2017-03-01

The switch to electric: Less noise, fewer exhaust fumes

Its morning and cargo handlers and forklift operators are waiting at the loading dock in front of the warehouse, looking out at the rain and drinking tea. Every so often, a shipper drops off a few items. After lunch, things begin picking up and by late afternoon and evening, trucks are arriving every minute. The cargo handlers load huge piles of cardboard boxes onto uniform pallets. Electric forklifts and pallet trucks zip around each other in what appears to be a haphazard fashion. It is, in fact, a highly precise operation.

The operators lose no time as they manoeuvre their trucks back and forth, delivering one pallet after another to the x-ray control. From there, they head towards the hall in the servicing area at Bao'an International Airport in the city of Shenzhen in southern China. These are the daily operations at the International Cargo Centre Shenzhen (ICCS), a joint venture between Lufthansa Cargo and Shenzhen Airport. ICCS has owned 24 Linde 2.5-tonne electric forklifts since August 2016, which replaced the old diesel trucks of the same size.

"When we were still using diesel trucks, you could see the exhaust fumes hanging in the air inside the hall."


Lin Jiepeng

Senior Operations Manager, International Cargo Centre Shenzhen

At peak times in the evenings and from Thursdays to Saturdays, all 24 electric forklifts are in operation. “When we were still using diesel trucks, you could see the exhaust fumes hanging in the air inside the hall,” says Lin Jiepeng, the senior operations manager at ICCS. “We were concerned about our employees' health; Many people who work here are over 50.” By switching to electric forklifts, ICCS has managed to kill two birds with one stone, as Beate Berke, the managing director at ICCS, explains. “We are doing something for the well-being of our employees as well as supporting the environmental policy of the city's government.” Shenzhen invested around EUR 4.4 billion in a "blue sky" project to control air pollution. Over 300,000 vehicles with high emissions were taken off the streets, Around 1,300 vessels in the port switched to low sulphur fuel, and the city provided funding for the growing fleet of locally produced electric taxis. And, as Berke explains, they no longer have a license to operate their old diesel trucks in the area where the cargo planes wait.

The trend towards better environmental protection

“An increasing number of companies are picking up on the trend towards better environmental protection, which is actively promoted by the Government,” says Dean Xie, the vice president of Sales & Service at Linde (China) in Xiamen. “The market is moving in the direction of electric forklifts and away from combustion engines.” Linde is doing very well in China's premium segment. From January to October 2016, sales of Linde electric forklifts in China were up by 14.3 percent over the previous year, surpassing the 12-percent growth rate in the market overall.

To offer Chinese companies with a lower budget an electric truck of Linde quality and with Linde service, KION has launched the Linde Smart Line. In terms of the exterior design, the new red truck looks virtually the same as the premium one. Only a few aspects have been simplified to save costs so that the truck can be offered at a lower price: The battery can only be removed vertically and not laterally and the gear shift is simpler. The engine is also missing a number of extras and there are fewer options to choose from overall. Yet, it is still a genuine Linde truck. “The Smart Line is aimed at customers whose priority is value for money,” says Xie. By introducing Smart Line, Linde wants to gain a foothold in the upper end of the economy segment. The product range will be manufactured in Xiamen only beginning in Spring 2017, and will be positioned above KION economy brand, Baoli.

Smart Line trucks will initially only be available as electrics. Later on, Smart Line will offer the entire range of trucks, says Xie, with the proportion of electric trucks - at 40 to 70 percent - remaining high. It could also be that they are eventually exported to other Asian countries. “There is a shift towards electric trucks in these countries as well,” notes Xie.

"The market is moving towards electric forklifts and away from combustion engines."


Dean Xie

Vice President Sales & Service, Linde MH (China)

Having electric trucks is all the more important if the vehicles are heavily used as they are on busy afternoons at ICCS. “The smell in the hall is much better,” says Berke. Another benefit is that the noise levels have dropped, as Lin Jiepeng explains, “During busy times, we had to shout at each other to be understood.” In addition, battery charging is less time consuming than diesel refuelling.

ICCS is exclusively involved in the import and export business and cooperates with 18 airfreight carriers. The company will handle around 130,000 metric tons of freight in 2016, which is an impressive jump from 2015's 93,000 metric tons. Berke anticipates additional increases in 2017 as more and more aircraft fly via Shenzhen, even though the parent company, Lufthansa Cargo, does not currently fly to the city. The freight carriers supply goods from all over the Pearl River Delta, which is a huge urban area incorporating an industrial zone. “Among the most important items are IT equipment, electronics, LED lighting and window blinds,” says Berke. The box labels reveal where they are heading: Los Angeles, Dubai, Singapore, Sydney, Bangkok, Taipei and Amsterdam.

Before making the switch to electric trucks, ICCS trialled several providers. Linde offered value for money and felt instinctively right. As Berke says, “when weighing it all together, we worked well together. Whenever we call, someone always comes right away to have a look.” The operators received training from Linde since the electric vehicles handle differently from the diesel ones. “They needed to get used to them at first,” recalls Lin. Another feature that impressed the logistics manager was the “connect” fleet management solution from Linde. “We used to have minor incidents occasionally, particularly during busy phases.” What is really helpful is that “connect” can recognize the operating patterns of each individual operator. As Lin says, “which allows us to identify why incidents happen and to better evaluate our operators.”

Linde also assisted ICCS in setting up charging stations, which are positioned under a purpose-built roof next to the tarmac, protected from the elements. Since arriving in Shenzhen in April 2016, Berke has already experienced two typhoons. “The entire loading area had to be cleared and everything was taken inside the warehouse.” The batteries in the shelter remained intact.

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