What is our attitude toward global warming? There’s been talks about all sorts of possible future scenarios, one of which is investing in hydrogen fuel. The technology is already out there but how viable is getting the infrastructure ready?

The Ghost of Material Handling Past

This time one hundred years ago (so that would be around 1919) Towmotor, Clark and Yale & Towne, all U.S.A companies, were getting underway on a new application of the internal combustion engine. Then the most successful model was known as the Towmotor. Although I am sure Clark would be in hot contention but in those days Clarks were more aligned to precision engineering which is how they came to be involved.

We are talking about the birth of the fork truck. A machine that could, in those days, do the work of 70 men. Yes, that’s right, 70 men! These people were the founding fathers of the material handling industry we know today. The names tied up still today with those companies and the scientists and inventors who gave their lives to understanding key issues of energy, physics and spatial awareness are all inextricably linked to those companies today and were all represented at the IMHX exhibition.

clark trucktractor forklift 1917
© Clark Trucktractor Forklift 1917

In the 1950s designer called William M Shaffer worked for Towmotor, working on the first articulated forklift. It was not until Freddie Brown of Translift managed to stabilise the front articulated mast design, that the articulated forklift truck was born. This issue was left unresolved by William Shaffer, whose early patent drawings illustrated the problem. The world’s first hybrid forklift was then born capable of working in under 2m aisles, inside and out and reducing the footprint of warehousing by a staggering 50% on the counterbalance “Towmotor” original. Lansing Bagnall in the intervening period (now part of Kion, a vast group which includes Linde) was accredited with the reach truck. Konne later acquired their container handling division, an area that also interested the late William Shaffer.

William Shaffer worked for Towmotor, which was later purchased by Caterpillar, but what of the others? Well, a self-taught legend in electronics and energy source capture including photovoltaics and hydrogen fuel cells, Stanford R Ovshinsky, was very much in sight up until his death in 2012 with the power requirements and shift demands required of the test machines today. There was a number of companies fielded and I am sure only a few attendees would recognise the brands or what they actually provide for the industry. However, without their presence, you are right back to 70 men and quadrupling of warehouse space requirements because any truck without power or fuel is useless. Then there is  Lawrence W. Jones from Michigan University, a particle physicist with a wide range of work relating to the need to change our use of energy dating back to 1970s.

The Ghost of Material Handling Present

All this was going on and everyone else was happy at school studying, hoping to be the next generation to continue their good work by contributing to the next age of the human race. Change always comes at a cost, but I didn’t see any horses on any of the motorways on the way there thankfully. All the horses I need were all neatly packed under my bonnet. It’s just now a question of what we feed them and the byproducts of continuing to use them and the options we have to achieve a cleaner environment.

petrol station
Feature Image © Mahkeo

To this effect you may be interested in a document produced by three people from the U.S. government, two people from scientific laboratories and another three from world-leading oil companies in 2017. It is called “Hydrogen Production Tech Team Road Map”. What it addresses is the need for infrastructure, better understanding of clean energy systems, largely hydrogen and the time scales and prices at the pumps. Yes, I said pumps, because nobody is going to spend all night hanging round junction 25 on the M1 waiting for their car to charge up! 

The Ghost of Material Handling to come

So what they are talking about is how to make this technology viable. For example, an electric car with its “50-ton” battery can not surprisingly only do about 100 miles to the charge. Not hugely inspiring. When you look at using hydrogen fuel cells, this shoots up over 300 miles. And at 300 miles they said it would be game over for the IC engine 10 years ago!

There is a new generation of vehicles known as FCEVs or “Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles”. It will soon be tripping off the end of your tongue like it’s the new buzz word because it’s going to be one. The problem is there is no one to fuel them up and not enough fuel anyway. The infrastructure will take time to build as well. But happen, it’s going to. There was sufficient representation at IMHX to leave me in no doubt at all Greta Thunberg’s worst fears were actually being seriously dealt with before she was born because the people I mention in this article and many others dared to do it. Thankfully, and who dares wins! Science and Engineering follow where these extraordinary people go and leave a legacy for future generations.

See Also: Trading with America Post-Brexit Should Focus on Globalisation

Here are some more people and businesses who dare to be different.

At the IMHX Exhibition

My Top 3 Space Savers (In no particular order)

These are my top three choices for anyone who wants to pay less for warehousing, achieve higher pallet density, multi-task assets and save the planet.

Flexi with their unique elegant lines and clear rack. They offer precision control with their top-class engineering articulated mast. Longer lasting greener battery performance. Globally sensitive build programs. Inside and outside the warehouse.

Flexi forklift
© Flexi

Landoll Bendi, the father of the articulated Fork Truck, offers environmentally friendly solutions. It is helping to make everything it touches great again and has a long pedigree in the industry.

Landoll Bendi forklift
© Landoll Bendi

Combi Aisle-Master is engineering the future 

Combi is offering a truly “Greta” approach to solving the world’s toughest engineering problems. Green, lean and living the dream with a state of the art factory right on the front line of Brexit, Combi have the knack of the Irish to always be able to deliver a good well-engineered deal on both narrow aisle and 4-directional solutions making them a true world leader and all-round first choice in space-saving solutions for warehousing, manufacturing and logistics.

combilift trucks
© Combilift

Managing Big Asset Costs

The one thing this equipment is not fussy about is working surfaces. However, all working surfaces have to be up to the task of above-average point loads, durability and low maintenance. When I say ‘Becosan’, it is a name to remember if you expect value for money out of your working surfaces, especially from the word ‘go’. Harsh manufacturing and production environments need quality floor preparation. When I say ‘tough’, this is what I mean:

The higher the number, the greater the hardness of the floor. These finishing processes are up at 6s and 7s with no scratches on the surface finish. So as one of the most undervalued assets a business has and of the most expensive to outright, this service should be high on your list of “things to get right first time”. Enquire for more information.

With winter just round the corner, this little fork mounted device might come in handy. A salt spreader and a nice introduction to my next choice. Enquire about this salt spreader.

salt spreader

Electric Teletruck – By JCB  

jcb teletruck

This gadget has some pretty cool moves! With its hydraulic 4 fork adjustable attachment, it is punching well above its weight. It’s supporting green technology as are many trucks these days and is open to hydrogen cell versions as infrastructure develops. This machine is more compact than its big brother, the telehandler, and a good deal quicker to work with. It knocks a good few minutes off vehicle loading (hours in my case) since it can load everything from one side. The reach mechanism is a real dream if you’re fed up of being first in and last out because of those early and late arrivals on site!

Another thing, it whoops the counterbalance with its sleek aggregate bulk back handling. You don’t have to smack the trailer to put it on the right spot. It handles up to 3 tonnes and won’t fall over if you move the load centres, like its counterbalanced competitor. In fact, it’s designed with that in mind. All the great features of the big machine but none of the clumsiness in tight spaces. Verdict: another future-proofed first from JCB – loved it!

A Mat that wipes fork truck wheels. Not only is dragged in water a health and safety issue, but it is also unsightly and imports dirt into your clean workplace. With more and more pressure in clean environments, this is a practical solution to a messy problem that struck a note with me. Enquire for more information.

warehouse wheel cleaning mat

My personal favourite – Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology    

hydrogen fuel plug power
© Plug Power

The Totally “Greta” Solution

You remember I talked about FCEV technology, this is proof that it’s here, happening and available. You can swap batteries and IC engines for this device. It is a fraction of the weight of a battery and delivers a lot of shift power. It will match or improve the performance of your existing kit and there are conversions available with some manufacturers offering it as an option now. Andy Marsh, the CEO of Plug Power, comments: “Plug Power pioneered the commercial market for fuel cell technology and continues to grow it into the future, not only for our material handling clients but for on-road and even aviation – the whole logistics chain. The early adopters throughout the material handling industry saw the potential of hydrogen and quickly reaped the benefits of increased productivity, zero emissions, and a smaller warehouse footprint – freeing up space for valuable inventory.”.

An offshore wind turbine is perfectly placed to produce hydrogen from seawater when it is not providing grid power, so it makes hydrogen when there is more than enough wind and uses the hydrogen it made in the times of plenty to drive turbines or fuel cells when there is no wind. There are always tides and waves and combined systems are not impossible to engineer. As demand grows these systems will come online and prices will fall. The price of hydrogen is now affordable. It is just a question of infrastructure. Like I keep saying, we’re on it, we’re in it and we are leading the way to a better world!

For any enquires about the products above, please get in touch.

Written by Paul Casebourne.