compliance, and the detection and recording of impacts while delivering a wealth of fleet operating data through simple yet powerful management interfaces.
There is also a rapid uptake of “Smart Battery Charger” technology that allows batteries to be opportunity charged at any time.
Technology, and the quest for knowledge, is now at the forefront of so many aspects of our industry, including operator safety, fleet optimisation and environmental best practices; and it will continue to drive us through the decade to come.
The decade ahead
There is no doubt that leading companies in our industry recognise the need to improve operational efficiencies whilst at the same time taking a leading role in driving more environmentally sustainable business and operation practices.
In looking back, there are vast advancements throughout the industry over the last decade, which has, without a doubt, changed the face of material handling forever. The industry can certainly look forward to the future, where research and development, design, mechanical advancements and the increased adoption of technologies, will see further optimisation in areas of safety, productivity and environmental practices.
About the Author
Steven Hill was appointed the Crown Equipment Managing Director Southeast Asia in December 2014 and is leading the rapid expansion in Southeast Asia accelerating the Crown Equipment branch infrastructure roll out to keep up with the fast growing customer demand for Crown’s total MHE solution.
Having worked in the MHE industry for over 30 years including Europe, Australia and Asia an extensive knowledge of what is important within the supply chain and warehousing industry today, and in the future has been developed through delivering business productivity improvements to both global and local SME companies.