A specialist Sydney produce handling company has taken on a fleet of 30 Linde forklift trucks to help increase its efficiency in one of Australia's toughest materials handling environments.
Sydney Markets Transport Services Pty Ltd plays a key role in the smooth handling of more than one million tonnes of fresh produce which passes through the gates of the Sydney Growers Market each year.
The successful company's business centres around unloading a majority of the semi-trailers and B-Doubles which arrive at the markets each day from 9pm to 8.30am.
Operations manager Peter Lazarus said the decision to replace its 43 well-used forklifts with 30 Linde H20 units was part of an overall efficiency drive by the family-owned company, which has also shed some unprofitable business.
"We have three direct competitors in a market segment which is basically a courier service built around forklifts," he said. "Our forklifts unload trucks and deliver the stock to wholesalers located up to 500 metres away. There can be up to 40 consignments in one truck load and there's usually another truck waiting."
Few worksites would present the opportunity for comparisons between brands that the Sydney Growers Market provides. There are more forklifts at work on the 43 hectare site than anywhere else in Australia.
"Because of my job I regularly hop on other people's forklifts, so I already had a good idea about how they all compare," Peter Lazarus said. "We were looking for an improvement in productivity and efficiency.
Linde sales executive Glenn Taylor called on the company and began a seven month dialogue addressing concerns and demonstrating how a fleet of Linde forklifts could provide a competitive advantage.
At the end of the process Peter Lazarus and his fellow Sydney Markets Transport Services decision makers came to the conclusion that they couldn't afford not to have a fleet of H20 forklifts.
"We spoke to other Linde users and the basic feedback we got was that they are fantastic," Peter said. “Pretty much every Linde operator I asked had that opinion. Some told me that even at five or six years old the Lindes were better than some new models of other brands coming on the market."
With test models provided by all the main brands, Sydney Markets Transport Services undertook an intensive comparison of the latest suitable model from each major manufacturer.
For Peter Lazarus the outcome was clear cut. "The Linde H20 was a total package," he said. "It seemed the other forklifts which we tried were built for the company - just an engine, hydraulics and a seat.
"The Linde seemed to be built for both the driver and the company, with much more thought having gone into the design of the machine. It was particularly strong on the occupational health and safety side and that's what we wanted. With other forklifts you are having to work the machine, but the Linde helps you to work.
"If the driver is comfortable, safe and happy then that's a good outcome for both parties, because productivity will also increase. We have a stable crew and we want to keep it that way.
"The feedback we have got from the operators is that they like them. We didn't have any structured lessons. We just let each operator jump on a new Linde as it arrived and over the next two or three nights get used to them. A couple of the operators were a bit hesitant - but they have got used to them pretty quickly.
"We had reduced productivity over that time, but then they were totally familiar and we're getting the benefit of the increased productivity and a drop in operator fatigue towards the end of a shift."
Growers from all over Australia and from overseas send $2 billion of fresh produce each year to the markets for sale to thousands of market buyers. Apart from the 137 wholesalers on site, there are also 400 growers who sell their produce direct to retailers and consumers.
"The markets are definitely getting busier," Peter Lazarus comments. "We have increasingly less room, so factors such as the tight turning circle and excellent visibility of the Linde are increasingly important to us," he said.
"Our forklift drivers are very good at what they do. The pace of work around here is quite high, but there are remarkably few accidents on the markets site. Because of the speed of the environment and the volume of forklift and truck traffic, everyone has their mind on the job.
"I think you'd probably see more accidents in a factory environment where the speed might be slower and the concentration of the drivers might not be so good. In the markets you just have to concentrate, but we have to provide our drivers with the best possible equipment. That's why we didn't just go looking for the cheapest forklift we could buy. We went looking for the best in every criteria."
Peter Lazarus takes very much a "hands on" approach to his operations role, but two weeks after the arrival of the first of the Linde H20s he was still coming to terms with one aspect of their performance.
"I've noticed with the Lindes that I feel like I'm not working fast enough," he said. "I'm not sure whether the Linde is just too easy to drive, or whether I'm just not used to its efficiency yet.”
Linde fuel economy has impressed Sydney Markets Transport Services from day one with the new fleet. The company tested petrol and diesel models, but opted for the LPG alternative it had previously used.
"One of our operators worked a ten-hour shift recently," Peter Lazarus said. "We know from experience that with the previous forklift he would have taken 60 litres to top up the tank at the end of the shift. With the new Linde it only took 26 litres to replace what he had used. That's the efficiency we were looking for."
Maintenance is another area where Sydney Markets Transport Services expects to benefit from its switch to Linde forklifts. Maintenance of its previous fleet was covered under the terms of the lease, but the company has elected to purchase the H20s outright and cover its own maintenance costs.
"The Linde 500 hour service intervals came out well in our comparisons," Peter Lazarus said. "At our rate of use we'll be looking at a scheduled service every three and a half to four months. We've paid more to purchase the new Linde H20s, but when you look at maintenance costs, tyre wear and fuel economy over the life of the vehicles, we'll come out well ahead.
"From our own enquiries and from speaking to other customers we think we will get the longevity we want. We don't expect the Lindes to be falling apart in five or six years - as can be the case with other brands you see around here.
"If I get an extra year out of them we will potentially save a lot of money and I am very confident that is what will happen."
Durability features built into the Linde H20 include resilient mounting of the engine to the counterweight, to dampen vibration at the source and improve operator comfort. The mast is mounted directly to the drive axle, ensuring that vibrations from handling of the load are transmitted straight to ground without ever going through the chassis.
Linde's hydrostatic transmission provides direct drive of the front wheels by the hydraulic motors, with no need for reduction gearing. This results in better efficiency, less fuel usage and substantial noise reduction.
In addition to the dramatic decrease in fuel consumption, running costs are minimised through the elimination of expensive and maintenance-dependent parts such as, the mechanical clutch, gearbox and conventional brake.
Linde manufactures an extensive range of forklifts with capacities from 1.2 to 52 tonnes. The company has a national factory-owned customer support network and operates one of the largest rental fleets in the country.