At the core of any materials handling fleet is the right power source. Phil Ireland discusses the options for tomorrow’s ports, warehouses and depots

Customisation has been a focus in the materials handling equipment industry in recent years. This has created a need for manufacturers, like Hyster®, to match equipment to the particular requirements of applications throughout the shipping, freight and air supply chains.

This shift towards tailored solutions has led to new developments including the latest power technologies, which can lead to considerable cost savings for an operation. But which power option is the future? We think it depends on the specific application.

LI-Ion or Lead-acid batteries
Many trucks can already be equipped with lithium-ion batteries, including electric counterbalance lift trucks, reach trucks and low level order pickers. Lithium-ion batteries are also becoming more widely available in the pallet and stacker truck market. But is lithium ion the right power choice over lead-acid batteries? Again, that depends on the specific requirements of the individual operation.

For example, a lithium-ion battery powered pallet truck offers the advantage of opportunity charging, making it a good fit for stop/start operations. A pallet truck might be used to unload one trailer per hour with opportunity charging between loads, without detriment to the battery life.

Meanwhile, a standard lead-acid battery offers good battery life when well-maintained and charged overnight. It tends to be the best choice where the truck is in constant use, and there is no opportunity to charge during the shift. However, the operation will need a designated charging area with ventilation and can require more space for battery changes.

Lithium-ion batteries can be more expensive to buy, so usually a pallet truck with a lead-acid battery will have a lower acquisition cost. Investment in Li-Ion can be justified with the time saved in battery exchange and maintenance, plus spend and space for battery handling facilities can be avoided. Higher efficiency of lithium-ion batteries in charging and in operation can also give savings in overall energy cost.

Hydrogen fuel cells are best for some
High-throughput, multi-shift operations running 15 lift trucks or more may consider the latest fuel cell technology. This option is becoming more prevalent in materials handling fleets because it offers the benefits of electricity with the convenience of fuel. Quick refuelling can offer substantial productivity benefits and greater truck utilisation. In addition, significant square footage can be reclaimed inside a facility by removing lead-acid battery chargers, changing stations, and washing facilities.

IC power
LPG, diesel or CNG (for those who have the infrastructure) may still be the best choice for many, with lower emissions than ever before and the benefit of greater fuel efficiency than in the past. With so much choice, some applications are switching back to IC as their businesses change and grow. The Agility Logistics case study featured on the next page is a great example.

Electric Big Trucks
Many ports want to reduce their carbon footprint and are looking to electrify their Big Truck fleets. Hyster previously pioneered profitable low emissions with Stage IV diesel engines on its Big Truck range, which typically refers to heavy duty lift trucks with capacities from 8–52 tonnes. However, now there is a demand for profitable zero-emission trucks.

To address this, the first Hyster container handling truck with a lithium-ion battery is in development and is expected to be available with a choice of power options in the future, such as combining a battery with a fuel cell.

However, to achieve the optimal total cost of ownership, the most suitable power option will always depend on the requirements of the particular operation.

Phil Ireland is Senior Product Manager – Counterbalance Solutions, Hyster Europe. Hyster® is one of the leading global brands of materials handling equipment and Hyster Europe is a leading worldwide lift truck designer and manufacturer, offering more than 140 models of counterbalance trucks, warehouse and container handling equipment. Hyster® products are at the forefront of the materials handling industry providing maximum dependability and low costs of ownership for demanding operations everywhere.

Why choose LPG over electric?
Due to business growth, the existing fleet of electric forklifts at Stuttgart-based logistics firm Agility were suddenly required to work more hours than before. At first, the company considered tackling its challenges by equipping its existing fleet with extra batteries or by holding more trucks in reserve.

“Even using and recharging lithium-ion batteries, for example at lunchtime, would not have been enough to help us,” says Jürgen Götz, Technical Manager at Agility. “Fridays are especially busy and we have no free time at all – the trucks must run. We rely on them 100 per cent in order to ensure the car parts are ready to be shipped from Stuttgart to Brazil, Mexico, the United States and China. The ships can’t wait for us.”

Despite the increase in performance of batteries in recent years, there was simply not enough power to provide approximately two additional operating hours per day. Therefore, the most sensible solution was to change the fleet of electric forklift trucks to natural gas vehicles.

Today, eight robust Hyster® LPG trucks have almost completely replaced the previous electric forklift fleet and no additional reserve trucks had to be purchased. The total operating costs have been significantly reduced.

At first look, electric forklifts appeared to be cheaper, as LPG trucks come with higher initial costs and higher maintenance costs. However, as Agility would have needed extra batteries or additional trucks, when considering the cost against the required operating time and distance travelled, the LPG option provided a lower total cost of ownership for this specific application.