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Material Handling
Tuesday | 14 July, 2015 | 9:48 am

Finding answers

By Lynn Stanley

Versatile technologies and detailed analysis help solve material handling problems and reclaim lost costs

July 2015 - Industrial designer Erling Eklof had a canny understanding of words and their power to evoke emotions and shape perceptions. When Mound Metalcraft Co. hired Eklof to develop a logo for its steel-pressed construction-themed toys in 1947, he chose the word Tonka, creating a brand that soon became synonymous with indestructible.

Nearly 70 years later [Ton-kah] the Dakota Sioux word for “great” or “big,” is still a household name for certain toy trucks but it is also an apt descriptor for the heavy-duty forklifts, container handlers and ReachStackers manufactured by Hyster Co.’s Big Trucks division. 

The 87-year-old Greenville, North Carolina, manufacturer has used its tough truck label to build an enduring reputation in the materials handling industry. Hyster is part of NACCO Materials Handling Group, the operating unit of Cleveland, Ohio-based Hyster-Yale Materials Handling. NMHG’s assembly operation in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, allows Hyster to maintain the same quality standards for its Big Trucks products overseas as it does in North America. 

Cost control

Not content to rely on brawn alone, the heavy equipment supplier helps industries—particularly metal producers and distributors—to shed light on materials handling trouble spots and reclaim lost dollars.

“Controlling logistics costs is every manufacturer’s goal,” says Herman Klaus, director for Hyster Big Truck applications solutions. “Waste reduction in materials handling is a key component. Stiffer competition and other factors have pushed our customers to focus more closely on costs as well. We’ve never been a one-size-fits-all company so, three years ago, we began to fine-tune our approach to see what we could do from a product development standpoint to reduce or eliminate some of those costs.”

Hyster also sought customer feedback, he continues. “We wanted to spend quality time talking with and listening to logistics and materials handling personnel about their day-to-day routines and some of the challenges they were facing. We also wanted access to key managers.”

Handpicking a few key industry players, Hyster implemented a method for gathering detailed information to help identify some of the largest drivers behind unwanted materials handling expenses. 

“Our research showed that 90 percent of work flow is tied to materials handling,” says Klaus. “A large number of industries offload logistics management to a third party. We found the metals market to be a different story. [Despite] advances in manufacturing technology, materials handling methods remained virtually unchanged. [So] costs in this area tended to be high.”

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Role of volatility

U.S. steel mills shipped 7.09 million tons in April 2015, down 2.5 percent from 7.27 million tons shipped in March, and falling 13.9 percent from 8.24 million tons in April 2014, the American Iron and Steel Institute reports. Year to date, shipments fell 9.5 percent. Fluctuating demand is another pressure point that makes the industry aware of the need to define more economical ways to move steel products, but Klaus points to some less obvious material handling cost situations that customers often overlook.

“In one facility we found that the heat from hot steel coils was causing forklift tires to wear out faster,” he recalls. “In addition, drivers navigating their forklifts around stored metals were puncturing and damaging tires. Replacement tires can cost $2,000 to $4,000 apiece. The extra expenses were being absorbed as part of the price of doing business.”

Heat stress

High-capacity forklift trucks are commonly used to transport slabs, blooms, ingots and coils short distances from the casting operation. These products are moved even while they are still a blistering 900 degrees Celsius. Hyster’s Special Products Engineering Design Group designed and prototyped tire shields, but found that exposure to extreme heat impacted other forklift components as well. In 2014 the manufacturer introduced a series of options for its 16- to 18-ton capacity forklift series built specially to handle heavy molten steel products.

A load-sensing hydraulic system keeps oil temperature below 90 degrees Celsius, helping to prolong hose life. A heat shield protects cylinder seals for extended performance. The forklift’s carriage is constructed with wear pads versus roller bearings, which can dry out and fail.

“We also learned that the heat from these metal processing environments was cutting chain life short,” Klaus adds. “Chains require a lot of grease, but exposure to high heat melts grease, which leads to breakage pretty quickly.”

Hyster’s answer was to create the chainless Monomast, an option that eliminates the maintenance and replacement costs associated with conventional chain. Special shields protect the Monomast’s multi-stage lift cylinder from radiant heat while an integrated coil ram makes rollers more impact resistant.

“We started this process one customer at a time,” Klaus says of Hyster’s development of product-driven solutions. “Now we’re applying these principles to one industry at a time. The ability to customize is critical if customers are really serious about controlling costs. Material handling is becoming more complex and, depending on the industry, there are a lot of variables that can impact a company’s logistics.”

Hyster custom solutions aren’t automatically high priced. “By understanding and meeting one customer’s needs, we’re able to apply those same solutions to other customers we may not have talked with yet,” Klaus says. Leveraging applications across a broad swath of industry reduces individual expense.

Factory or dealer options

Hyster offers a basic forklift model, for example, that can be built at varying capacities from 30,000 to 120,000 pounds. Hyster’s teams evaluate each customer’s requirements to help them specify their purchase by choosing the right options from a catalog of applications—in this case designed for steel plants. Hyster’s dealers are able to devise solutions, too, by using a survey tool to assess and relay regional equipment needs. “We supply items directly from the factory based on each site survey,” Klaus says.

For Hyster, customization makes sense but working closely with companies also helps each of them to think about the way they move and store metal in a new light. That’s why face time with customers is so important, he adds. 

Load handling is just one example. “Our ReachStackers are typically used for container stacking and intermodal handling. But by changing the ReachStacker’s attachments to handle coils or slabs via a magnet, we showed one customer how to achieve a more compact storage layout in their yard than they would have been able to achieve with a forklift.”

Hyster Big Trucks may have earned a reputation in the material handling industry for tough, durable equipment but with its heritage of innovation and a savvy move toward highly personal service and an exhaustive array of interchangeable components and options, Klaus says this makes customers feel like they are working with a trusted partner.

“At the end of the day it’s about helping customers find better ways to move material and reclaim costs, capacity and production efficiency in a way that makes sense for them,” he observes. MM

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