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

One of the primary issues facing all manufacturers is tightening environmental regulations, along 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 United States Of America 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 and 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, as well as other poisonous substances. Tier 4 regulations, by a variety of means, make an effort to lessen the production of these by-products, thereby significantly reducing the number of emissions-related health issues. The EPA believes that a decrease in these emissions will, by 2030, bring about approximately lowering of 12,000 premature deaths, 8,900 hospitalisations then one million lost work days all over the USA.

So how has it affected the rough-terrain forklift market? Most manufacturers have embraced the engine and chassis changes which 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 for example advanced cooling, exhaust and treatment systems. Packaging of the new systems has allowed us the chance to improve other areas 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 expected to meet Tier 4 standards. This current 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 only 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, just the ROTO (slewing turret) telehandlers required modification – these have been fitted by using a selective catalyst system (SCT) which meets Tier 4 standards.

Spanish manufacturer Bomaq has redesigned equipment parts and integrated an additional postfilter burner to the rough-terrain machines. Managing director Antonio Martinez states that an additional issue arising from Tier 4 requirements is the usage of electronics from the engines. “So far, we now have used mechanical systems for fuel injection, but to achieve the specified new levels of regulation, consumption of electronics is going to be compulsory,” he explains.

There are other issues, as Richard Rich, wholesale manager of The United States-based dealer H&K equipment, highlights. Rich says that from a sales perspective, Tier 4 implementation is bringing about numerous problems, at least in the USA, that many of his customers want to purchase anything they may which is still Tier 3-rated. “I actually have not seen just one company change over or update yet,” he says. Rich identifies numerous impediments including the necessity to use ultra-low sulphur fuel when a lot of companies have huge reserves of diesel onsite, additional maintenance issues like managing an extra fluid compartment for urea and the usage of specific engine oils which individuals are certainly not used to yet. An intriguing outcome of this reluctance to get Tier 4 equipment, Rich says, is the fact companies have improved the quality of their in-house services to help keep existing equipment running as long as possible. Despite his reservations, Rich knows that Tier 4 has arrived to be and eventually companies will adapt – nevertheless the process is going to take a couple of years.

Many in the business are worried in regards to the inevitable purchase price increases as a result of engine re-designs and upgrades. Rich says the 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 higher priced than our Tier 3 variants (although the difference could be 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 chance of increased productivity. Additional benefits are quieter operation and greatly reduced 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 from the new telehandler range so that increased prices could possibly be cushioned with the novelty of brand new operational systems and options.

Pundits have been killing off the rough terrain forklifts for years. First, it was actually the introduction of telehandlers and from now on there exists talk that this market has reached ‘maturity’. Figures through 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 marketplace is hard to calculate, but believes rough-terrain forklifts have developed their own personal niche and will expand with other applications if manufacturers take note of the needs of users. He says the key markets for Bomaq continue to be in mining, agriculture and the military.

AUSA specialises in rough-terrain forklifts for agriculture, particularly in the fruit and vegetable sector in which there is popular demand for rough-terrain forklifts from the lighter, more compact 3T (6,000 lb.) two-wheel-drive range. Perramon states 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, according to a rough-terrain chassis – but more compact, with higher diameter wheels and increased ground clearance – are gaining interest in wood recycling, metal foundries and outdoor warehouse operations. These machines 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 your market changes. “In Europe, Canada and Australia, Merlo sells mainly in to the agricultural sector. In the USA, it is the construction sector. The total amount in between the two sectors is our strong point. In the meantime, sales are in line with the expected trend, ” he says.

Cameli agrees the current market is mature, but says this is exactly what causes it to be a robust and growing field as customers realise the machine’s value and performance in rough terrains. Features such as a tight turning radius, compact length, simplicity of design, simplicity of maintenance and overall cost imply that the rough-terrain market keeps 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 fee for labour has grown and greater productivity is needed within the burgeoning mining and infrastructure sectors.

Rich says that sales of rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers, especially in the 5-6 T (12,000 lb.) range, have been slow and believes that things won’t improve with the creation 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 to offer Tier 4 once April, 2015,” he says. Rich believes the fee for the latest machines will negatively affect sales.

However, the rough-terrain rental market is really good, Rich adds. “Rough-terrain forklifts and telehandlers are employed a whole lot from 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 challenge, he says, is to keep H&K’s supply of rough-terrain forklifts high enough to fulfill 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 reason for many roll-overs. “We believe that this kind of incident occurs far more frequently than acknowledged,” he says. The Safety and health Executive in the UK, the building Plant-Hire Association of your UK as well as the Telescopic Handler Association of Australia have got all acknowledged that a good minimal 5% drop in tyre pressure is able to reduce stability and safe lifting capacity by up to 30%. “Because tyres deflect and distort under load, there is a significant result on stability and load-carrying ability,” Pirard explains.

Comatra specialises in safety products for the materials handling industry and it 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 while they provide far better flotation on soft ground. The disadvantage, however, is a pneumatic tyre can be easily damaged or punctured. By far the most critical situation is a flat or under-inflated tyre having a load within 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, resistant to dirt and also other corrosive materials, and a monitor is fitted inside the cab. As soon as the forklift/telehandler is switched on, tyre pressure is measured in less than one minute. The kit can be easily fitted by a seasoned tyre-fitter.

Whilst pneumatic tyres would be the preferred choice for most rough-terrain forklifts, in recent years alternatives have already 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 your 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 have better low-rolling resistance which, subsequently, will deliver less tyre wear, less heat build-up inside the tyre and improved fuel consumption.

AUSA has created numerous safety features which it says are exclusive to its machines. AUSA’s High Visibility System (HVS) allows operators an unrestricted view both forward and then in reverse while carrying a complete load because of two infrared cameras mounted on top of the cabin as well as a colour TFT monitor inside of the cabin. The infrared cameras enable the operator to carry 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 the mouse.