Electrified forklifts go big

  • 02-Nov-2017 10:59 EDT
FR-E (1).jpg

The Hoist Liftruck FR-E series is a battery-electric version of its FR extendable counterweight liftrucks. The FR-E is provided as a complete ICE alternative solution that includes two batteries, a 3-phase stand-alone charger for deep cycle charging, as well as an onboard single-phase charger for opportunity charging. (image: Hoist Liftruck)

Early in 2018, Hoist Liftruck Manufacturing will begin delivery of what it terms the “Next Generation of Hoist Electric Vehicles.” These include its TE-Series, PE-Series, Neptune Electric Series and FR-E Series, all battery-electric versions of existing diesel-powered forklift and terminal trucks. While electrified forklift trucks have always been more than a fad, this latest development by the company is interesting because of the mix of motivations. They meet new regulations while growing more cost-effective for higher-end applications.

“We are especially excited about rolling out the PE-Series,” said Stu Jacover, Vice President, Strategy and Development for Hoist Liftruck. The P and PE series use pneumatic tires. The heaviest lift in the P-Series lifts up to 125,000 lb (56,700 kg). The heaviest PE-Series battery-electric lift hauls up to 36,000 lb (16,330 kg), often used in port, lumber and oil and gas applications. The PE-Series will meet the Zero Emissions regulations that certain ports have mandated to be phased in by 2020, notably the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“They are looking for just these kinds of solutions,” said Jacover.

Lower TCO

These new electric vehicles are more than just regulatory compliant. “They exhibit phenomenal performance," Jacover said. “You are not sacrificing performance because electric motors give full torque right from zero rpm. That is especially important in the forklift world.”

The other and perhaps more important quality is this latest line of electric forklifts have lower total cost of ownership (TCO) compared to mainstay internal-combustion engine (ICE) powered forklifts. He attributes this to the inherent simplicity of batteries and motors.

“There is no engine, starter and transmission with all of those moving parts that need to be serviced and eventually replaced,” he explained. “Electric systems are not only cleaner, they are quieter and simpler to maintain.”

Maintenance is especially important in meeting the Tier 4 Final regulations in applications beyond port freight moving. “In 2018, many people will be converting over to meet Tier 4 Final, depending on their credits. That transition from Tier 3 to Tier 4 Final really opened our eyes to the ongoing maintenance expense of Tier 4 Final diesel engines versus an electric-powered option,” he said. “Customers are more readily accepting an electric version now because it is more cost-effective than the Tier 4 Final internal-combustion alternatives.”

Lead-acid initially

Often, contributing to that lower cost is cheaper electricity, especially if operators have access to off-peak or industrial rates. This is usually offset, however, by the higher cost of batteries, especially when considering new technologies like lithium-ion. Li-ion offers many benefits, but is currently significantly more expensive than traditional technologies.

“That was the same when fast-charge batteries were introduced; they were initially very expensive and they have come down to the point where they now often make sense,” Jacover said.

Hoist, on the other hand, has contained that cost by using an old mainstay—lead-acid batteries or their fast-charge variant as an option. “These forklifts will initially use lead-acid batteries. That is driven by price and availability,” he said. “At the end of the day, we are power neutral so we recommend what is the most cost-effective and efficient for our customers.”

Currently, Hoist offers customers the choice of either lead-acid or fast charge in its offerings. "They are efficient, they work, they are priced right,” he said, while acknowledging that Li-ion will—eventually—be the future.

Beyond forklifts

“Small forklift trucks have been electrified for years,” agreed Jason Gies, Director of Business Development for AxleTech International. “The larger forklifts have been tough to develop because the batteries did not offer the range. Now, both battery technology and motor developments can meet the value proposition needed as a total package,” he explained.

AxleTech is a partner with Hoist in its electrified forklift developments, both as a sole supplier and development partner. The company supplies the integrated axles with electric motors used by Hoist. Gies sees the development of these heavy electrified axles as a beachhead into other markets, especially in off-highway for European customers.

“If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said this electrification thing was a niche,” he said. “I think at this point, we are beyond the early adopters and into mainstream customers. The future is beyond forklifts into certain kinds of trucks, buses and off-highway equipment.”

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