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Rough-terrain equipment is constantly play a crucial role in materials handling and Melissa Barnett looks at a number of the issues surrounding the rough and ready vehicles.

One of the biggest issues facing all manufacturers is tightening environmental regulations, around authorities this current year rolling out your 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 when they are 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, together with other poisonous substances. Tier 4 regulations, by a variety of means, aim to minimize the production of these by-products, thereby significantly reducing the amount of emissions-related health conditions. The EPA believes that a reduction in these emissions will, by 2030, bring about approximately lowering of 12,000 premature deaths, 8,900 hospitalisations and something 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 expected 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 as an opportunity. “Achieving Tier 4 directives required extensive vehicle redesign and new technology including advanced cooling, exhaust and treatment systems. Packaging of the new systems has allowed us the opportunity improve other elements of our vehicles, including sight-lines and maintenance access,” he explains.

Xavier Perramon, products strategy manager for Spanish manufacturer AUSA, notes that considerable financial investment was required to meet Tier 4 standards. This year, AUSA will launch its 4-5 T array of rough-terrain and semi-industrial forklifts with 56kW Deutz engines fitted with Diesel Oxidation Catalysts (DOC). The engines not merely 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 happen to be fitted by using a selective catalyst system (SCT) which meets Tier 4 standards.

Spanish manufacturer Bomaq has redesigned equipment parts and integrated one more postfilter burner to its rough-terrain machines. Managing director Antonio Martinez says that an extra issue as a result of Tier 4 requirements is using electronics from the engines. “To date, we now have used mechanical systems for fuel injection, but to reach the required new levels of regulation, usage of electronics will be compulsory,” he explains.

There are other issues, as Richard Rich, wholesale manager of America-based dealer H&K equipment, points out. Rich says that coming from a sales perspective, Tier 4 implementation is causing so many problems, no less than in the us, that most of his customers are trying to purchase anything they are able to that may be still Tier 3-rated. “I have not seen one particular company change over or update yet,” he says. Rich identifies numerous impediments including the desire to use ultra-low sulphur fuel when most companies still need huge reserves of diesel onsite, additional maintenance issues like managing an additional fluid compartment for urea and the application of specific engine oils which individuals will not be employed to yet. An appealing consequence of this reluctance to acquire Tier 4 equipment, Rich says, is the fact companies have improved the caliber of their in-house services to keep existing equipment running given that possible. Despite his reservations, Rich recognizes that Tier 4 is here to stay and finally companies will adapt – although the process is going to take quite a while.

Many in the marketplace are concerned about the inevitable purchase price increases on account of 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 far more than offset by operational savings. “Yes, our Tier 4 forklifts are inherently more costly than our Tier 3 variants (nevertheless the difference are often more than offset by lower overall operating costs for example as much as 5% better fuel efficiency and extended service intervals). The operator will notice improved engine response, with the potential for increased productivity. Additional benefits are quieter operation and cut down tremendously emissions,” Cameli explains.

Bellesia says initial feedback on Tier 4 engine performance continues to be positive, but Merlo has had to mitigate price rises with offers of extra options. The business strategically timed the release of the new telehandler range so that increased prices may be cushioned with the novelty of brand new operational systems and options.

Pundits have already been killing from the rough terrain forklift for sale for a long time. First, it absolutely was the development of telehandlers and now there may be talk the market has reached ‘maturity’. Figures in 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 this year.

Martinez says the current market is challenging to calculate, but believes rough-terrain forklifts have developed their particular niche and definately will expand for some other applications if manufacturers pay attention to the needs of users. He says the primary markets for Bomaq continue being in mining, agriculture and also the military.

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

Bellesia believes the telehandlers’ versatility has protected them from the market changes. “In Europe, Canada and Australia, Merlo sells mainly in the agricultural sector. In the united states, this is basically the construction sector. The total amount in between the two sectors is our strong point. For now, sales are in accordance with the expected trend, ” he says.

Cameli agrees the market is mature, but says this is what causes it to be a robust and growing field as customers realise the machine’s value and satisfaction in rough terrains. Features say for example a tight turning radius, compact length, simplicity of design, comfort of maintenance and overall cost signify the rough-terrain market keeps 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 required in 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, are already slow and believes that things won’t improve with the introduction of Tier 4 compliant machines. “Some rough-terrain forklift manufacturers have previously informed us that they are running out of their allocations of Tier 3 engines and are only capable to offer Tier 4 the moment April, 2015,” he says. Rich believes the expense of the newest machines will negatively affect sales.

However, the rough-terrain rental market continues to be great, Rich adds. “Rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers are used a good deal in 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 task, he says, would be to keep H&K’s supply of rough-terrain forklifts high enough to satisfy demand.

Roll-overs and tip-overs are an occupational hazard for rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers. Uneven ground, slopes, dips, mud and unbalanced loads are the main dangers, but Luc Pirard, CEO for Belgian company Comatra, strongly believes that uneven tyre pressures certainly are a hidden reason behind 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 from the UK and also the Telescopic Handler Association of Australia have all acknowledged that a minimal 5% drop in tyre pressure is effective in reducing stability and safe lifting capacity by up to 30%. “Because tyres deflect and distort under load, there is a significant effect on stability and load-carrying ability,” Pirard explains.

Comatra specialises in safety products to the materials handling industry and has created a unique internal valve-mounted sensor system to observe tyre pressure in rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers. “Most rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers are fitted with pneumatic tyres as they provide far better flotation on soft ground. The disadvantage, however, is the fact that a pneumatic tyre can easily be damaged or punctured. The most critical situation can be a flat or under-inflated tyre using a load within the air – altering the forklift or telehandler’s stability and resulting in a possibly fatal tip-over.” Comatra’s pre-programmed sensors are mounted behind the rim, safe from dirt along with 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 just a minute. The kit can easily be fitted by a seasoned tyre-fitter.

Whilst pneumatic tyres would be the preferred option for most rough-terrain forklifts, in recent times alternatives are already developed. Chinese-based tyre manufacturer IST (Industrial Solid Tyres) Company has released a great tyre for rough-terrain vehicles. Brine Jiang, spokesman for IST, recommends OTR giant solid tyres for rough-terrain forklifts, particularly to the construction and mining sector, because 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, therefore, will deliver less tyre wear, less heat build-up inside the tyre and improved fuel consumption.

AUSA has created a number of safety measures which it says are only at its machines. AUSA’s High Visibility System (HVS) allows operators an unrestricted view both forward as well as in reverse while carrying an entire load due to two infrared cameras mounted on the top of the cabin along with a colour TFT monitor in the cabin. The infrared cameras permit the operator to carry on working safely in very low light. AUSA’s FullGrip Method is a joystick control that enables the operator to engage/disengage four-wheel-drive during motion at the press of a button.