Companies in the manufacturing industry are realizing significant operational and cost efficiency gains by introducing articulated forklift trucks into their materials handling operation
The ability to load like a counterbalance forklift truck combined with a capacity to work comfortably both inside and outside and within very narrow aisles, has established the articulated forklift as a popular choice with lift truck specifiers within the manufacturing sector.
In fact, such has been the success of the articulated truck concept since the first machines were introduced over 20 years ago, that the global market for such models continues to grow significantly year on year.
West Midlands-based Narrow Aisle Flexi has been at the forefront of articulated truck design and production and has sold over 4000 units of its eponymous Flexi forklifts throughout the world.
“Until the Flexi was introduced, companies had little alternative but to operate a two truck system with a counterbalanced machine working outside and feeding a reach truck inside the store or warehouse,” says John Maguire, Narrow Aisle Flexi’s Sales and Marketing Director. “With the arrival of the Flexi users realised that they could eliminate this often costly and generally inefficient arrangement. The Flexi loads and unloads lorries and delivers pallets directly to the racking in a single operation. By doing so, it increases efficiency and productivity while abolishing double handling and the costs associated with running a bigger truck fleet than is necessary,” he adds.
A Germany-based supplier of outsourced assembly services to a world-class premium passenger car manufacturer, has recently been able to reduce its forklift fleet by adopting the Flexi EURO at the factory where it manufactures and assembles a range of car subcomponents.
The Flexi EURO is one of the latest additions to the Flexi range and was designed to be compact enough to work with a Euro pallet measuring 0.8 x 1.2 metres. It combines small dimensions and fast operating speeds.
In this case the Flexi EUROs will be handling car doors bound for the Mercedes Benz factory near Stuttgart where the new Mercedes E Class is built.
Mercedes’ suppliers deliver components to the E Class production lines on a just in time basis and the doors, which are individually produced in a choice of interior colours and materials and with the new car buyer’s speaker system option fitted, arrive at the Mercedes factory in a four-hour time window.
Before taking the decision to invest in Flexi EURO’s Narrow Aisle’s client had been using a combination of counterbalance and reach trucks at its factory. The counterbalance machines were required to unload door components as they arrived at the site before reach trucks delivered the palletized loads to the 3.8 metre wide racking aisle. The Mercedes E Class door components were then delivered in tote boxes to the production line on a just-in-time basis. For this the company reverted to counterbalance trucks because the reach trucks were not capable of manoeuvring the loads around the relatively tight spaces at the line side.
Because of the Flexi EURO’s compact dimensions and ability to work both inside within the aisleways and outside to unload in-coming deliveries of door components, Narrow Aisle’s client is now using articulated trucks to do the work that previously required both counterbalance and reach trucks. This has led to a significant reduction in forklift fleet operating costs.
Furthermore, thanks to the Flexi EURO’s ability to work in aisles as narrow as 1642mm wide (with a Euro pallet) or 1762mm wide (with an ISO pallet), the company has been able to reconfigure its lineside buffer store. By significantly reducing the aisle widths between the pallet racking in the store from their original width of 3.8 metres, the company has increased its pallet capacity dramatically, which means that more components can be held on site.
But it’s not just as an alternative to the old reach/counterbalanced combination that users are turning to the articulated truck. Other manufacturers are choosing the Flexi to replace stacker trucks in smaller warehouses and within production stores.
For instance, Heidelberg – the world’s leading printing machine manufacturer – has introduced Flexi EURO trucks at its plant in Germany.
Before the arrival of the Flexi EUROs Heidelberg had been using a combination of stacker trucks and various counterbalance machines to unload and put away deliveries as they arrived at the factory from its various machinery component suppliers. A counterbalance truck was employed to unload trailers, before a stacker took over and transferred parts to Heidelberg’s lineside buffer store. From the buffer store a different counterbalance truck – smaller in size and capacity to the one used to offload the trailers – was tasked with transferring parts to the production line.
The switch to Flexi EUROs has enabled Heidelberg Press to use just one truck to do the jobs that three forklifts had previously been used for. The Flexi EUROs now collect incoming goods from trailers outside the plant and deliver them directly to the buffer very narrow aisle store and, as component parts are called off for production, they are taken directly to the assembly line using the electric-powered EUROs.
The flexibility of the Flexi will enable Heidelberg Press to reduce the types of forklifts operating at its site – the two types of counterbalance machine and the lateral stacker trucks that once operated there are no longer required – and has led to significant cost savings.
To further improve the materials handling operation at Heidelberg press the Flexi EUROs have been supplied with quick release attachments that enable the truck’s forks to adjust and extend hydraulically to handle some of the larger and often unusually shaped items that arrive at the site on stillages.
John Maguire believes that more and more manufacturing companies will turn to smaller articulated trucks in place of stackers . “Stacker – both ride-on and pedestrian – can be slow and inefficient and we have been able to demonstrate that the Flexi EURO offers more efficiency and greater flexibility,” he says. “There are thousands of support arm stacker trucks operating throughout Europe and, in many cases, the tasks they are performing can be done far more cost-effectively with a Flexi.
“To be competitive, profitable and successful, a modern manufacturing company’s logistics operation has to be consistently efficient and reliable, therefore it is essential that the solutions offered by materials handling equipment suppliers are of the highest standard. Increasingly, manufacturers are seeking new solutions to their handling and storage problems.”