18 May 2017

The results are in...

Firms value their forklift trucks and know what they want from them, WM's market report reveals. But, could they be doing more to get the most out of their equipment? Adam Offord reports

Remainers rejoice! Brexit hasn’t been all doom and gloom. Yes, the Sterling exchange rate, UK export numbers and the economy have gone up and down like a yoyo, but withdrawing from our neighbours hasn’t dampened the spirit of UK manufacturers operating forklift trucks (FLTs), Works Management’s (WM’s) Market Report Survey on FLTs reveals.

Nearly a year on since the UK voted Brexit and just months since Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the formal Article 50 exit notification, the UK has been showered with positive and negative data.

But, WM can reveal that its survey of 59 manufacturing site leaders shows that only 3% say Brexit has impacted their plans to acquire trucks as an astonishing 95% say that Brexit has had no impact whatsoever on their plans and nearly 2% say Brexit has had a positive impact.

Quick, someone get the final Remain frontiers on the phone who are still hoping to put Brexit into reverse and tell them the good news. In fact, tell everyone that UK manufacturers value their factory workhorses and respect the FLT’s role in material flow from warehouse to despatch, so much so that they are willing to splash serious amounts of cash on their equipment.

FLT funding

WM’s survey shows that of 15 respondents, nearly two-thirds are willing to budget £10,000 or more per truck. And, of all 59 respondents, more than a third finance their trucks by buying second hand or new with cash reserves, while nearly 56% prefer to lease or rent their trucks.

But, what factors do UK manufacturers see as important when considering an FLT? WM’s survey reveals that cost and reliability are the top two considerations, closely followed by performance and affiliated servicing and maintenance packages.

In fact, truck supplier preventative maintenance packages are the most popular (60%), followed by truck supplier predictive maintenance packages and in-house preventative maintenance programmes.

A surprising find, however, is that one in 10 of all respondents only carry out reactive maintenance as and when it is required. And, what is even more astonishing is that nearly 85% of the 59 respondents do not use fleet management software to monitor the usage of their trucks.

Why not? Well “there is a lack of clear benefits from doing so” and the software is “not fully understood”, according to three-quarters of WM’s survey respondents. But, those that do use software to manage fleets have a clear understanding of the benefits it can bring, including ensuring pre-operational checks are adhered to, identifying driver training needs, identifying vehicle servicing and maintenance schedules, and analysing truck usage.

During a time when government, industry bodies, companies and the media are pushing the so called Fourth Industrial Revolution, is there a chance that UK firms could be left behind by competitors from both home and overseas? Would companies that use FLTs but not fleet management software benefit from some training and education?

Truck training

Remaining on the topic of education and training, the UK manufacturing sector is a highly safety conscious market, which tests and trains FLT drivers extensively, WM’s survey shows. However, the safety focus hasn’t yet extended beyond the driver to the wider site team, and crucially, management.

Nearly 80% of WM’s survey respondents say that they provide “basic training”, which covers all the skills and knowledge needed to safely operate a truck and its handling attachments. Meanwhile, 44% also provide “specific and advanced training” that is tailored to driver needs and operations of the truck, and more than half provide “familiarisation training’, which is carried out on the job, under close supervision.

Training is also backed up by 93% through a formal test of driver competency, WM’s survey reveals. And, nearly three-quarters retest drivers every two to four years, while 9% retest drivers every year.

However, more than half of respondents do not train non-drivers in the safe use of FLTs. Despite these findings, respondents say that if a shopfloor colleague witnessed a FLT driver perform an unsafe manoeuvre then a range of measures could be taken.

“An FLT near miss would be recorded and investigated,” one respondent says. Another adds: “Hazards and near-misses would be reported and followed by an investigation and refresher training.”

Some would even stop FLT operators altogether. One respondent says: “[The] operator [would be] stopped from continuing, asked why he/she thought it was safe to carry out the unsafe act, [and a] near miss report [would be] filed. [A] management decision as to retraining of operator or disciplinary action [would then be taken].”

Environmentally friendly

The eco-conscious will also be interested to hear that more than half of WM’s survey respondents state that their predominant power source for FLTs is electric. In March, Duncan Nealon, chair of the Fork Lift Truck Association, told WM that if you are working indoors then ideally electric is what you want to be running because they give off zero emissions.

This was backed up by David Goss, technical manager at the British Industrial Truck Association, who explained that electric FLTs are easy to control with low noise and vibration, However, he did warn that they are limited over outdoor and uneven terrain.

The second fuel type most popular among respondents was gas, followed by diesel, and then “other”, which included hand controlled. As explained in March, gas has a low purchasing cost and can operate both indoors and outdoors. Meanwhile, diesel is easy to refuel but can be loud and can’t be used indoors.

As has been well documented in the past, counterbalance trucks also proved to be the most popular choice among WM survey respondents (95%). Other popular choices included hand pallet trucks, powered pallet trucks, reach trucks, and narrow aisle trucks. Also in the mix was outdoor and rough terrain trucks, side loaders, and teletrucks.

Factory workhorse

Regardless of the types of trucks used, WM’s respondents agree that their FLTs are a valuable asset to improve plant productivity, material flow and reduce water, and are a factory workhorse that must deliver maximum reliability for minimum cost or fuss.

And, some even go the extra mile by naming their machines. “I’ll be back”, says one FLT called Arnie as it drives down a racking aisle to unload materials. Meanwhile, Lola, Beast, Frannie, Grumpy, and Muscles also work away for their firms.

WM’s survey clearly shows that UK manufacturers value their FLT fleets and have become accustom to the way they run their businesses. Firms prioritise cost and reliability above all else, know the crucial role an FLT has, and have a good general awareness around safety and maintenance.

But, are UK manufacturers missing a trick? Would fleet management software and a safety focus extended beyond drivers help firms to get the most out of their equipment? Could fleet management software providers be doing more? And, with an international push on the Fourth Industrial Revolution are firms at risk of being left behind? Is this a market in need of education? WM’s survey suggests yes.


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