As high tech, high performance products become standard. How are forklift truck suppliers upping their game to differentiate via service provision?
With the global economic outlook still far from certain, companies across all sectors are focused on delivering efficiency gains in their supply chains.
This means that today’s forklift trucks – for so long the workhorse of any well executed logistics operation – are expected to work harder for longer and with minimal downtime.
Most trucks on the market nowadays are sophisticated products featuring complex electronic and hydraulic systems and an attention to ergonomic design that ensures high productivity, safety and operator comfort.
So, with product excellence almost a given, differentiation between suppliers has come down to their ability to offer value add and forklift truck users should make sure they are getting the best benefits on offer.
“Any company that operates a forklift truck fleet should ensure that its truck provider fully understands its needs and has the structure and processes in place within its own organisation to respond to the user’s issues as they arise,” says Jonathan Morris, sales director of Jungheinrich UK.
Mr Morris continues: “The truck supplier should be able to work with its client to develop clear customer-led strategies. To this end it is vitally important from the outset of the supplier-user relationship that the user is confident that his preferred supplier has the culture, style and values to deliver the kind of results he is looking for.”
As an example, Morris points to commonplace fleet management proposals. “Every supplier will say they offer this,” comments Morris. “But few have the capability and the appropriate data in a format from which effective management decisions can be taken that improve operational and delivery efficiency.”
Furthermore, asserts Morris, users will only be able to derive maximum cost and efficiency gains with measurable values from fleet management systems if they have an effective communication strategy with their truck supplier.
“And then users need to be sure that their truck supplier actually has the desire to deliver results that might appear counter-productive to their profit stream,” continues Morris. “By this I mean, a truck audit will often recommend reducing the fleet size which, on the face of it, is not in the supplier’s best interests.”
Finally, one of the most important aspects of any forklift contract is the supplier’s ability to ensure that truck downtime is kept to a minimum
“There is little point in any manufacturer pretending that trucks do not break down because, from time to time, they do. The things that differentiate a good supplier from the others are, firstly, the frequency between technical problems and then the ability of the supplier to have an engineer on site in the shortest possible time to put faults right when they do occur,” advises Morris.
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No matter how technically advanced a truck might be, the interface between the forklift and the operator remains key to maximizing efficiency. Properly trained operators are therefore essential if a forklift is to deliver ultimate throughput benefits.
“There are so many benefits to employing forklift truck drivers who are professionally trained,” says Morris. “For example, turnaround is quicker and smoother, and accidental damage – to both the truck and the product being stored – is reduced. A sympathetically driven machine also enhances truck reliability and, needless to say, improves general safety throughout the facility where the truck is operational.”
He continues: “Most truck operators have realised the significant cost benefits that are achieved by choosing a forklift truck supplier with the service and maintenance credentials and infrastructure required to ensure that truck downtime is kept to a minimum, However, many truck users – both the bigger fleet operators and the smaller one-off buyers – sometimes fail to see the substantial performance benefits that professionally trained operators can bring to their business.
“Of course, no one should be allowed to operate a truck without first receiving training,” continues Morris. “But even experienced employees can benefit from refresher training. Refresher training may be required if, for example, the operator is involved in an accident or a near-miss incident or if he or she has been observed operating the vehicle in an unsafe manner.”
Refresher training should also be considered after changes to the workplace says Morris.
In addition to proper and regular training, technologies that reduce the pressure on a forklift operator by making his or her day to day operational procedures more straightforward bring efficiency, productivity and safety benefits. Warehouse management systems, on-truck data capture systems, RFID-based warehouse navigation systems and forklift truck personnel protection systems are just some of the technologies that are being used to deliver lift truck operational efficiencies.
However, Jonathan Morris believes that, going forward, truck manufacturers will have to take on the role of ‘system suppliers’ if the potential benefits of these integrated solutions are to be fully realised.
Jonathan Morris comments: “There are clear benefits to be gained by developing these technologies as part of the truck but it is essential that the integration of the technology is carefully carried out and is a robust solution delivered by the actual truck manufacturer. Simply ‘bolting’ on lots of additional equipment will not guarantee the overall benefits and improved efficiencies that the technology can bring.
Understandably, in these difficult economic times, the question of how the purchase of materials handling equipment is funded has taken on particular importance and this offers another opportunity for suppliers to differentiate themselves.
When it comes to acquiring new trucks, a range of financial options are available but many truck users prefer to acquire their fleets on contract hire packages.
“Full service offers an easy-to-budget, steady cost stream with ‘no surprises’ , but we would advise anyone entering a Contract Hire agreement to spend time carefully reading the contract they are offered,” says Morris.
For instance, users should be wary of what is covered by the term ‘maintenance’? Does it include all repairs caused by wear and tear?
“What is left out of a contract is often as important as what is included,” observes Morris. “Never be fooled by an artificially low price. It could mean that either you are not going to get the full service or there has been some financial manipulation on residual values.”
Find out more about Jungheinrich at www.jungheinrich.co.uk