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Material Handling
Monday | 24 October, 2011 | 1:50 pm

New moves

By Julie Sammarco

Multidirectional forklifts change the way service centers move in, out and around narrow aisles

October 2011- For Americans, change has become an undeniable and inescapable reality in recent years. According to Forbes, 163,662 layoffs were reported at America’s 500 largest companies in January 2009 alone. Since then, more than two out of every three Americans have taken steps to pursue higher education, according to a survey by Harris Interactive, and credit card debt in the United States soared to an all-time high of $975 billion, according to the Federal Reserve. Whether it’s growth, downsizing in business or home life, changing careers, choosing to work toward an extended education or changing debt management strategies, people are feeling the effects of the country’s economic conditions and are making adjustments.

Change is what made one material-handling equipment manufacturer decide to offer different products to service centers that were in the process of revamping business practices.

When Combilift USA, Greensboro, N.C., opened in 2005, it was manufacturing forklifts that were considered narrow by today’s standards. When the company began getting requests to make a leaner, stand-up version of its machines to accommodate existing aisle widths in service centers, it began to rethink the design of its models and what its customers were experiencing economically.

The Combilift C6,000ST is an indoor/outdoor stand-up multidirectional forklift designed for tight spaces in service centers. With it, operators are able to fit through aisles as small as 6 feet wide, saving as much as 50 percent of space in facilities, thereby reducing storage costs on-site. It has the ability to hold up to 6,000 pounds of material in any length and lift material to any height to deliver products to indoor and outdoor racks.

“Because of the way the economy is, people have really needed to start taking advantage of their facilities,” says Don Bishop, cooperate operations manager at Admiral Metals, Woburn, Mass. “Using narrow aisles was one way of doing that.”

Narrow aisles mean more space in the facility, which allows for greater opportunities such as renting the extra space to different companies or using the extra space for more productive purposes, allowing for more options when downsizing or expanding.

For Bishop, converting his space into a narrow-aisle facility was not a choice made because of downsizing. On the contrary, his business was growing when he purchased the C6,000ST in 2007. He needed more room for material. “In order to get more material into our main shipping station, we’ve gone with the narrow-aisle system, and Combilift was the best choice,” he says.

Regardless of the reason for change, implementing narrow aisles instead of wide aisles in service centers has proven to be helpful for some companies, and using the right equipment for a renovated narrow-aisle facility is essential. For Bishop, incorporating narrow aisles in his once wide-aisle facility and investing in a C6,000ST machine has reduced down time, increased productivity, and helped decrease costs and boost revenue.

Benefits, efficiencies
Because it’s designed for handling long products, one of the benefits of the C6,000ST is its four-directional quality, according to Gearoid Hogan, marketing manager at Combilift USA. Having a machine that can move forward, backward, side to side and make curved turns allows for greater maneuverability and an overall decrease in space needed to operate.

When traveling in side mode with a forklift, for example, the length of the material will dictate the machine’s traveling abilities. “With the C6,000ST, you have the capability of pulling that material in and resting it on a platform, now you’re traveling sideways,” says Hogan. “Now you’re not being dictated by the material length, you’re being dictated by the length of the machine.”

Additionally, because the C6,000ST machine is a stand-up unit, it allows for easy on-and-off access for operators. This makes for easy picking or exiting the machine to tend to material on the floor or on racks.

“The stand-up truck is nice because a lot of the floor guys do a lot of picking,” says Bishop. “They get in and out of the truck a lot. And when they had to do that before, they had to undo the belt, open the door, get out of the truck, get back in the truck, close the door, put the belt back on, etc. With the stand-up machine, it’s as easy as stepping on and off the truck.”

Increased safety
Features such as a raised mast, improved wheels, tight product control and increased vision contribute to safety when working with the C6,000ST. Because the machine comes equipped with rubber wheels, it not only achieves advanced maneuverability by hydraulically steering all three wheels, it enables the machine operator to drive over semi-rough terrain without risk of having large products wobble off the platform. The wheels absorb the shocks from bumps, allow for better traction and can drive in elements such as snow and rain better than all-solid polyurethane wheels, which are standard for many side loaders, according to Hogan.

“Stabilizing material is often a concern,” says Hogan. “Rubber tires make them more dependable and safer for the machine operator, especially if they’re going over rough terrain.”

Traveling sideways with the C6,000ST also eliminates the necessity of moving with long-length loads lifted above eye level, therefore increasing operators’ vision by allowing them to see the material. A retractable mast allows the long-length load to rest on the load-supporting platform, lowering the overall center of gravity as well as cradling the load while traveling. Tapered platforms and removable pin options offer additional safety and can help reduce product damage.

“Pins help round material stabilize,” says Hogan. “We can put a tapered platform to keep round items from rolling around. If the operator had to stop suddenly, the pipe would roll forward without the pin.” Pins also can be removed if not needed.

Operator safety also is increased because of a decrease in manual labor required when using the machine. Less manual labor means fewer possible injuries on-site. “Our guys say it’s just so easy to use,” says Bishop. “It runs smoothly, it has a lot of speed, which we regulate to fit our needs, but the best thing for them is that there isn’t a lot of manual labor involved. Less manual labor just means less risk [of] getting hurt.

“And when you combine less risk for your workers with higher efficiency and productivity with a quality machine and a quality company, you know you made the right choice,” he adds.

For years, Combilift has prioritized personalized, quality customer service. From listening to customer changes to reacting and creating a better product for service centers, Combilift is hopeful that its product has helped some businesses get through rough patches and times of transition and the company will strive to continually improve its product line. MM

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