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Rough-terrain equipment continues to play a vital role in materials handling and Melissa Barnett looks at a few of the issues around the rough and prepared vehicles.

The most significant issues facing all manufacturers is tightening environmental regulations, around authorities this year rolling out of the final phase of Tier 4 regulations for engines between 75 and 175 HP.

In accordance with the United States 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 mobile sources. Particulate matter is minute particles of carbon along with other poisonous substances created if not all fuel is burned during combustion. NOx – commonly nitrogen monoxide and nitrogen oxide – are also produced during combustion.

Machinery exhaust, particularly diesel, contains both PM and NOx, as well as other poisonous substances. Tier 4 regulations, by a variety of means, try to minimize the production of these by-products, thereby significantly reducing the amount of emissions-related health conditions. The EPA believes that a decrease in these emissions will, by 2030, bring about approximately decrease in 12,000 premature deaths, 8,900 hospitalisations and one million lost work days throughout the USA.

So how has it affected the rough-terrain forklift market? Most manufacturers have embraced the engine and chassis changes that were necessary to abide by the regulations. Guido Cameli, sales manager for Canadian manufacturer Manitex Liftking, states 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 like advanced cooling, exhaust and treatment systems. Packaging of the new systems has allowed us the opportunity to improve other aspects of our vehicles, like sight-lines and maintenance access,” he explains.

Xavier Perramon, products strategy manager for Spanish manufacturer AUSA, notes that considerable financial investment was needed to meet Tier 4 standards. This year, AUSA will launch its 4-5 T variety 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, simply the ROTO (slewing turret) telehandlers required modification – these have been fitted using a selective catalyst system (SCT) which meets Tier 4 standards.

Spanish manufacturer Bomaq has redesigned equipment parts and integrated an extra postfilter burner to the rough-terrain machines. Managing director Antonio Martinez says that yet another issue arising from Tier 4 requirements is the application of electronics in the engines. “Up to now, we have used mechanical systems for fuel injection, but to achieve the desired new quantities of regulation, usage of electronics is going to be compulsory,” he explains.

There are additional issues, as Richard Rich, wholesale manager of North America-based dealer H&K equipment, highlights. Rich states that from the sales perspective, Tier 4 implementation is bringing about countless problems, at the very least in the us, that many of his customers want to purchase anything they could that is still Tier 3-rated. “We have not seen a single 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 still need huge reserves of diesel onsite, additional maintenance issues like managing an additional fluid compartment for urea and the use of specific engine oils which people are not utilized to yet. An appealing result of this reluctance to get Tier 4 equipment, Rich says, is the fact that companies have improved the quality of their in-house services to keep existing equipment running given that possible. Despite his reservations, Rich knows that Tier 4 is here to remain and finally companies will adapt – nevertheless the process will take many years.

Many in the market are worried about the inevitable purchase price increases due to engine re-designs and upgrades. Rich says the prerequisites could add USD 8,000 to USD 12,000 to the price. Cameli, however, believes that any price hike is much more than offset by operational savings. “Yes, our Tier 4 forklifts are inherently more pricey than our Tier 3 variants (however the difference could be more than offset by lower overall operating costs like as much as 5% better fuel efficiency and extended service intervals). The operator will notice improved engine response, with the chance of increased productivity. Additional benefits are quieter operation and cut down tremendously emissions,” Cameli explains.

Bellesia says initial feedback on Tier 4 engine performance is positive, but Merlo has received to mitigate price rises with offers of extra options. The corporation strategically timed the discharge of its new telehandler range in order that increased prices could possibly be cushioned from the novelty newest operational systems and options.

Pundits are already killing off of the rough terrain forklifts for years. First, it was the introduction of telehandlers and from now on there may be talk how the market has reached ‘maturity’. Figures from 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 hard 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 principle markets for Bomaq continue to be in mining, agriculture along with the military.

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

Bellesia believes the telehandlers’ versatility has protected them from any market changes. “In Europe, Canada and Australia, Merlo sells mainly to the agricultural sector. In the us, it is the construction sector. The total amount between the two sectors is our strong point. At the moment, sales are in accordance with the expected trend, ” he says.

Cameli agrees the market is mature, but says this is what makes it a robust and growing field as customers realise the machine’s value and gratification in rough terrains. Features such as a tight turning radius, compact length, simplicity of design, easy maintenance and overall cost imply that the rough-terrain market is growing. Cameli says new markets in construction, lumber, oil and gas and concrete industries are continually emerging, in addition to new geographical markets including Peru and Columbia, where the cost of labour has increased and greater productivity is necessary within the burgeoning mining and infrastructure sectors.

Rich states that sales of rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers, particularly in the 5-6 T (12,000 lb.) range, happen to be slow and believes that things won’t improve with the creation of Tier 4 compliant machines. “Some rough-terrain forklift manufacturers already have informed us they are not having enough their allocations of Tier 3 engines and will only be capable to offer Tier 4 when April, 2015,” he says. Rich believes the cost of the latest machines will negatively affect sales.

However, the rough-terrain rental market is great, Rich adds. “Rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers are being used a good deal within 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 process, he says, is 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 will be the main dangers, but Luc Pirard, CEO for Belgian company Comatra, strongly believes that uneven tyre pressures certainly are a hidden cause of many roll-overs. “We believe that this particular incident occurs far more frequently than acknowledged,” he says. The Health and Safety Executive in the UK, the development Plant-Hire Association of the UK and the Telescopic Handler Association of Australia have acknowledged that also a minimal 5% drop in tyre pressure helps to reduce stability and safe lifting capacity by around 30%. “Because tyres deflect and distort under load, there is a significant influence on stability and load-carrying ability,” Pirard explains.

Comatra specialises in safety products to the materials handling industry and it has created 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 because they provide significantly better flotation on soft ground. The disadvantage, however, is a pneumatic tyre can be simply damaged or punctured. By far the most critical situation is actually a flat or under-inflated tyre by using a load in 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, protected from dirt and also other corrosive materials, plus a monitor is fitted inside of the cab. As soon as the forklift/telehandler is excited, tyre pressure is measured in under a minute. The kit can be simply fitted by an experienced tyre-fitter.

Whilst pneumatic tyres would be the preferred selection for most rough-terrain forklifts, lately alternatives have been developed. Chinese-based tyre manufacturer IST (Industrial Solid Tyres) Company has released an excellent tyre for rough-terrain vehicles. Brine Jiang, spokesman for IST, recommends OTR giant solid tyres for rough-terrain forklifts, particularly for that 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 provide better low-rolling resistance which, consequently, will deliver less tyre wear, less heat build-up inside the tyre and improved fuel consumption.

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

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