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Walk this way for safe handling

08 June 2020

When a major part of your business involves materials handling it's vital to choose the right equipment for the job to minimise potential hazards and to ensure productive procedures, writes Martin McVicar, CEO and Co-founder of Combilift

There is now an almost bewildering choice of products on the market for handling loads which range from lightweight packs of products, pallets, long and bulky materials up to containers and extremely heavy and out of gauge consignments. Forklift trucks tend to be regarded as the main alternative to manual handling, which has naturally fallen out of favour over the years due to the strain and potential injuries these methods posed for the workforce. In many industry sectors however, there has recently been a marked shift away from ride-on forklifts towards pedestrian operated “walk behind” machines.

equipment that reduces risks to the workforce is welcomed

These types of trucks were once only considered suitable for handling light loads or pallets and seen as less efficient than ride-on trucks due to the speed of operation, but times have changed. “Slower” has come to be synonymous with “safer” and as there is still an average of 1,500 injury accidents involving forklifts every year in the UK, any equipment that reduces risks to the workforce is welcomed.

Technological developments and the increased lift capacities of pedestrian machines such as stackers and powered pallet trucks are reasons for their growing popularity, but the overriding one is the improved safety they offer. As pedestrian equipment is operated at slower speeds than ride-on forklifts, usually a maximum of 4km/h, it has much less potential for causing accidents.

Operators working at ground level are more aware of their surroundings compared to when they are sitting in a raised cab, which enhances safety for everyone on site. This is particularly advantageous when goods are being moved around areas where other personnel are in the vicinity such as in busy manufacturing or production plants. Operators also have good all round visibility of the loads, the forks and storage facilities such as racking, which reduces the risk of product damage. It is also quicker and more economical to train operators to use these as they do not need to have accredited ride-on forklift training.

Although at Combilift we initially made our name with ride-on forklifts and continue to sell large volumes of these, such as our multidirectional models and narrow aisle articulated forklifts, we are committed to offering a wide range of handling solutions according to market requirements and customer feedback. When we spotted the emerging trend towards pedestrian tucks we set out to provide more innovative solutions to those that were already on the market.

Multi-position tiller arm

One feature that is incorporated in all our pedestrian models is the unique, patented multi-position tiller arm which has made a major contribution to the performance and safety benefits of these products. The tiller can be turned to the left or right of the truck and enables push button rotation of the rear wheel parallel to the chassis and back again. It allows the operator to remain in the safest possible position when working in narrow aisles - at the side of the truck rather than at the rear. This substantially reduces any risk of the operator being crushed or trapped between the truck and the racking. It also enables operation in very narrow aisles to enable cost effective and efficient use of space, which is a valuable commodity.

Our first high capacity powered pallet truck – the Combi-PPT – was developed following collaboration with Cummins UK. The company wanted an alternative to forklifts which could also work in restricted areas at its Daventry plant, thereby ensuring the safe movement of assembled engine units weighing 16t, from production to the testing and despatch areas.

For a truck that can offer such a high lift capacity and overall performance it is surprisingly compact and effortless to operate (thanks to power steering, dual rear-wheel drive and AC motor technology). The traction module and the length of the lifting platform were customised for Cummins’ specific loads, enabling the engines and other large loads to be moved around without the need for “redundant” areas to be set aside for manouevering as would be the case with other heavy duty equipment. More space can therefore be given over to storage for increased productivity and cost benefits. Following the success of this initial model, we started serial production and Combi-PPTs are now available with lift capacities from 3t upwards.

We also supply counterbalance and reach style stackers, as well as multidirectional ones, which can handle long products and palletised loads. Applications for these models are many and varied and there is no “typical” user as such; we have customers in the manufacturing, pharmaceutical, timber, metals, food and beverage sectors to name but a few. Some have moved over totally to “foot power”, others use a combination of ride-on and pedestrian trucks depending on the areas in which they operate and the loads they handle. But I would advise that if and when you are planning a rethink of handling procedures, you request a demo of a pedestrian model – you may be pleasantly surprised at the benefits it can offer.