A veritable wave of hype has swept through the car industry in the wake of the Tesla. Logistics experts, however, can only raise a weary smile about this development because electrically powered industrial trucks have long been a reality in their sector. In fact, at WOMH 2016, Linde has presented a new generation of battery-driven vehicles. In the Power Systems section I had the opportunity to talk with specialists who explained the lithium-ion technology.
Compared to conventional wet-cell technologies, lithium-ion batteries offer several striking advantages. The main argument in their favour is the charging technology. While lead-acid batteries require “some employees to go to work especially on weekends to exchange and charge the batteries” – according to Christoph Englert, product manager for electric forklifts – that is no longer necessary with the new technology. The trucks can be charged at any time and in a significantly shorter period; charging can even be done for short periods in-between. Time-consuming battery changes become a thing of the past. In addition, there is no longer any need for a special charging room with an appropriate ventilation system. Space is expensive, and this cost can now be saved.
One thing became very clear during WOMH: customers and dealers unanimously agreed that sooner or later lead-acid batteries will be replaced by more modern lithium-ion ones. And at Linde, following the new technology’s successful entry into the warehouse technology sector, it is now also being introduced in counterbalance lift trucks.
However, Linde has also undertaken a great deal of development work in the fields of battery management and safety. Its employees were proud to be able to emphasise just how many safety features have been integrated – ranging from protection against overcharging and overheating to deep discharge protection.
Let’s look at another example of what the technology offers: when a truck rolls down a slope, it switches over to energy recovery. In other words, the battery is charged. However, if the charge level is already at 100%, the battery would be overcharged and suffer damage as a result. The engineers have integrated overcharge protection to prevent that, explains Christoph Englert. Metal strips have been built in the battery housing that absorb surplus energy and then dissipate it as heat energy when there is a danger of overcharging.
Linde has even patented this system. The company also came up with a new idea for preventing deep discharge. When the battery charge falls to 10%, the vehicle is limited to creep velocity. And at 2% charge the forklift is completely switched off to be able to move the truck to the next charging station in standby mode. After all, pushing just isn’t possible.
Let’s look at safety. Everyone has heard of the exploding batteries that have blown up in the faces of mobile phone users. The batteries in hoverboards from the Far East are also said to frequently go up in smoke. As already mentioned, Linde has built in a number of ingenious features to prevent the battery coming to harm. But what happens in a crash? Won’t the battery explode? I hope you will still be able to see the crash-test video that was shown to visitors at WOMH. An 8-tonne IC forklift smashes into an electric lift truck at 20 km/h with the fork arm in front going straight into the side. And what happens? Nothing! Because the battery is encased in centimetres-thick steel (2.5 cm!), the battery cell is at most slight dented, but definitely not pierced. And that is probably what we would expect of a Linde forklift – it has to be robust and safe.
While Tesla is still scoring points for developing early demand for electric vehicles, the second generation of electric forklifts is already entering warehouses.
World of Material Handling 2016 got off to a successful start and is now offering an expected 6,000 visitors from all over the world an abundance of information about the latest challenges in intralogistics. Linde Material Handling has recognised four major trends here – Automation, Connectivity, Individualisation and Power Systems – which will be presented in detail during the fair under the motto “linked perspectives”. How did Linde discover them? The answer is almost too simple to be true: close customer relations!
Close customer relations – an empty phrase?
I’ve really noticed it in all my discussions with the employees I’ve met so far during the event. They fill the idea of close customer relations with life in a way I’ve never experienced before with other firms. Many companies make pronouncements about their closeness to customers in their brochures, but how many of them actually live this idea? If all firms were like that, there would be far fewer bad products and less poor service. Without close customer relations, a company cannot realise good products or keep up with the times and its customers. It is therefore no coincidence that I have heard more than once in discussions with visitors that “Linde is the authority when it comes to forklifts!” This should be understood as an honour, an acknowledgement of the attention to detail and high quality standards shown in realising products and services. People abroad probably describe this as “made in Germany”.
Andreas Krinninger on close customer relations
Andreas Krinninger (CEO Linde Material Handling) explicitly acknowledged these close customer relations when he welcomed a large number of visitors with the words: “Supporting our customers in optimising their material handling performance is our key priority! Our target is to be the company that best understands our customers’ material handling challenges and performance improvement opportunities.”
He said the following about the four trends – Automation, Connectivity, Individualisation and Power Systems: “These four trends suggest a high growth momentum for the intralogistics sector. The four trends will largely determine the further development of our offering. We need a broad-based approach to help our customers optimise their ever more complex process chains.”
What do the four trends mean in concrete terms?
Christophe Lautray, Linde Material Handling’s Chief Sales Officer, outlined them in greater detail for visitors. Let us sum up what he said here:
The key to increasing efficiency is no longer only the vehicle itself, but its integration in processes. Based on an increasing number of sensors and communication systems, the world of intralogistics is increasingly becoming an interconnected operations system. You could even regard it as a kind of operating system. No matter which machine is being operated or which software is being used, the operating system ensures all the components are connected.
The steadily growing range of autonomous industrial trucks capable of driving and lifting without an operator is accompanied by a clear paradigm shift: the boundaries between manual and fully automatic operation are becoming increasingly fuzzy. What’s more, the concept of the “smart factory” already indicates where things are heading. Automated vehicles communicate not only with WMS and ERP systems, but also with other devices, roller conveyors and gates as well as machines and equipment.
Ultimately, dwindling resources, stricter emissions regulations and higher sustainability and efficiency standards are leading to the introduction of alternative power systems. Today, customers like BMW are already relying on vehicles powered by fuel cells or lithium-ion batteries to put the principle of sustainability into practice throughout the production process. More and more customers are asking about alternatives to lead-acid batteries. A significant proportion of vehicles will use lithium-ion technology in the foreseeable future.
The growing e-commerce market is resulting in a steady decrease in batch sizes while simultaneously bringing about a fundamental change in the requirements for order picking and product handling. As a result, there is increasing demand for larger numbers of models, options and custom manufactured products to be able to keep up with competitors while simultaneously increasing efficiency, improving safety and reducing costs.
What comes next?
So now we know the four major trends. But what do they mean in practice? So much for the theory. Next, during the event, I will illustrate all four areas with practical examples and applications, and also interview fair visitors – customers, experts and partners – to make this as lively and concrete as possible.
Under the motto “linked perspectives”, the World of Material Handling is focusing on the related key topics: Automation, Individualisation, Connectivity and Power Systems. Each of these four areas is examined in detail in the exhibition, in workshops and in product presentations. Here we outline in brief the individual topics you can expect to be covered.
The forward-looking Power Systems section focuses on questions relating to lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells. Visitors can learn more about the potential and advantages of these modern, sustainable propulsion technologies, which will experience a substantial increase in use over coming years. It is therefore all the more important to find out about them as early as possible.
In addition, information is provided about possible options for battery capacities and a comparative frame of reference is presented for lead-acid batteries. Charge management and charging times are discussed, as well as important safety aspects. Linde’s very high safety standards are clearly demonstrated in an impressive crash-test video. You can discover how the battery management system communicates with the vehicle and what special advantages this offers when charge levels are low.
Of course, before and after workshops visitors receive the opportunity to ask experts detailed questions to find out more about specific issues that interest them. In following Daily Report articles we will take a closer look at individual products and innovations as well as fundamental questions.
Other workshops on key topics cover: Individualisation, Automation and Connectivity.