Lift trucks have taken their own special direction in the food and beverage manufacturing industry. Today’s units are quiet, clean, economical and powerful.
There are two main types of lift trucks: those powered by internal combustion engines, including diesel, LP, CNG and gasoline, and others powered by batteries. Hydrocarbon-powered units are the stronger of the two types and can lift the greatest weight. Because of the exhaust they create, they’re ideal for outside jobs. Battery-powered units, on the other hand, are best for inside environments, such as warehouses and food and beverage manufacturing facilities, where air quality is an issue. No hydrocarbon equals better air. Workers stay healthier, and food stays safer.
Essentially three types of electric lift trucks are used in food and beverage plants: Classes 1, 2 and 3.
Class 1 trucks are sit-down and stand-up counterbalance electric units. Their specialty is loading, transport and put-away. They are seen most commonly on loading docks moving pallets in and out of transport containers.
Class 2 includes high-lift or reach trucks used widely in grocery distribution warehouses. They are sit-down units that can maneuver in narrow aisles and raise and position pallets into racks as high as 505 inches from the floor.
Class 3 covers a wide range of trucks. The most common is a “walkie-rider,” used for loading and unloading transports, and staging pallets for racking.
Both gas and electric-powered lift trucks come with a choice of pneumatic or cushion (solid core) tires. Pneumatic tires tend to be used most frequently by gas-powered units, because they are adept at handling uneven surfaces and provide higher undercarriage clearance outdoors. However, they wear out relatively fast and need to be replaced frequently.  
Solid wheels, which usually consist of a hard foam core covered with a hard rubber outer surface, are ideally suited to smooth indoor floors where clearance requirements are minimal.  Their main benefit is they wear extremely well—providing less maintenance and lower operating costs than their pneumatic counterparts. In addition, because clearance isn’t an issue, the lift truck’s center of gravity can be lower, and the hard rubber tire base provides more stable lifting of heavy loads, particularly in higher and tighter places.
In Europe, it’s not uncommon to see electric lift trucks with pneumatic tires, since on average, warehouses there aren’t as big as in North America, and certain operations must be located outdoors.

DC to AC

Toyota Material Handling USA of Irvine, CA is part of Toyota, which pioneered the switch from DC to AC motors for lift trucks in the 1970s. Before that time, 60 percent of lift trucks were gas powered; 40 percent were electric. Today, 65 percent are electric, and 35 percent are powered by gas or other hydrocarbons.  
Batteries are a plus for more than just the environment. AC motors are smaller because they don’t require extra room for brushes, and they enable users to move more products in higher and tighter spaces.
The result is more utilization of indoor warehouse and manufacturing space, meaning more throughput, productivity and profitability.
Kenro Okamoto, product support specialist for Toyota Material Handling in the US, says the four-wheel lift trucks his company produces come with a feature called System of Active Stability (SAS), giving them added reach power.
In normal operation, the rear axle of a four-wheel lift truck moves like a see-saw to compensate for turns when the truck is moving. After it stops and when lifting, a patented hydraulic cylinder/piston system is activated to lock the axle and prevent it from moving. This locking of the rear axle is what increases lifting stability. “If the axle were fixed the whole time, there would be wear issues taking corners or working on unlevel ground,” says Okamoto. “If something shifts, the axle moves while the truck remains level.”
AC models also use computer-driven semi-conductors and transistors. These rarely break down, reducing maintenance. They also conserve battery life. “You lose electricity with manual brush systems compared to semi-conductors,” explains Okamoto.
These and other features are what convinced Railex to choose Toyota lift trucks. Railex operates an innovative distribution system that consists of four 55-car refrigerated trains that ship produce, fruit and other perishables from Washington and California to New York for further distribution to the East Coast’s major metropolitan areas.  Each train saves 80 million gallons of diesel and can transport 100 times more goods than 225 cross-country trucks.
Railex says it selected Toyota lift trucks because they run clean and align with the company’s own sustainability initiatives. “In our line of work—dealing with perishables—we can unload an entire train in 24 hours using Toyota’s lift trucks,” says Bill Collins, manager of Railex. “The trucks are durable, which is very important for what we do, and they include added key safety features like seat belts, lights and warning sounds.”

Stability and productivity

Crown Equipment Corporation of New Bremen, OH introduced its RM 6000 reach truck in 2011. One unique feature is its monomast lift structure. “No other companies offer this,” says Crown Equipment Marketing Product Technology Manager Maria Schwieterman. “Single or monomasts provide a lot of capacity and stability because of the boxed-in cross-section construction that was originally developed for our turret trucks. Additionally, the MonoLift mast is offset seven inches to the left of the operator, which improves visibility. The more operators can see, the more safely and quickly they can operate.”
The RM 6000 is rated for 4,500 pounds and offers 1,000 pounds more capacity at height than conventional mast trucks. Crown says its approach to lift truck design has always been driven by operator perspective and needs. “We design our units to be productive, comfortable and safe,” says Schwieterman. “We focus on how the truck is being used, which helps us create features that improve operators’ experience.”
An example is OnTrac Anti-Slip Traction Control, Crown’s anti-slip technology that is similar to the traction control in a car. If the drive tire loses grip and begins to spin because of moisture, debris, dust or other surface contaminants, the truck slows the tire down automatically until it grabs again.  
The forks are “pantographic”—resembling a scissors mechanism that can reach further into each rack. Because of this feature, Crown reach trucks, such as the RR 5700 and RM 6000, can do double-deep racking, providing the opportunity to store 20 to 40 percent more product than single-selective racking in the same space.  The lift range for the RM 6000 is up to 505 inches, which Crown claims is highest in the industry.
Like other manufacturers, including Toyota, Crown says a significant percentage of its deliveries are custom orders. “Depending on the truck model, we examine dimensions, capacity and many other factors, and give customers the solution that best fits their needs,” says Schwieterman.  
At Raymond Corp. in Greene, NY, Product Manager Narrow Aisle Products Susan Comfort says energy efficiency is a top subject on everyone’s mind these days. “The idea is to run longer, use less electricity and charge up again more quickly,” she notes. All these factors increase overall plant productivity.
For fleet lift truck users, recharging can account for as much as 10 percent of total electricity consumption. With processors operating on such low margins, charging efficiency is extremely important. That’s why Raymond Corp. has partnered with different battery and charging companies. It’s typical to change batteries at the end of each shift, but it’s less labor intensive to charge them while they’re still in place.  Normal batteries in high stacking trucks are 36 volts, which allows for faster lift speeds, longer life and better performance in cold rooms and freezers (to -40°F).
Raymond also puts an emphasis on durability. “Forklifts are generally made of steel,” says Comfort.  “Years ago, we introduced ductile iron into the front end and undercarriages, areas that tend to take the most abuse. Ductile iron is lighter than steel, but stronger and able to withstand 65,000psi before breaking compared to 45,000psi for steel.”
The company has a number of very effective automation products—iTrack and iWarehouse are two examples. iTrack is a web-based lift truck tracking and reporting system that Darigold Dairy of Seattle, WA installed in its production facilities in the western US. It enabled the processor to cut maintenance costs on its fleet of 155 lift trucks (300 operators) in half within 60 days. Meanwhile, Masters Gallery Foods, a cheese producer with headquarters in Plymouth, WI, is using Raymond’s iWarehouse to reduce impact incidents on its fleet of 19 lift trucks. It reduced these incidents by 88 percent within the first five months.
Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America Inc. (MCFA),Houston, TX, is one of the largest single source suppliers of lift trucks in the US. The company has partnered with Jungheinrich, a market leader in Europe, particularly for warehouse trucks. MCFA has been able to benefit from Jungheinrich technology and adapt and supply it to North American customers, along with supplying units of its own built in Houston.
“One of our most recent line introductions is an electric pneumatic truck ranging from 5,000 to 6,000-pounds capacity. The entire electric pneumatic truck line ranges from 2,000 to 10,000-pounds capacity,” says MCFA Product Line Manager Jeff Bowles. 
“These are the only units available in the industry to go up to 10,000 pounds, which makes them very useful for handling multiple pallets containing bottles, jars and cans. The trucks feature a wider footprint than most, which improves the load’s lateral stability, and solid pneumatic tires for a softer ride over drains, debris, and other undulations.”
Like other manufacturers, MCFA offers special features for cold environments, such as freezers.  Its trucks can operate in temperatures as low as -40°F. Its high-reach trucks have heated operator cabins, heated pads and special finishes that resist condensation damage. In addition, most forklifts used in food facilities employ plastic instead of glass for mirrors, lights and other fixtures for food safety reasons.

Electronic tracking

Jonathan Dawley, president of Greenville, NC-based Hyster Distribution, says durability and toughness are high on the list of processor needs. According to Dawley, processors are also looking for FDA-approved fluids (H1 food-grade lubricants, for example), no glass and ease of sanitation and washdown. “To increase productivity and reduce downtime, food manufacturers are also looking for long service intervals and asset management with employee tracking capabilities,” he explains. That’s the bailiwick of the Hyster Tracker wireless asset management system, which tracks, monitors and restricts operator activity and incidents on a given piece of equipment, as well as tracking regular maintenance schedules.  
Hyster products include electric and stand-up three-wheel lift trucks as well as four-wheel units. The company also has a full offering of power sources from traditional lead acid batteries, lithium ion batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and liquid propane to compressed natural gas and diesel.  
Hyster was the first manufacturer to offer Electronic Power Assist Steering (EPAS) on end-rider trucks. Recently, the company announced an enhancement to this patented technology resulting in only five pounds of steer effort, which it claims is among the lowest in the industry.  

Good question

One of the things Bill Pfleger, president of Yale Distribution in Greenville, NC, constantly asks himself is: How can the design and ergonomics of the lift truck enable the operator to be as productive in the first hour as the last hour of the shift? “As the workforce shifts and becomes more varied, it’s imperative that the lift truck be adjustable to meet a variety of operators,” he points out.  
He says to increase productivity, many manufacturers are looking at increasing load size.  “Beverage sizes seem to be increasing, for instance, so capacity demands are as well. With these comes the need to consider different styles, such a single or double stack and storage/pick configurations.”  
Yale trucks feature masts that are rigid and stable for handling heavy loads, particularly with single or double attachments. The company uses high-quality sealed connectors and electrical components to keep the trucks running and productivity up.  
At the ProMat 2013 show in January, Yale introduced its “Yale Vision” wireless asset management system. With basic monitoring, lift truck operations can utilize a variety of tracking capabilities, including hour meter, cost of operations, periodic maintenance, fault code, impact monitoring, operator training parking brake, seat belt violation and speed alerts.  Emails can also be sent automatically when certain faults or impacts occur, improving information available when reviewing incidents. In addition, Yale Vision knows who is operating the equipment and can keep untrained personnel from accessing or operating a piece of equipment.  
Without question, all the companies that produce forklifts put a great emphasis on how important proper training is both for employee safety and plant productivity. Consequently, they provide training programs to customers.  
Forklifts have come a long way over the years, especially since the introduction of AC motor technology used in the 1970s. And they remain an integral part of the supply chain, making sure food and beverages are delivered successfully and efficiently from processors to consumers.

Food & Beverage Industry Lift Truck Suppliers

Cat Lift Truck
Crown Equipment Corp.
Linde Material Handling North America
Mitsubishi Caterpillar Fork Lift America 
NACCO Materials Handling/Hyster
Raymond Corp.
Toyota Industrial Equipment  
Yale Lift Truck