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New counterbalance models aimed at mass market

14 November 2017

Catherine Hackett from Handling & Storage solutions speaks to UniCarriers sales director Chris Bates as the manufacturer revamps its counterbalance range.

UniCarriers has released ten new TX counterbalance models with lift capacities from 1.25 to 2 tonnes. The range comprises seven models with three wheels (TX3) and three models with four wheels (TX4). Significant innovations include electric steering with a steer-by-wire-system and a fully automatic parking brake. The trucks also feature easier battery exchange than previous models.

Catherine Hackett: Why develop a new electric counterbalance truck now?

Chris Bates: The market for counterbalance is changing. 3/4wheel, 48 volt trucks make up the largest market of counterbalance trucks (70%). We are looking to hit this largest segment with the new TX series range.

The reason for development has been the move away from internal combustion (IC) motors to electric due to changes in emissions regulations due in 2019. Compliance will involve downgrading power or increasing the price to make them cleaner. So we believe that now is a good time to reinforce our electric counterbalance range.

CH: What kind of batteries do you use?

CB: We use Hawker or GNB lead-acid batteries in our machines (the demo truck was using a Marathon Classic lead-acid battery by GNB). We have not deployed lithium-ion batteries. The handling of Lithium ion batteries is hazardous and there is no recycling capability so payback has to come during operation. The payback isn't strong enough in the operational phase in our opinion. The technology is there for hydrogen fuel cells but getting it to the truck is difficult, with massive costs involved so take-up is small. I therefore wouldn't be surprised if we're still using lead acid batteries in 10 years time.

CH: How important was customer feedback in developing the new trucks?

CB: This was key. Customer priorities were safety first; then more comfort and better ergonomics; as well as maximum visibility when using attachments; and reduced energy consumption. But while safety, productivity and energy use were top priorities, they can conflict with one another. For example, if the machine is more fuel efficient it won't be the fastest. So in this range we have prioritised safety and fuel efficiency over speed. However, we think the things that influence performance aren't necessarily based on truck speed but lie with processes, WMS, and communication tools that mean the driver knows where he's going next and doesn't have to drive really fast.

CH: It is interesting that safety was a big concern. How have you made the forklifts safer?

CB: There is a need to improve safety in the counterbalance sector - trucks can be very fast and operate in very congested environments. Driving safely is therefore very important. We have taken some ergonomic developments from our warehouse range and used them in the counterbalance range. 

The comprehensive TX safety package, included as standard, makes use of 16 functions. The Stability Support System (S3) ensures safe operation for all driving and lifting operations. The technology continuously measures speed, steering angle, mast movement, lift height and load weight, and intervenes as required. This means, for example, that the driving speed can be adapted to the load and lift height, or automatically reduced when turning. An interlock control system halts truck operation as soon as the operator leaves his/her seat. Access control is provided for by PIN codes which unlock a personal user profile for every driver.

CH: What are your business plans for the new range?

CB: We currently have 7% market share (for warehouse and counterbalance). 80% of our business is warehouse trucks but if we can extend our counterbalance offering to match it, we can grow our overall market share to 12%. Warehousing is showing steady growth. We've had positive feedback from existing customers and are taking orders. Drivers in particular love the transparent parts of the operating panel which now allows them to see load corners at the fork's heel.

We are very happy with the range's visibility. The special design of the mast and overhead guard with slim pillars and bars corresponds to the UniCarriers ProVision Concept and highly optimises the visibility. The instrument panel has been reduced as much as possible to increase visibility of the fork tips.