Talking Shop with… Scot Aitcheson

The vice president of Yale dealer sales for Yale Materials Handling Corp. says that changes in warehouse operations are driving lift truck design.

What are some of the developments you are seeing in lift truck design?
Scot Aitcheson: There are a couple of trends we are seeing in terms of the features and functions that warehouse operations are looking for in their lift trucks. One thing is that there is a lot more cross-docking, meaning it is essential to have reliable, more maneuverable, easy-to-operate lift trucks that function better in a high throughput environment.

Another trend we are seeing in warehousing is the need for equipment that can handle taller/heavier loads to all storage levels. In the past, a typical warehouse design placed heavy loads at low levels and light loads at the highest levels, but warehouse managers are no longer tied to that configuration. Voice directed or WMS systems now direct operators to pick or put any load in any open spot. The challenge lift truck manufactures have is to provide equipment that meets these needs without increasing the physical size of the lift trucks.

Ergonomics is also becoming increasingly important as we are seeing less turnover of lift truck operators. There has been a change in the demographics of the people doing this job and they are staying for a longer period of time and depending on these trucks for their livelihood. The ergo-fitness of lift trucks is a top concern in terms of design.

Sustainability is an important concern for grocers. How does the choice of lift trucks and providers factor into retailers’ green initiatives?
I encourage retailers to look beyond the impact of operating the lift truck or other equipment when evaluating sustainability. They should also look into the manufacturing process. The real question is whether the goal is to have equipment that is green in terms of operation or is the objective to reduce the retailer’s overall carbon footprint.
There may be options that are better for the environment in terms of operation but the manufacturing process causes significant harm. It is a matter of what fits into the retailer’s sustainability plans.

What support does Yale offer in the way of training and safety?
Our program, Yale Operator Training: The Key to Productivity, is designed to increase safety, motivation and productivity. The program helps to protect personnel, loads and equipment. This satisfies OSHA requirements, which is important, but it also goes beyond those needs.

The program reflects Industry Truck Association recommendations and incorporates modern training methods and many suggestions by trainers and safety directors.

In addition, our operator training program can be tailored to the needs of individual organizations.

With such a range of options—electric, gas, LP-gas and diesel powered lift trucks, narrow aisle, very narrow aisle and motorized hand trucks—how does a grocer make the best choice for their particular needs?
Each of these options has appropriate applications. With all lift trucks there are tradeoffs. As an example, narrow aisle (NA) and very narrow aisle (VNA) equipment satisfies the need for high density environments but, because of the specific nature of NA and VNA equipment, there is always a need for general use equipment such as three- and four-wheel electric and internal combustion trucks.

As a manufacturer, it is our job to come up with the right mix of equipment for each facility. We ask customers what are the things that keep them up at night and devise a strategy to address those concerns.

Ultimately, retailers need the right equipment in their warehouses, as they cannot afford to have product sitting there for a period of time. They are not making money on product that is sitting in the distribution center.

Yale offers a fleet management option. What is the advantage to supermarket operators?
The fleet management option is especially important for supermarkets. Many have limited equipment at the store and often it has to be used at critical moments when there is a delivery that needs to be off-loaded right away. If there is a delivery early in the morning and the lift truck or pallet jack isn’t working, they need someone to call right now.

At another level, supermarkets are focused on how to control damage to product and damage to equipment. Regular maintenance and high-functioning equipment can help ensure uptime.

What can grocers expect from lift trucks going forward?
Looking to the future, there will be further efforts to tie in lift trucks and other equipment to warehouse management systems to make the entire operation as robust and foolproof as possible.

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