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Handle with care

Published:  08 December, 2015

Efficient materials handling is a crucial aspect of any operation, and when it works well it ensures the seamless supply of materials to production lines, the efficient storage of both incoming goods and finished product and the prompt despatch of deliveries to customers. Manual handling is pretty much a thing of the past due to ever more stringent safety regulations, with mechanical handling equipment, particularly forklift trucks, being the preferred alternative. ODEE reports.

But which type of forklift to choose? What capabilities should it have? Do you need one primarily for inside work or for offloading and transporting goods around a yard? How do you ensure that your investment is justified in terms of payback and a proven increase in efficiency? Other key issues are ROI (Return on Investment), safety, dependable and long life operation, easy provision of spare parts and low maintenance.

Many of the products stored, maintained and handled for the offshore sector, such as pipes and tools, are exceptionally long and heavy and therefore awkward and dangerous to handle with conventional forklifts such as counterbalance, reach trucks or sideloaders. Even when a combination of the two are used, safe operations are compromised by having to swap loads around, and large areas of potentially valuable space needs to be set aside for manoevering.

When Irish specialist forklift manufacturer Combilift launched its first 4-way C4000 truck in 1998, the offshore sector was one of the first to recognise the benefits of these versatile machines to cope with its extreme loads. As well as guaranteeing safe, sideways low level transportation of loads, the Combilift’s multidirectional manoeuvrability enables vast savings to be made on storage space. Following initial sales to FMC in Norway, other early customers included Baker Hughes, Halliburton, Schlumberger and National Oilwell. Many more have since followed in some of the 75+ countries around the world where Combilifts are sold.

The 5 tonne capacity C5000XL model is a popular choice for handling strings and tools due to its high ground clearance for working on less than ideal terrain and as Combilift has continued to add many more models to its range the scope of applications has also widened accordingly: the small pedestrian, multidirectional WR4 reach stacker with a 1.5t capacity can move pipes around in confined spaces; the Aisle-Master articulated truck is ideal for handling pallets of components in the stores and the Combi-SC straddle carrier model (up to 80t capacity) handles “Christmas tree” assemblies of valves, spools, and fittings.

Combilift’s MD Martin McVicar, co-founder of the company explains some of the advantages of the company’s range: “We can help operations of any size to ‘do more with less’ as our customised products replace other types of forklifts. We have deliberately designed the Combilifts to be robust with a minimum of over sensitive electronic parts so that they can clock up thousands of hours before they need refurbishing or replacing. We also use easily available standard components from major suppliers, making maintenance procedures very straightforward in whatever global region a Combilift is operating.”

Case study

Draka is a brand of the Prysmian Group and its facility in Aberdeen supplies oil rigs and drilling platforms with a wide range of power, telecommunications, instrumentation and control cabling, and specialises in providing custom cut lengths from a little as a few metres up to 20,000m reels.

By replacing its old counterbalance forklift and reach truck with a 4-way Combilift and an articulated Aisle-Master forklift Draka has been able to double storage capacity in its premises and avoid the need for costly and disruptive relocation. Business unit manager Graham Ross commented: “We were nearing saturation point and had considered moving, but after talking to Nick McCrea at Gray Forklift Services we realised that there was a far more convenient option of staying put if we re-evaluated the performance of our materials handling equipment.”

Combilift design engineers at the HQ in Ireland provided warehouse layouts illustrating the space savings that could be achieved and demos of the two trucks showed that their ability to work both inside and out would offer a much higher level of versatility compared to the old system where each forklift had a very defined and limited area of operation: counterbalance for the yard and reach truck inside.

The Aisle-Master’s ability to work in much tighter aisles than reach trucks enabled aisle widths to be reduced and extra storage bays were added to accommodate over 700 reels – double the previous number. The increased storage density in the warehouse has also enabled more products to be kept undercover, providing better security for the most valuable cables. Aisle-Master was also a much more cost effective option than going down the traditional VNA route which requires guidance systems and very flat floors.

The reels that are offloaded, stored and despatched from Draka’s facility differ greatly in size and weight – from around 100kg up to 3t. The combination of the 2.5t electric Aisle-Master and the heavier duty 4-way Combilift C5000XL diesel model ensures that all products can be handled easily and quickly, in the yard and within the racking. The Combilift was supplied with a slightly longer than standard platform (1500mm) to accord to the sizes of reels and its extended load centre enables the heaviest drums to be lifted securely to the top beam height of 5.6m when it works in the wider aisle by the doorway. “A counterbalance truck capable of doing this would have to have a good 6 or 7t capacity,” said Graham, “and the room needed for manoevering would have a severe impact on space availability.”

Operators also benefit from a number of features which reduce manual strain and make the working environment more comfortable. The Aisle-Master has hydraulically operated fork positioners that can be controlled from within the cab to easily adjust the fork widths to the varying diameters the reels. The enclosed cab on the Combilift also protects them from the elements – which can be harsh indeed in Aberdeen. In addition its multi-directional capability allows it to get very close to the cutting machine. “Our operators have enough manual handling to do during the custom cutting operation, so anything we can do to reduce this is an advantage,” said Graham.

Both trucks are on a contract hire agreement with Gray Forklift Services, with whom Draka have had a 10 year relationship. “We very much value the advice and service that Grays have given us,” said Graham. “In this instance they have enabled us to remain on this site whilst improving operational efficiency and creating more storage space. Reconfiguring and installing the new racking took just a few days so disruption was kept to a minimum. The new forklifts have proved to be reliable workhorses that do just what we need, all day long.”

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