Anatomy of a Warehouse Part 2 - Forklifts

For the second part of our ‘Anatomy of a Warehouse’ blog series, we’re taking a look at forklifts.

What is now a £25bn worldwide forklift industry began life in 1906 in Pennsylvania when the local railway introduced platform trucks powered by batteries to move luggage. Over the coming decades, forklifts developed rapidly, sometimes prompted by need, as in the wartime developments by Ransomes of Ipswich catalysed by labour shortages; sometimes responding to new developments such as hydraulic power and the adoption by industries in the thirties of standard pallets.

After the Second World War, warehouses began to implement more space efficient forms of pallet storage, requiring forklifts to reach higher and carry more weight, leading to further developments in design. In 1954, the first narrow aisle forklift was introduced in the UK allowing warehouses to store pallets at even greater densities. Developments in recent decades have been around improving the operator experience (and safety), improving emissions and automated forklifts integrated into automated warehouses.

Standard Counterbalance Forklifts

Whilst there is no such thing as a standard forklift truck, the most common variety is the counterbalanced forklift. The key element of forklift design is the requirement to be stable despite a changing centre of gravity as a pallet is lifted, and to stay stable when cornering. To improve manoeuvrability in tight warehouse spaces , forklifts steering is generally rear driven.

Alternatives to the standard counterbalance forklift exist for those warehouses requiring greater space density or specialist needs:

Articulated Counterbalance Forklifts

Articulated counterbalance forklifts have front wheel steering and can access very narrow aisles (VNA). This enables them to be used to unload pallets from vehicles, move through the warehouse and put the load in narrow aisle racking. This reduces the number of intra-warehouse movements for the pallet, though does preclude the use of guided VNA forklifts. However, articulated counterbalance forklifts are increasingly being seen as a competitive solution for achieving good levels of pallet storage density, lift heights and pallet throughput.

Guided VNA Forklifts

Guided very narrow aisle forklifts run on rail- or wire-guides between the two rows of pallet racks, enabling access to both sides of racking without lateral movement. This enables rapid picking alongside dense pallet storage. VNA forklifts come in 'man-down' and 'man-up' formats. With the latter, the operator rises in a cage to the level required and can thus pick a single unit rather than a whole pallet. VNA trucks require very even warehouse floors to operate effectively and safely.

Omni-Directional Forklifts

Mecanum wheels is a development that enables a forklift to have omni-directional steering (though the word ‘steering’ becomes obsolete in this context): forward, diagonal and lateral movement. Such forklifts can rotate a full circle within its own footprint and provide yet more flexibility and efficiency in a densely packed warehouse.

Pyroban Forklifts Trucks

Pyroban forklifts (or explosion proof forklifts) are designed to operate in potentially explosive conditions such as manufacturing units and warehouses in the chemicals, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals industries; and also some aspects of food and drink manufacture.

Trade Associations

The relevant trade associations in the UK are the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA) and the British Industrial Truck Association (BITA). The European body is Fédération Européenne de la Manutention (FEM).

The ‘BITA list’ has categories for different forklift types. Forklift training certificates display the relevant BITA category to identify the type or types of forklifts for which the operator is appropriately trained.

The top 5 results for Google-ing ‘Forklift Truck Suppliers UK’ are:

  • Jungheinrich – established over 60 years ago in Hamburg, Jungheinrich has sales of £175m in the UK. Its head office is in Milton Keynes with 5 regional service centres around the country. It’s range covers most of the full gamut of trucks from hand pallet trucks to explosion proof. Like many of the man players, it runs a second hand/ re-conditioned sales service, not least as many new forklifts are taken on leases, usually 5 years.
  • Linde Materials Handling. – Linde MH was demerged from its parent Linde Group in 2006 with the top company re-named as Kion Group. However, the Linde brand continues to be used in the UK, with Kion subsidiary Still also operating in the UK. Linde MH is based in Basingstoke, has 9 national network companies and 23 regional support centres. As well as a range of pallet handling forklifts, Linde also offers a heavy truck.
  • Toyota – with factories in France, Sweden and Italy and offices/service centres at Slough, Castleford, Warrington and Leicester (plus 8 regional distributors), Toyota’s material handling division is well represented in the UK and Europe. In addition to a full range of forklifts, Toyota also offer warehouse racking solutions, in a fetching colour match to its forklift trucks.
  • Mitsubishi – operating through regional dealers in the UK, Mitsubishi forklifts come with spoilers and gold hub caps as standard. Mitsubishi products have been awarded three Reddot design awards in recent years, for the Premia ES power pallet truck, the EDiA EX electric forklift and the Sensia RB14 – 25N2.
  • Briggs – based in Cannock, Staffs, Briggs is part of Briggs International, the world’s largest distributor of Hyster and Yale forklifts and material handling equipment.

Also of note are Bendi Articulated Forklifts and Flexi Narrow Aisle Forklifts.

That’s your forking lot, folks, till next week’s instalment of ‘Anatomy of a Warehouse’ .