Rough-terrain equipment consistently play a crucial role in materials handling and Melissa Barnett looks at some of the issues around the rough and prepared vehicles.

One of the biggest issues facing all manufacturers is tightening environmental regulations, with US authorities this season rolling out the final phase of Tier 4 regulations for engines between 75 and 175 HP.

In line with the Usa Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), off-road engines are responsible for the emission of 47% of particulate matter (PM) and 25% of Nitrogen oxides (NOx) coming from all mobile sources. Particulate matter is minute particles of carbon as well as other poisonous substances created when not all fuel is burned during combustion. NOx – commonly nitrogen monoxide and nitrogen oxide – may also be produced during combustion.

Machinery exhaust, particularly diesel, contains both PM and NOx, together with other poisonous substances. Tier 4 regulations, by numerous means, try to lessen 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, lead to approximately lowering of 12,000 premature deaths, 8,900 hospitalisations and something million lost work days throughout the USA.

But just how has it affected the rough-terrain forklift market? Most manufacturers have embraced the engine and chassis changes that were required to abide by the regulations. Guido Cameli, sales manager for Canadian manufacturer Manitex Liftking, says that although major investment was required, Liftking saw the alterations 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 chance to 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 coming 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, merely the ROTO (slewing turret) telehandlers required modification – these happen to be fitted having a selective catalyst system (SCT) which meets Tier 4 standards.

Spanish manufacturer Bomaq has redesigned equipment parts and integrated an additional 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 achieve the specified new levels of regulation, usage of electronics will be compulsory,” he explains.

There are additional issues, as Richard Rich, wholesale manager of Canada And America-based dealer H&K equipment, indicates. Rich states that from your sales perspective, Tier 4 implementation is bringing about so many problems, a minimum of in the USA, that many of his customers want to purchase anything they can that is still Tier 3-rated. “I actually have not seen an individual company change over or update yet,” he says. Rich identifies numerous impediments including the desire to use ultra-low sulphur fuel when some companies have huge reserves of diesel onsite, additional maintenance issues like managing an extra fluid compartment for urea and the use of specific engine oils which people are certainly not used to yet. An interesting result of this reluctance to buy Tier 4 equipment, Rich says, is that companies have improved the quality of their in-house services to maintain existing equipment running as long as possible. Despite his reservations, Rich knows that Tier 4 is here now to be and finally companies will adapt – however the process is going to take a few years.

Many in the business are worried concerning the inevitable purchase price increases as a result of engine re-designs and upgrades. Rich says certain requirements could add USD 8,000 to USD 12,000 towards the price. Cameli, however, believes that any price hike is more than offset by operational savings. “Yes, our Tier 4 forklifts are inherently more costly than our Tier 3 variants (although the difference are often more than offset by lower overall operating costs such as approximately 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 is positive, but Merlo has already established to mitigate price rises with offers of extra options. The business strategically timed the release of the new telehandler range to ensure increased prices could be cushioned with the novelty of the latest operational systems and options.

Pundits have been killing off the used rough terrain forklift for several years. First, it was actually the introduction of telehandlers and now there is talk that 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 in the year 2011.

Martinez says the marketplace is difficult to predict, but believes rough-terrain forklifts have developed their particular niche and can expand with other applications if manufacturers take note of the needs of users. He says the primary markets for Bomaq continue being in mining, agriculture and the military.

AUSA specialises in rough-terrain forklifts for agriculture, particularly in the vegetable and fruit sector where there is high demand for rough-terrain forklifts within the lighter, more compact 3T (6,000 lb.) two-wheel-drive range. Perramon says that globalisation has produced ‘new rooms’ in countries in which to develop new markets. AUSA is keen to expand to 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 becoming popular in wood recycling, metal foundries and outdoor warehouse operations. These appliances offer added value if the forklift needs to push and pull pallets during loading/unloading of trucks.

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

Cameli agrees the market is mature, but says and this is what makes it a strong and growing field as customers realise the machine’s value and satisfaction in rough terrains. Features for instance a tight turning radius, compact length, simplicity of design, ease of maintenance and overall cost suggest that the rough-terrain market is growing. Cameli says new markets in construction, lumber, oil and gas and concrete industries are continually emerging, and also new geographical markets including Peru and Columbia, where the expense of labour has grown and greater productivity is necessary from 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, have been slow and believes that things won’t improve with the development of Tier 4 compliant machines. “Some rough-terrain forklift manufacturers have already informed us that they are running out of their allocations of Tier 3 engines and are only capable of offer Tier 4 once April, 2015,” he says. Rich believes the price of the new machines will negatively affect sales.

However, the rough-terrain rental market continues to be really good, Rich adds. “Rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers are used a whole lot from the construction and drilling industries, both of which rely heavily on rentals; so while we don’t see any new markets coming online, the rental demand is increasing.” The challenge, he says, is usually to keep H&K’s source of rough-terrain forklifts sufficient 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 would 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 kind of incident occurs far more often than acknowledged,” he says. The Safety and health Executive of the UK, the development Plant-Hire Association of your UK and also the Telescopic Handler Association of Australia supply acknowledged that a minimal 5% drop in tyre pressure is effective in reducing stability and safe lifting capacity by approximately 30%. “Because tyres deflect and distort under load, these people have a significant effect on stability and load-carrying ability,” Pirard explains.

Comatra specialises in safety products for the materials handling industry and has designed a unique internal valve-mounted sensor system to monitor tyre pressure in rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers. “Most rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers are fitted with pneumatic tyres because they provide far better flotation on soft ground. The disadvantage, however, is a pneumatic tyre can be simply damaged or punctured. One of the most critical situation can be a flat or under-inflated tyre using a load inside the air – altering the forklift or telehandler’s stability and causing a possibly fatal tip-over.” Comatra’s pre-programmed sensors are mounted behind the rim, resistant to dirt and other corrosive materials, and a monitor is fitted inside of the cab. When the forklift/telehandler is switched on, tyre pressure is measured in less than a minute. The kit can be simply fitted by a highly skilled tyre-fitter.

Whilst pneumatic tyres will be the preferred option for most rough-terrain forklifts, in recent times alternatives have been 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 for that construction and mining sector, as 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 within the tyre and improved fuel consumption.

AUSA has created a variety of safety measures which it says are exclusive 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 top of the cabin plus a colour TFT monitor in the cabin. The infrared cameras allow the operator to go on working safely in suprisingly low light. AUSA’s FullGrip Method is a joystick control that enables the operator to engage/disengage four-wheel-drive when in motion with the press of a button.