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Changing perspectives

09 June 2021

Linde Material Handling’s Ulrike Just outlines evolving intralogistics trends in the wake of the pandemic. 

ULRIKE JUST took the helm at Linde Material Handling UK & Ireland in November 2020, at a time of difficulty and uncertainty due to the pandemic. HSS editor Simon Duddy interviews Ulrike to hear how she has taken on this new challenge.

How has Linde coped with the challenges of the pandemic?

Ulrike Just: It has been unprecedented. Very early on, the Government said it was crucial to keep the supply chain moving and therefore we were committed to helping our customers, particularly those in critical industries. 

Companies saw Christmas-like demand with no time to prepare, so we worked around the clock to help companies cope. We have one of the biggest short term rental fleets in the industry with almost 10,000 trucks and we worked tirelessly to make them available, to the retail sector, in particular. Internally, we had to adapt office staff to working remotely. But that was relatively easy compared to keeping our front line workers safe - which was our top priority. Within a very short space of time we had to implement safety protocols and source the PPE to keep our staff protected. People really pulled together. I am still in awe about how our employees mastered that crisis. Their commitment carried us though.

How much is automation a focus?

Ulrike: We’ve seen a change in perspective from customers since the pandemic hit. Business increased but there were restrictions from a health and safety perspective. This change in working patterns highlighted the vulnerability of some operations and increased interest in automation. They see how automation can play an important part in increasing the resilience, as well as efficiency, of their operations.

"This change in working patterns highlighted the vulnerability of some operations and increased interest in automation."

At Linde, we have invested for a long time in the product range, but more importantly, we have invested in a specialist automation team. Advice is critical. We listen to and work with the customer to achieve the solution that is right for their operation. 

We see strong demand in automated pallet handling solutions, e.g. VNA, reach trucks. In the past, the ROI was difficult - I know from a previous role how difficult it can be put together the business case for an automated warehouse. But what we see now is that, in multi-shift applications, automated pallet handling solutions offer quite a short ROI really. 

Customers are looking at combinations also, when they have repetitive tasks, e.g. a blend of conveyors and automated forklifts.

What is Linde’s stance on forklift power?

Ulrike: Energy is one of our strategic priorities and we are really committed to providing the right option for customers with a comprehensive energy concept, helping them select the right option for their application, whether it is lead acid, lithium Ion, diesel and the possibility of fuel cell. For lithium Ion, we have one of the broadest portfolio of products in the industry. We offer integrated systems - truck, battery and chargers. We provide a very safe lithium Ion solution. Our batteries are situated in a fresh tested battery tray, with 25mm steel casing. We tested that by crashing an 8 tonne truck into a 3 tonne lithium ion truck at 22km/hr, with the battery protected and no safety concerns. Our innovative charging solutions make sure the charging process adapts to battery characteristics, lowering operating costs. We have an energy calculation tool which allows us to simulate a customer’s operation in great detail, and then we can select the correct battery and charger size and predict operating costs.

What role do you see for diesel in the future of forklift power?

Ulrike: For me, it’s an exaggeration to say diesel is on the way out. It is still the most effective truck for many demanding applications, you can fuel it within minutes, and it doesn’t require sophisticated charging infrastructure. It’s still the industry workhorse.

"For me, it’s an exaggeration to say diesel is on the way out. It is still the most effective truck for many demanding applications."

Obviously we can’t ignore emissions concerns but there are significant developments in this area - bio-diesels are cost effective and come with lower emissions. We are working with the engine manufacturers to ensure these alternatives can be used in the engines without damaging them or increasing maintenance. We are working on this now so we have a stable alternative to mineral diesel when the red diesel exemption runs out in April 2022.

What are your top tips for making the warehouse safer?

Ulrike: The most important aspect is managing the behaviour of everyone in the workplace - make sure everyone acts responsibly. On top of this we can provide a lot of safety aids. e.g. Curve Assist on the trucks, and we have a huge portfolio of add-ons such as protection sensors. Of these, we are most proud of Linde Safety Guard. It can be fitted to any truck, and provides three important functions. Truck to pedestrian detection, where sound, light and vibration alarms are activated when a pedestrian comes into proximity. Truck to truck detection to avoid collision, and Zoning, so if there are parts of your facility that are particularly unsafe it automatically slows down the truck. The low-speed limit is automatically lifted when the truck leaves the zone. If you want to design safety into your warehouse you can use our fleet management solution connect. This gives information, for example, on where you have accidents, who fails pre-op checks, who doesn’t have up to date or relevant qualifications or training, and you can use this information to pre-empt problems.

What are your top tips for making the warehouse more efficient?

Ulrike: I would focus first on the trucks. We see a lot of pressure from customers for greater efficiency and cost effectiveness. First, make sure your trucks are serviced and maintained in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines. It is frustrating when time and money is lost by trucks breaking down due to a fault that could have been spotted and rectified easily during planned maintenance. The other piece, which is maybe less obvious, is make sure you maintain your warehouse properly. You can see significant damage due to uneven floors, and dirt in the warehouse. This reduces the lifetime of the trucks and increases the amount of repairs you have to do. The third part is focus on the behaviour of operators. Linde’s fleet management system, connect has provided data that shows the condition of each truck depends a lot on who is driving it. It also helps you see if you are fully utilising your trucks. You can maybe reduce fleet size, change the fleet type, and so on.

What are Linde’s objectives in the UK for the coming year?

Ulrike: We have recently completed a big transformation. We merged our regional entities in a One Linde approach. We are able to marry customer focus and agility with a more consistent approach throughout the UK, with access to a single fleet. The One Linde spirit is very strong, we’re seeing healthy competition as well as sharing of best practice and ideas.

For more information, visit www.linde-mh.co.uk