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Understanding user needs

Published:  08 December, 2015

Operating 24/7, all year round in often challenging environments, offshore operations have surprisingly complex materials handling requirements. Joe Moir, regional sales director for Briggs Equipment’s offshore branch in Aberdeen, takes a look at these tough applications and different approaches to equipment procurement, servicing and breakdown.

Forklifts used on oil rigs may not necessarily be required to move especially heavy loads or to lift to great heights, yet the operating environment – and its potential impact on truck performance and safety – is key to achieving an effective materials handling solution. When it comes to determining the core equipment specification however, this is often overlooked.

Some companies handle procurement themselves and include all relevant details pertaining to the application, the remote location, the conditions in which trucks will operate and the power supply, but others are less explicit. Some outsource procurement to third parties, which may be unaware of the importance of such factors.

Working with both offshore and land-based oil and gas companies, Briggs Equipment asks for this information at the procurement stage and insists on having direct contact with engineers working on the rigs to determine the full specification needs. Safety is the most important aspect, and this is why Briggs works closely with customers to understand the application. Only by identifying all key details through a proper engineering process can it deliver a solution that will satisfy the customer’s specific materials handling requirements.

Operating in hazardous environments

Oil rigs, refineries and chemical processing plants can incorporate hazardous areas, or zones, where flammable liquids, gases, vapours, or dusts are present, and such an environment is anything but typical.

In Zone 2 locations the gas or vapour exists only if there has been a leak or processing incident, while in Zone 1 areas it typically occurs under normal operating conditions. In such circumstances materials handling equipment will require extra protection, such as flame-proofing, to ensure there is no risk of an explosion due to arcing contacts or high truck surface temperatures.

Trucks might also come into contact with chemicals used in certain processes, and of course, they have to contend with the effects of working out at sea. As a consequence, forklifts may need special paint that can withstand this kind of corrosive environment. Gaters are often required to protect chrome cylinders and minimise damage, as the conditions would otherwise reduce the effective working life of the truck. Steel pipes are standard specification, but for trucks in use offshore, these may need to be replaced with stainless steel equivalents.

Some customers may think that standard trucks will be sufficient for their needs. However, this perception begins to change significantly when you get to the heart of the application and really understand the challenge this equipment faces. Although the initial investment will be higher, typically by 50% after truck customisation, the right specification provides the reliability that is so vital to offshore businesses, especially for health and safety compliance.

It is equally important to understand the nature of the power supply on platforms involved in drilling rigs and extracting, processing and storing oil and natural gas. Unlike the three-phase power supply commonly in use in industrial applications, an uninterruptible power supply is mandatory on oil rigs because it is essential – for the safety of the rig as well as all neighbouring shipping and aircraft – that the signal lighting is operational at all times. Suppliers must therefore be made aware when rigs have a specialised, bespoke charger of between 450v-480v, to ensure appropriate equipment and battery chargers are provided.

Forklift trucks may be transported on container ships to anywhere in the world, from Aberdeen to Ghana. Materials handling providers need to check there is adequate lifting equipment on board to move the trucks on and off ships and should plan any special packing requirements. Rigs typically expect to get 10-15 years out of their fleet, but trucks will not necessarily be based permanently in one location. Shipping is therefore a key consideration, especially if trucks are likely to be moved from rig to rig.

Maintenance and support

All trucks require service and maintenance - offshore industries want equipment that comes with a proven track record of performance and reliability, safe in the knowledge that it has the capability to stand up to challenging conditions for 10-15 years. They also need to be confident that their chosen provider can deliver the necessary level of technical assistance, maintenance and spare parts support, because dealing with a forklift breakdown on an oil rig is quite different to carrying out routine repairs.

The right truck for the job

Equipment in use offshore will, on average, put in a standard working week of 10-20 hours and in general electric trucks are preferred because they can operate indoors and outside and are compact, convenient and safe. With a capacity of up to 5.5 tonnes, they are more than capable of satisfying a rig’s general materials handling needs.

Trucks usually work on the deck, moving palletised drums of potentially hazardous materials used in the oil production process. They are rarely used in a warehouse environment, although some platforms rigs incorporate a small warehouse facility for handling supplies coming on to the rig and transporting waste off it.


Truck operators that work offshore are often skilled people such as engineers, often trained in HazMat (hazardous materials and items). They are not employed solely to drive forklifts, but are multi-skilled and bring a wealth of experience to their role. Their tasks and responsibilities will vary from business to business but, on average, lift trucks will work between 1,000 to 2,000 hours a year.

What’s important for offshore companies is that they work with strategic partners who understand their application and unique challenges. This is vital to achieving a cost-effective materials handling solution. And, with rigs located hundreds of miles out at sea, the capacity of breakdown and engineer support will also play an important part in the choice of materials handling partner.

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