REACH OR LIFT WHAT'S IT TO BE?

Svetrucks 50150-57 with piggyback and combined 20-40 spreader attachment for handling containers and trailers
Svetrucks 50150-57 with piggyback and combined 20-40 spreader attachment for handling containers and trailers
Kalmars Pettersson:reachstackers capital cost high but running cost lower
Kalmars Pettersson:reachstackers capital cost high but running cost lower
Hysters new H40.00-48.00XM-16CH: container is pretty-well fixed to the dedicated attachment
Hysters new H40.00-48.00XM-16CH: container is pretty-well fixed to the dedicated attachment
Industry Database

The debate rumbles on: is a reachstacker better suited to handling full containers in the yard than a forklift? Nick Elliott finds there are arguments for either solution.

The short answer is that both machines have their place but there are at least four inter-related factors to take into account when deciding: running cost and return on investment (see box); the scale and nature of the terminal operation; the very different handling characteristics of the two machines; and the cultural factor, i. e. traditional practices in certain parts of the world. Weighing up these factors, separately and collectively, should lead to the right choice.

WHAT'S IT FOR?

The scale and cargo profile of the terminal may decide the type of machine at the outset. Says Svetruck's Dan Johannson: "Many smaller terminals around the world handle a mix of cargoes:

containers, steel coils, stone and so on. So they need a machine that is flexible. Reachstacking is more suitable where you have 20-25% container handling in intermodal situations. But the reachstacker is only made for one purpose: to handle containers.

"So Helsingborg for example has at least 10 big Svetrucks for container handling but they also have a couple of reachstackers for intermodal handling of containers onto rail wagon and truck. The port has done much analysis and concluded that for them it is better to drive with a masted forklift because it is quicker, safer and the load is a little closer to machine and driver. That is their decision."

He adds that in cases where the machine is only driven for perhaps 1,000 to 1,500 hours a year, to handle a mix of cargoes, then its flexibility - with the options of fitting a container spreader or quick release forks - will favour the masted forklift.

"It is so easy to say we produce both forklift and reachstacker so what would you like to have?" says Johannson. Actually it is very important to make an analysis with each customer, what is the intent or purpose of buying the machine."

HOW DOES IT DRIVE?

Then comes the question of whether the forklift's arguably more agile handling characteristics make it a better choice. Says Hyster's Big Trucks marketing manager, Ben Siebels: "The main reason why this machine (the new H40.00-48.00XM-16CH dedicated container handler) has a speed advantage in the stacking cycle is, in essence, the 3-axis movement of the container on a FLT: vertical up/down, horizontal forward/backward, horizontal left/right. Furthermore, the container is pretty well fixed to the dedicated attachment. For a driver this makes the handling operation very straightforward and reliable. Compare this with a reachstacker and you will notice that one of the most difficult movements is the straight vertical lift, where the driver mustoperate the controls such that boom tilt and extension move at a certainpace. When stacking containers at an angle the whole operation becomes even more complex.

"Nevertheless, " he concludes, "the reachstacker is excellent for reaching into a stack. If this is carefully thought out and all terminal logistics play ball, a reachstacker (with sufficient capacity) can boost terminal storage capacity. Plus the reachstacker is a solution for low overhead situations and/or regular transport over the road."

In a recent paper* Antoon Cooijmans of Hyster Europe looked at the characteristics of the two machine types. "Reachstackers have become popular, and in certain circumstances enable increased container storage. On the other hand, " he argues, "increased storage density when using reachstackers brings an inherent change in 'selectivity' which could result in extra handling and reduced throughput of containers when compared to the use of lift trucks.

"Available space is a limiting factor in most locations and mobile handling equipment that enables the highest storage/density will be favoured. Increasing storage can be achieved by stacking higher and/or deeper (i. e. in a 2nd row). Both methods do reduce the accessibility ('selectivity') of containers."

Cooijmans goes on to illustrate his arguments taking an average terminal and comparing reachstacker and lift truck performance. "As expected reachstackers achieve the higher storage, though perhaps disappointing at just 19 % over the lift trucks. The other side of the equation should not be overlooked either: namely that by adding a second row of containers the accessibility of containers, i. e. the 'selectivity' is significantly altered.

""On manoeuvrability lift trucks commonly work in 15 metre wide aisles, stacking a mix of 20ft and 40ft loaded containers. There is sufficient clearance for the lift truck and also lorries can pass in front, without a need for the incoming lorry to (partly) drive underneath a lifted container."

In conclusion, Cooijmans says the challenge for a terminal operator is to establish what is the workable mix of the two key variables (storage and selectivity) and let this "total picture" determine the choice of mobile handling equipment.

"Investment in reachstackers can pay dividends by increasing terminals' storage, while lift trucks may well be faster in turnaround of containers and thus satisfy your, and your customer's needs better."

IT'S ABOUT CULTURE TOO Speaking of Kalmar's own experience, product manager, Dan Pettersson, whose portfolio includes heavy FLTs, says: "It's really only in North America and Australasia that they prefer FLTs to reachstackers.

North America has a rather conservative attitude towards change.

Also their labour unions are opposed to putting in reachstackers in place of FLTs. Furthermore, over the years they have made huge investments and have built up huge fleets of top-picks as they call them.

They have arranged the layout of the yards to suit top-picks. All operator training is done on top-picks. And all this together makes it very hard to change unless you open a brand new site. So they are locked into a handling solution and it would be very costly for them to change. In Australiasia they also have a long tradition of using FLTs."

But Pettersson stresses: "We don't try to push the reachstacker onto these customers because we can see that they have very good schemes for operating with FLTs. The productivity is very high and they would not gain too much by changing over to reachstackers.

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