Rough-terrain equipment will continue to play a crucial role in materials handling and Melissa Barnett studies a few of the issues surrounding the rough and prepared vehicles.

One of the biggest issues facing all manufacturers is tightening environmental regulations, with US authorities this coming year rolling out of the final phase of Tier 4 regulations for engines between 75 and 175 HP.

Based on the United States Of America Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), off-road engines are accountable for the emission of 47% of particulate matter (PM) and 25% of Nitrogen oxides (NOx) from all of mobile sources. Particulate matter is minute particles of carbon and also other poisonous substances created if not all fuel is burned during combustion. NOx – commonly nitrogen monoxide and nitrogen oxide – will also be produced during combustion.

Machinery exhaust, particularly diesel, contains both PM and NOx, together with other poisonous substances. Tier 4 regulations, by numerous means, aim to lessen the output of these by-products, thereby significantly reducing the number of emissions-related health problems. The EPA believes that a decrease in these emissions will, by 2030, result in approximately decrease in 12,000 premature deaths, 8,900 hospitalisations then one million lost work days throughout the USA.

But just how has it affected the rough-terrain forklift market? Most manufacturers have embraced the engine and chassis changes that had been expected to adhere to the regulations. Guido Cameli, sales manager for Canadian manufacturer Manitex Liftking, says that although major investment was required, Liftking saw the changes in regulations for an opportunity. “Achieving Tier 4 directives required extensive vehicle redesign and new technology including advanced cooling, exhaust and treatment systems. Packaging of these new systems has allowed us the ability to improve other elements of our vehicles, including sight-lines and maintenance access,” he explains.

Xavier Perramon, products strategy manager for Spanish manufacturer AUSA, notes that considerable financial investment was required to meet Tier 4 standards. This season, AUSA will launch its 4-5 T range of rough-terrain and semi-industrial forklifts with 56kW Deutz engines fitted with Diesel Oxidation Catalysts (DOC). The engines not simply meet Tier 4 requirements, but anticipate the mandatory 2017 normative.

Italian telehandler manufacturer Merlo’s Uliano Bellesia states that new Tier 4 engine adaptations and subsequent testing were expensive and time-consuming. Changes mainly affected Merlo’s 55 kW to 130 kW telehandler range. Above 130 kW, merely the ROTO (slewing turret) telehandlers required modification – these happen to be fitted using a selective catalyst system (SCT) which meets Tier 4 standards.

Spanish manufacturer Bomaq has redesigned equipment parts and integrated one more postfilter burner to its rough-terrain machines. Managing director Antonio Martinez states that an additional issue as a result of Tier 4 requirements is the usage of electronics in the engines. “Up to now, we certainly have used mechanical systems for fuel injection, but to attain the specified new amounts of regulation, utilization of electronics will probably be compulsory,” he explains.

There are additional issues, as Richard Rich, wholesale manager of North America-based dealer H&K equipment, indicates. Rich states that coming from a sales perspective, Tier 4 implementation is causing numerous problems, at least in the united states, that many of his customers are attempting to purchase anything they are able to which is still Tier 3-rated. “We have not seen just one company change over or update yet,” he says. Rich identifies a number of impediments including the desire to use ultra-low sulphur fuel when a lot of companies continue to have huge reserves of diesel onsite, additional maintenance issues like managing an additional fluid compartment for urea and the usage of specific engine oils which people are certainly not employed to yet. An appealing reaction to this reluctance to buy Tier 4 equipment, Rich says, is the fact that companies have improved the caliber of their in-house services to keep existing equipment running as long as possible. Despite his reservations, Rich knows that Tier 4 is here now to stay and finally companies will adapt – although the process is going to take a couple of years.

Many in the industry have concerns in regards to the inevitable purchase price increases because of engine re-designs and upgrades. Rich says certain requirements could add USD 8,000 to USD 12,000 to the price. Cameli, however, believes that any price hike is a lot more than offset by operational savings. “Yes, our Tier 4 forklifts are inherently more expensive than our Tier 3 variants (however the difference could be more than offset by lower overall operating costs like around 5% better fuel efficiency and extended service intervals). The operator will notice improved engine response, with the potential of increased productivity. Additional benefits are quieter operation and reduced emissions,” Cameli explains.

Bellesia says initial feedback on Tier 4 engine performance is positive, but Merlo has already established to mitigate price rises with offers of extra options. The organization strategically timed the production of its new telehandler range so that increased prices could possibly be cushioned through the novelty of brand new operational systems and options.

Pundits have been killing from the rough terrain cranes for sale for many years. First, it was the creation of telehandlers now there exists talk that the market has reached ‘maturity’. Figures through the Industrial Truck Association for class 4/5 (class 7 figures unavailable) for 2013 US shipments show sales of 66,473 units – up from 58,483 in 2011.

Martinez says the industry is challenging to calculate, but believes rough-terrain forklifts have developed their own niche and definately will expand for some other applications if manufacturers take notice of the needs of users. He says the main markets for Bomaq continue to be in mining, agriculture and the military.

AUSA specialises in rough-terrain forklifts for agriculture, especially in the fruit and vegetable sector where there is popular demand for rough-terrain forklifts from the lighter, more compact 3T (6,000 lb.) two-wheel-drive range. Perramon states that globalisation has produced ‘new rooms’ in countries to develop new markets. AUSA is keen to expand into the US and Eurasian horticultural sectors. He adds that AUSA’s semi-industrial models, according to a rough-terrain chassis – but more compact, with higher diameter wheels and increased ground clearance – are becoming popular in wood recycling, metal foundries and outdoor warehouse operations. These appliances offer added value as soon as the forklift must push and pull pallets during loading/unloading of trucks.

Bellesia believes the telehandlers’ versatility has protected them from the market changes. “In Europe, Canada and Australia, Merlo sells mainly in to the agricultural sector. In the USA, it will be the construction sector. The balance involving the two sectors is our strong point. For now, sales are in line with the expected trend, ” he says.

Cameli agrees the marketplace is mature, but says this is exactly what can make it a robust and growing field as customers realise the machine’s value and gratifaction in rough terrains. Features for instance a tight turning radius, compact length, simplicity of design, easy maintenance and overall cost mean that the rough-terrain market keeps growing. Cameli says new markets in construction, lumber, oil and gas and concrete industries are continually emerging, and also new geographical markets including Peru and Columbia, where the cost of labour has grown and greater productivity is essential from the burgeoning mining and infrastructure sectors.

Rich says that sales of rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers, especially in the 5-6 T (12,000 lb.) range, have been slow and believes that things won’t improve with the development of Tier 4 compliant machines. “Some rough-terrain forklift manufacturers have already informed us they are running out of their allocations of Tier 3 engines and are only in a position to offer Tier 4 once April, 2015,” he says. Rich believes the price of the brand new machines will negatively affect sales.

However, the rough-terrain rental market has been great, Rich adds. “Rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers are being used a great deal inside the construction and drilling industries, both of which rely heavily on rentals; so basically we don’t see any new markets coming online, the rental demand is increasing.” The challenge, he says, would be to keep H&K’s flow of rough-terrain forklifts sufficient in order to meet demand.

Roll-overs and tip-overs are an occupational hazard for rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers. Uneven ground, slopes, dips, mud and unbalanced loads are definitely the main dangers, but Luc Pirard, CEO for Belgian company Comatra, strongly believes that uneven tyre pressures really are a hidden source of many roll-overs. “We think that this type of incident occurs far more frequently than acknowledged,” he says. The Safety and health Executive from the UK, the building Plant-Hire Association of your UK and also the Telescopic Handler Association of Australia have got all acknowledged that a minimal 5% drop in tyre pressure is effective in reducing stability and safe lifting capacity by approximately 30%. “Because tyres deflect and distort under load, these people have a significant effect on stability and load-carrying ability,” Pirard explains.

Comatra specialises in safety products for the materials handling industry and has developed a unique internal valve-mounted sensor system to keep track of tyre pressure in rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers. “Most rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers are fitted with pneumatic tyres while they provide significantly better flotation on soft ground. The disadvantage, however, is that a pneumatic tyre can be easily damaged or punctured. By far the most critical situation is really a flat or under-inflated tyre having a load from the air – altering the forklift or telehandler’s stability and producing a possibly fatal tip-over.” Comatra’s pre-programmed sensors are mounted behind the rim, safe from dirt along with other corrosive materials, as well as a monitor is fitted inside the cab. Once the forklift/telehandler is excited, tyre pressure is measured in just a minute. The kit can be easily fitted by a seasoned tyre-fitter.

Whilst pneumatic tyres will be the preferred selection for most rough-terrain forklifts, recently alternatives have been developed. Chinese-based tyre manufacturer IST (Industrial Solid Tyres) Company has released a good tyre for rough-terrain vehicles. Brine Jiang, spokesman for IST, recommends OTR giant solid tyres for rough-terrain forklifts, particularly to the construction and mining sector, while they feature better puncture resistance than pneumatic tyres, 76dexmpky traction on difficult terrain, and stability under heavy loads. Solid tyres have better low-rolling resistance which, in turn, will deliver less tyre wear, less heat build-up within the tyre and improved fuel consumption.

AUSA has continued to evolve a variety of safety features which it says are limited to its machines. AUSA’s High Visibility System (HVS) allows operators an unrestricted view both forward and in reverse while carrying a full load on account of two infrared cameras mounted on the top of the cabin along with a colour TFT monitor inside of the cabin. The infrared cameras let the operator to go on working safely in really low light. AUSA’s FullGrip Method is a joystick control which allows the operator to engage/disengage four-wheel-drive during motion at the press of the mouse.

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