Reach stackers: six big questions

01 Jun 2006

Steve Cameron put six critical questions to reach stacker producers and users. The answers supplied offer major assistance to identifying the right machine at the right price

There is no shortage of PR from the reach stacker manufacturers on their wide range of products as they vie with each other to maintain their profiles but try to validate production levels and market size and less information is available.

So whilst the size of the reach stacker market may not be clear, what is certain is that it's a successful and still expanding market sector.

The intermodal market continues to generate demand for heavy capacity units with shorter wheel bases pushing design and stability to their limits, the developed markets require greater sophistication, reduced fuel consumption and lower noise emission whilst the concessioning of container operations in the developing world market is creating a demand for robust and less complex machines suitable for markets such as Africa.

To obtain an indication of how the different manufacturers compare, PS interviewed a cross-section of industry participants comprising major equipment suppliers, a leading container terminal operator in Antwerp, a prominent intermodal operator in the UK and a number of individuals with many years experience supplying or operating or maintaining reach stackers. They were all asked the same list of questions featured below.

All the major container handing equipment manufacturers were involved - with Kalmar in many respects seen as the market leader and SMV providing close competition. Other notable features associated with specific producers include the fact that Hyster considers that its machine is the most compact in the market whilst Fantuzzi, Ferrari and Terex/PPM are clearly all aggressive on price. The most recent market entrant Liebherr has developed a design featuring an innovative curved boom and using a hydrostatic transmission.

KEY QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS What have been the issues that affect choice of manufacturer?

Piet Wauters, Director of Technical Services, P&O Ports, Antwerp, explains that his company carried out an extensive reach stacker study involving six manufacturers; PPM, SMV, Kalmar (two machine types) Hyster, Fantuzzi and Ferrari. Its study looked primarily at how the product was manufactured, stability, after sales support, and then other features such as weighing systems, safety override systems, fuel efficient running and spreader design.

Kalmar and SMV were front runners for Antwerp and a full service deal was concluded with SMV who provided 9 machines on a 5 year 15,000 hour fully maintained lease plus one spare machine being paid for on an hourly basis only when needed.

Ian Fielding the Road and Handling Equipment Manager at Freight Liners, UK explained that prior to an internal review they had many different manufacturers' equipment on different contracts. All of the machines operated had worked well. The problem was that maintenance had become complex due to the range of machines and contracts involved. In making its final choice Ian Fielding said that the manufacturer was actually unimportant. It was the ability to provide a strong service level agreement that was the key. SHAD the UK provider for CVS Ferrari were able to provide a full service contract with 98% availability during a working period of 0800 - 1900 hrs and maintenance done outside this period. The contract includes financial penalties if agreed performance standards are not met.

An independent supplier of all equipment types to ports for many years offered the view that Kalmar and SMV provide the best quality machines due to the all round back-up and after sales support.

Terex/PPM was said to be the most competitive on price with a marked improvement on quality since the involvement of Terex.

Andreas Breiholz of Mindener Hafen GmbH in Germany explained that his company's decision to go with the new product from Liebherr was based on several aspects including; short delivery time, a better consumption compared with other manufacturers, the exhaust standards in Germany and the hydrostatic gear (therefore less attrition concerning wear and spare parts, such as brakes, v-belts, etc. ).

An executive who previously worked for a large equipment rental and maintenance company in Antwerp noted that until the Kalmar DRF was released into the market previous improvements by the different manufacturers had really just been incremental improvements to areas such as telescope and hoisting speeds. The new Kalmar DRF machine was the first reach stacker to have been completely redesigned with changes to the main beam, chassis, hoisting cylinder the hydraulics and a significant change from copper wiring to the canbus communication system.

The same executive also observed that Liebherr with its banana boom can lift not only 3 high from the 3rd row but also from below ground level which is a big plus for quay to barge operations.

He further noted that Terex/PPM builds a very straightforward machine suitable for developing countries and given its French connections the combination makes the company particularly strong in Francophone Africa What have been the disadvantages of machines that you have experience of?

Piet Wauters explained that so far the SMV trucks are performing better than the contracted 98% performance levels. His concern was increased tyre wear with the 1800 x 33 tyres lasting 1200 running hours compared to previous machines that achieved 2/3000 hours.

He noted that a change to operating conditions requiring tighter turning circles may have contributed to this.

Ian Fielding had no specific problems and again noted that it had been the diverse range of machines operated that caused Freightliner problems with maintenance.

The independent supplier said all models generally do the job. It is perhaps with intermodal operations where lifting from second row rail wagons (termed as second rail) that the limitations show. Machines in this application are usually operating in restricted areas and require shorter turning circles as well as the usual counter weights, additional weight to provide the necessary stability. With some machines, this extra weight over the rear axle can lead to increased axle failure.

An engineer at P&O Ports suggested that compared to other types of equipment for empty handling, he found reach stackers very heavy on tyres and fuel. Also he found that they made a mess of a pavement system that previously coped with straddle carriers without problems. The wheel loads therefore need a very high (and hence expensive) pavement solution, he said.

How much attention does the industry pay to life cycle costs?

This is an important issue. Wauters at P&O underlines. We look at the initial value and residual after five years. In the contract referenced, the residual value was fixed within the contract tied into 3/3500 operating hours per annum.

Life cycle costs are important said Ian Fielding, but purchase price always plays its part in getting a board paper approved by the directors. The issues Freightliner focused on were service levels and operational issues such as driver ergonomics and turning circles which are so important for intermodal handing at railway depots.

The engineer at P&O Ports explained that as a large proportion of terminals belong to the "big four" terminal operators, life cycle costs are becoming more significant. However a lot of concessions have relatively short periods and then first up cost becomes more important. Also some developing world operations may be partially World Bank financed then lowest bids have to be accepted. "A bit horses for courses, " he said.

How do spares prices and after sales service differ by manufacturer?

This is less of an issue for P&O Antwerp as the maintenance is contracted at a set rate per operating hour. Wauters believed that the savings they were achieving in maintenance costs using this system was about 20%.

31The independent supplier said that nowadays there is not so much to choose between each manufacturer. Previously the profit on spares was a huge revenue generator for the manufacturers but increased competition has now reduced spares prices.

Are machines getting too technical for developing world markets?

Piet Wauters said that as manufacturers continue to develop their products to improve working time and efficiency levels, like today's motor cars this can make the machines so complex it is virtually impossible to maintain them yourself. The level of sophistication has allowed manufacturers to tie in customers due to operating software used as it can only be altered by the manufacturer. However, the sophisticated diagnostic tools now in place make it possible to correct problems before damage and downtime occur.

The independent supplier was clear yes he said this is why PPM/ Terex is doing well in Africa. Companies like Fantuzzi are, he suggested, losing ground as they are limited on spares supply and back up. Also there are examples of new machines delivered to African countries that end up with a high downtime as there isn't the local expertise to maintain them.

The PO Ports engineer opined that he didn't think reach stackers are overly complicated. A terminal is likely to have quay cranes and if they have the expertise for these then a reach stacker should be no problem. In Sri Lanka he experienced Fantuzzi reach stackers and stated that both direct employees and contractors could provide the support required. The only problem was sourcing parts, he said.

What future improvements would you like to see?

Wheel loadings came up from more than one of the interviewees as an issue. "If someone can find a solution to reduce the wheel loadings, " said one party, "so they are not so unforgiving on the pavement, the manufacturer involved would have a clear market edge."

At Freightliner whilst its maintenance provider SHAD is achieving a 98 per cent availability, the problem is reported to be third party providers of warranty repairs who are only available between 09001700 and can also take 2/3 days before they are available.

On spares parts, despite some improvements in pricing there is a view they are still too expensive and that the supply of them is a separate business for most of the manufacturers. They produce their own referenced spares. Being able to match parts to those supplied by Rockwell or Volvo enables operators to achieve price reductions in many cases of more than 50%.

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