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Dawn of the super truck?

19 November 2020

Powerful and intelligent electric forklifts are set to change materials handling for good and have more in common with high-end cars than conventional forklifts, says Stewart Gosling.

Sales of electric cars have grown exponentially in the past 18 months with September figures (SMMT) showing a year-on-year increase of 184% in pure-electric registrations. At the same time, sales of diesel cars fell by 38%.

That turnaround has been mirrored in the materials handling market with sales of electric counterbalance trucks, for the first time, set to reach near-parity with IC engine models (LPG and diesel) by the end of 2020.

Clearly, environmental awareness and impending changes to legislation on emissions are influencing both the automotive and materials handling markets… but the similarities don’t end there.

With intelligent safety systems, and the capability to automatically adjust operating parameters to optimise the performance of each individual operator, a new breed of electric “super trucks” has more in common with high end cars than conventional forklifts.

But what about cost? As H L Menken said “When someone says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money”. And it’s true that the upfront cost of an IC engine truck is less that its electric equivalent. However, whole-life costs tell a very different story. A 2.5 tonne electric counterbalance working typical shifts of 6.5 hours a day over a five year period will deliver average savings of 23% over an LP Gas or diesel equivalent. 

And that gap is only likely to widen as manufacturers seek to recoup the costs of developing technically advanced engines that will conform to new tier 5 standards.

So why, unlike our European counterparts, have we British proved so resistant to change? Well, my guess is that we traditionally take comfort in the perceived grunt of an engine truck… and the convenience of rapid refueling. 

Taking these in reverse order the introduction of li-ion has all-but eliminated the need to change batteries between shifts. Instead, ultra-fast “opportunity charging” – even during the shortest breaks – keeps the battery replenished. What’s more, unlike traditional lead acid equivalents, li-ion batteries actually thrive on short sharp charge cycles.

So what about the grunt? Well, that’s a myth.

A new breed super trucks typified by the award-winning EDiA range from Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks, will do anything an IC model can do... only better.

Take ESP. As the UK’s leading independent manufacturer and supplier of disposable tissue products, the company produces 200,000 cases of finished product a month; keeping trucks running through 8-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, lifting hefty reels of paper to heights in excess of 3m. It’s a tough gig, but the EDIA EX more than met the company’s challenge to achieve-fume free operations with no compromise on throughput.

Food giant Kellogg’s are enjoying a similarly positive experience with a fleet of EDiA trucks delivering safe, precise handling in the tightest possible spaces across a huge and complex site. 

Indeed, it is the integrated safety systems and optimised performance that makes the EDiA range much more comparable to top-end electric cars than conventional forklifts.

Intuitive handling automatically actually adapts performance characteristics to the driving style and ability of each individual driver. Intelligent curve control calculates the speed, angle and load and delivers the perfect balance of speed and safety to ensure optimum handling when cornering. 

In another industry first, the three-wheel version of EDiA provides “true” 360 degree steering for genuine non-stop performance with none of the to-and-fro manouevring associated with most applications (watch the video here).

The result of all this is not just enhanced safety but far greater productivity.

As our customer at international logistics company CWT Commodities explained it to me: “Measures that automatically make the truck work more safely mean that the operators can focus on getting the task done and let the truck’s “brain” do the rest.”

As for the grunt, working outside on the docks at Seaforth poses no problems for CWT. With all major core components protected to IP65 the EDiA trucks are equally at home indoors or out while the super-fast charging capabilities of li-ion batteries are keeping CWT operational at all hours of day and night.        

With stricter emission regulations coming into effect in 2021 maybe this will be the year that the UK finally put heads before hearts and goes electric. 

Stewart Gosling of Red Diamond Distribution, UK importers of Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks

For more information, visit www.mitsubishi-forklift.co.uk