Many companies are responding to the increasing cost of real estate by building warehouses that are taller rather than wider. And makers of lift trucks and other industrial equipment are responding by offering more electrical powered vehicles that are designed for high-density facilities that feature narrow aisles.
Why electric? Because unlike machines powered by internal combustion engines that burn gas, propane or other fuels, battery-powered equipment doesn’t create emissions, making them safer to use in indoor environments.
Many businesses have discovered that it is far more affordable and efficient to build warehouses that store products and materials on high, stackable shelves. That’s because taller warehouses produce a smaller physical footprint, which means they can be built on smaller parcels of land.
Real estate taxes, some public utilities, and many other fixed costs are calculated based on the size of the property a facility sits on.
A generation ago, when real estate was plentiful and local governments were more willing to offer tax breaks to attract new industry, building a facility on a sprawling piece of land made more sense.
But the owners of today’s warehouses and distribution centers are looking up … literally.
Reach for the Skies
Reach trucks, stacker trucks, and forklifts with taller masts are being used more frequently in these taller warehouses because they can reach the upper shelves.
The height capacity of forklift masts and other types of lift equipment can vary from 17.5 feet all the way up to 59 feet. And new types of equipment are being developed that can go even higher.
Stability Is Critical
The problem isn’t designing machines that can reach higher. The challenge engineers face is building machines that are stable when extended to these taller heights.
With high reach trucks, there are four ways to control stability. The first is outriggers. These “legs” distribute the weight of the load and reduce the center of gravity as the mast or lift is extended. Th wider the outrigger, the more stability the vehicle has and the better able it is to absorb lateral loads to prevent the truck from tipping if it leans to the right or left.
The second is the strength of the mast. Forklift masts and other lift equipment frequently use telescoping extensions that increase the length of the mast as the equipment is fully extended. But the taller the height, the higher the likelihood of twisting, swaying, side bowing, and deflection, or leaning forward.
Masts need to have strong torsional rigidity so it can reduce sway and distribute load forces more efficiently throughout the frame.
Flat Surfaces Matter
A third factor affecting stability is the flatness of the surface on which the equipment sits. For equipment like turret and swing reach trucks, a flat floor is essential because their masts and carriages don’t tilt to help compensate for any irregularity of the floor surface.
Finally, the weight of the battery powering the electric narrow-aisle vehicle acts as a counterweight for the height. But there’s often a trade-off: The bigger and heavier the battery, the bigger the width of the vehicle, which can limit where the vehicle can operate.