No more exhaust gases in the hall

During the course of the morning, the cargo handlers and forklift truck drivers wait at the loading dock in front of the warehouse, looking out at the rain and drinking tea. Every so often, a haulier drops off a few items. After lunch, things begin to pick up, and by late afternoon and evening, there are lorries arriving every minute. The cargo handlers load huge piles of cardboard boxes onto uniform pallets. Electric forklift trucks and pallet trucks zip around each other in what might appear to be a haphazard fashion. But it is, in fact, a highly precise operation.

The drivers lose no time at all as they manoeuvre their trucks back and forth, bringing one pallet after another to the x-ray control. From there, they enter the hall in the servicing area of Bao'an International Airport in the city of Shenzhen in southern China. These are the day-to-day operations at the International Cargo Centre Shenzhen (ICCS), a joint venture between Lufthansa Cargo and Shenzhen Airport Co. ICCS has owned twenty-four 2.5-tonne electric forklift trucks from Linde since August 2016, which have replaced the old diesel trucks of the same size.

"When we still had the diesel trucks, you could see the exhaust gases hanging in the air inside the hall."

Lin Jiepeng

Senior Operation Manager at International Cargo Centre Shenzhen

At peak times in the evenings and from Thursdays to Saturdays, all 24 electric forklift trucks are in operation simultaneously. “When we still had the diesel trucks, you could see the exhaust gases hanging in the air inside the hall,” says Lin Jiepeng, Senior Operation Manager at ICCS. “We were concerned about the health of our staff. Many people who work here are over 50.” By switching to electric forklift trucks, ICCS has managed to kill two birds with one stone, as Beate Berke, Managing Director at ICCS, explains. “We are doing something for the wellbeing of our employees as well as supporting the environmental policy of the city's government.” Shenzhen invested around €4.4 billion in a blue-sky project to control air pollution. More than 300,000 vehicles with high emissions were taken off the streets, 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 licence to operate their old diesel trucks on the area where the cargo planes wait.

The trend towards better environmental protection

“More and more companies are picking up on the trend towards better environmental protection, which is being actively promoted by the government,” says Dean Xie, Vice President of Sales & Service at Linde (China) in Xiamen. “The market is moving in the direction of electric forklift trucks and away from combustion engines.” Linde is doing very well with this in China's premium segment. In the period from January to October 2016, sales of Linde-branded electric forklift trucks in China were up by 14.3 per cent on the previous year – surpassing the 12 per cent growth rate in the market overall.

In order to offer Chinese companies on a lower budget an electric truck of Linde quality and with Linde service, KION is now launching the Linde Smart Line. In terms of the exterior design, the new red truck looks virtually the same as the premium product. Only a few things have been simplified to save costs, so that the truck can be offered at a lower price. For example, the battery can only be removed vertically and not laterally. The gear shift is simpler. The engine is missing a number of extras, and there are fewer options to choose from overall. Despite that, it is a genuine Linde truck. “The Smart Line is aimed at customers whose key criteria is value for money,” says Dean Xie. By introducing Smart Line, Linde wants to gain a foothold in the upper end of the economy segment. The Smart Line, which will be manufactured in Xiamen only from spring 2017, is to be positioned above the KION economy brand Baoli.

In the first instance, the Smart Line trucks will only be available in an electric version. At a later date, Smart Line will offer the entire range of trucks, says Xie, whereby the proportion of electric trucks, at 40 to 70 per cent, will remain high. It is entirely possible that they could also be exported to other Asian countries at some point. “There is a shift towards electric trucks in these countries as well,” says Xie.

"The market is moving in the direction of electric forklift trucks and away from combustion engines."

Dean Xie

Vice President Sales & Service at Linde MH (China)

Having electrically powered trucks is all the more important if the trucks are heavily used – as they are on busy afternoons at ICCS. “The smell in the hall is far better,” says Beate Berke. Another advantage is that the noise levels have dropped, as Lin Jiepeng explains. “During busy times, we always had to shout at each other to be understood.” On top of that, charging the batteries is less time consuming than refuelling with diesel.

ICCS is involved exclusively in the import and export business and works together with 18 airfreight carriers. The company will handle around 130,000 tonnes of freight in 2016 – an impressive increase from 93,000 tonnes in 2015. Berke anticipates further rises in 2017 as more and more aircraft are flying via Shenzhen, even though the parent company Lufthansa Cargo does not currently fly to the city. The freight hauliers 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 labels on the boxes reveal where they are going: Los Angeles, Dubai, Singapore, Sydney, Bangkok, Taipei, Amsterdam.

Before switching to electric trucks, ICCS trialled several providers. Linde offered value for money and felt instinctively right. As Berke says, “when setting everything up, we worked well together. Whenever we call, someone always comes straightaway.” The drivers received training from Linde, as the electric trucks drive differently to the diesel ones. “They had to get used to them at the beginning,” recalls Lin. Another feature that impressed the logistics manager was the “connect” fleet management system from Linde. “We used to have minor accidents from time to time, particularly during the busy times.” “connect” recognises the driving patterns of each individual driver. As Lin says, “this allows us to identify causes of accidents and to evaluate the drivers better.”

Linde also assisted ICCS in setting up the 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, Beate 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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