Looking back

The history of the forklift truck in ten pictures

The KION Group celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2016, which gives us cause to look back. Not only at the past ten years, but also at how the forklift truck and intralogistics have evolved over the decades.

2016-12-20

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Did you know, for example, that the Euro-pallet revolutionized warehouse work, that forklifts drivers didn't always enjoy unobscured views, and that the forklifts of the future won't even need a driver? Here are ten pictures that tell the story of the forklift truck.

1. Before the forklift (start of the 20th century)

Hand trucks and pulleys. In the beginning, muscle power was always used to move goods and materials in warehouses and factories. It took until the 1920s for the first trucks with a loading platform to arrive on the scene. They quickly caught on. A powered lift tractor with a platform at the front is widely considered to be the precursor of the forklift. It was developed in 1917. However, it has little in common with today's forklifts. Important components such as the mast were still missing. In the same year the Baker brand, which would later be taken over by Linde, developed a truck that used a pulley to lift and transport loads.

Picture source: hhla.de / hamburger-fotoarchiv.de

2. The first pallet stackers (1920s)

1926: The French manufacturer Fenwick unveils a 'truck with lifting platform' – the first pallet stacker. In its marketing Fenwick said that the truck solved countless problems in the transport of materials and was suitable for loading heavy-goods vehicles, trains, and warehouse racking. To this day, Fenwick is a pioneer in warehouse technology. Its Châtellerault plant is the KION Group's biggest European site for the development of warehouse technology products.

3. STILL puts its faith in electric drives (1940s)

1946: STILL launches the EK 2000, an electric trolley with a load capacity of two tonnes – marking the entry of STILL into the industrial trucks business. Several years later (1951) the Italian company OM brings out its first truck powered by an internal combustion engine.

4. Linde develops the hydrostatic drive (1950s)

The Hydrocar becomes the first production vehicle to be powered by a hydrostatic drive. It is used as a nimble transporter in industry and commerce. It is followed several years later by the Hubtrac, the first forklift truck with a hydrostatic drive. Because it used oil pressure to convert the power of the drive engine into a rotational movement, the truck offers smooth driving, simple and precise handling, reduced wear, and a high level of safety right from the start. From 1985 to 2002 Linde's E20 to E35-series forklift trucks, with their enhanced and more compact hydrostatic drive, were the best-selling trucks in Europe.

5. The Euro-pallet revolutionizes logistics (1960s)

1960s: Several European railways sign an agreement about a standardized pallet type, the Euro-pallet. The European transport industry was revolutionized at a single stroke. Forklift trucks and Euro-pallets were the perfect match in the logistics sector. Because the Euro-pallet is four-way, a forklift truck can pick it up from any side. When loading and unloading, it takes workers only around a tenth of the time that was previously needed. Interestingly, the pallet is one of the few everyday objects that looks exactly the same today as it did when it was first invented 50 years ago.

Picture source: photo 5000/fotolia.com

6. Side-access battery replacement (1970s)

Replacing a battery was for a long time a very complex undertaking. Sometimes a crane was even required to replace the heavy batteries, which also serve as a counterweight in trucks. In the 1970s STILL brought an electric forklift truck to market, the R9, whose battery casing could be opened from the side. The preceding models, however, date back as far as the 1950s. The replacement process was not only simpler but also resulted in increased uptime and improved health and safety. Side-access battery replacement remains a hallmark of STILL trucks, including in the modern generation of RX20 electric forklift trucks.

7. Freeing up the driver's view (1970s)

Sometimes it is the seemingly small ideas that cause a revolution. STILL's 'free view lift mast' is one of them. Previously, forklifts offered only restricted visibility, as functionality was considered more important than what the driver could see. This innovation made forklift trucks much safer and easier to operate. It is one example of the many innovations that the brand companies of the KION Group have delivered over the past decades. The Linde Roadster, for example, has recently improved upward visibility with its design without A-pillar and the transparent cab roof, which means it also has the potential to be used in airports.

8. Innovative drive technologies (2000s)

Energy from hydrogen: In the year 2000 Linde unveiled the very first prototype for a fuel cell forklift at CeMAT. Three years later the first STILL truck fitted with a fuel cell was driven at Munich airport as a prototype. The premium brand companies of the KION Group were showing that they had a sharp eye for future trends. Today, entire fleets of fuel-cell-powered forklifts are operating in warehouses. The KION Group's brand companies are also at the cutting edge when it comes to other drive technologies, including diesel-electric hybrid drives and lithium-ion batteries.

9. The forklift becomes autonomous (present day)

Forklift trucks are learning how to communicate with each other and even how to operate autonomously: Modern trucks are fitted with sensors and electronics that deliver a constant stream of data to fleet management systems such as Linde connect:. Some trucks don't even need a driver. Linde now has forklifts that can navigate by themselves, and STILL's iGo neo order picker automatically follows its operator. STILL has also unveiled the cubeXX concept vehicle, a six-in-one industrial truck that changes form depending on the task at hand.

10. The future: Intralogistics 4.0

The truck becomes part of a greater whole: Because of the ever increasing flow of goods and the advance of digitalization it is becoming increasingly important for forklift trucks and other vehicles, machines, and employees to be able to communicate with each other. In Germany this is called Industry 4.0, or in our case, Intralogistics 4.0. The brand companies of the KION Group are researching and developing end-to-end system solutions for automated and networked warehouses. Brands such as Dematic and Egemin are pioneers when it comes to automating and networking entire warehouse systems.