2020-08-11

Refurbished to serve again

Used forklifts often show the many years of hard work they have put in for a customer. Yet, they still have much to offer. KION brand Linde MH EMEA has thus been expanding its reconditioning center for used industrial trucks in Czech Republic. The mission: to breathe new life into the aging vehicles. Meanwhile, KION brand STILL EMEA also has several refurbishment centers contributing to the sustainability strategy within the entire group.

He looks like an astronaut, the man in the protective suit who is sandblasting massive metal parts. The tiny metal balls, smaller than the head of a pin, shoot through the air, requiring the suit to be worn to get the job done. The air in the blast room is warm, dusty and smells of hot metal. In less than ten minutes he has completed the job and steps out. There are no traces of dirt, rust or the red paint on the chassis of the Linde H30 truck. It has been stripped naked – now just silver in color. What happens next is pretty straightforward.

Josef Slimáček is the facility manager at Linde Material Handling’s used forklift reconditioning facility, which opened back in 2017 in Velké Bílovice in southern Czech Republic, not far from the shared border with Austria and Slovakia. He stood and observed his colleague in the blast room through a small window. "These forklifts still have a lot of life left in them," he says with certainty. "We have 70 colleagues working in two shifts to make candidates like this one ready to have a second life. We have just expanded our processing center from 4,400 sq. meters to 6,700 (roughly 72,000 sq. ft). We can now reprocess up to 2,000 units a year, which is about 48 percent more than before."

Almost all of the vehicles that are reconditioned in Velké Bílovice are returns from Linde's long- and short-term rental fleets. Just a short while ago, the Linde H30 truck was in use in neighboring Austria. In Vienna, it helped a beverage manufacturer load pallets of beverage crates onto delivery trucks. The signs of wear and tear were clearly visible: numerous dents, worn tires, rusted grooves and paint scratches. The Viennese truck was brought “home” to Velké Bilovice to be treated. "Our specially trained colleagues then performed a thorough inspection," explains Slimáček. "We determined the truck’s weak points, the condition of the engine and battery and the spare parts we needed to order for it. We only use long-life original Linde spare parts." After a thorough cleaning, two employees finally took the truck apart. Like a reverse jigsaw puzzle, they separated all the components within 30 minutes – the operator’s seat, exhaust pipe, windscreen, lamps, forks until it was completely taken apart.

Metal parts have been flattened, welded and sandblasted. And once again, an employee slips into overalls that resemble a space suit. However, this time it is about giving the chassis a new paint job. Then all the components are put back together again, followed by a final inspection. Applying a new, bright white Linde logo is the icing on the cake at the end. The truck is now gleaming in new splendor and is ready to be put up for sale on the second-hand market for used equipment in Central and Eastern Europe.

Contributing to KION's sustainability policy in Europe

The fact that the vehicles have been given a "second life" as a result of the reconditioning process is an important aspect in KION Group's sustainability game plan. On the one hand, the overall amount of energy and raw materials required has been significantly reduced and the reconditioning process of the used forklifts avoids waste. The processing plant in Czech Republic is one of nine in Europe. Another five are in France with one each in Sweden, Spain and Italy. Together, they are expected to process over 4,000 used forklift trucks in 2020; and that is just from Linde.

KION's other premium brand, STILL, also reconditions trucks, pallet trucks and warehouse trucks that have been returned to the company after short or long-term rental cycles. As with Linde, they are thoroughly inspected in advance by expert service technicians, carefully reconditioned with original STILL parts and then classified according to a standard European-wide classification, before the Hamburg company remarkets them through its own direct sales channels.

Sustainable action has always been an integral part of the performance promise at STILL Its Polish subsidiary, STILL Poland, has been reconditioning forklifts since 2007 and since 2011, STILL has been operating its own European reconditioning center in Mrowino not far from the Polish city of Poznań. Nearly 2,000 trucks are reconditioned annually on an area spanning 2,500 sq. meters (27,000 sq. ft.).

In Germany, a reconditioning center for used forklifts was set up in 2008 in Stuhr, a few miles south of Bremen. At 26,000 sq. meters (nearly 280,000 sq. ft.), the area has now more than doubled; the actual reconditioning takes place on approximately 7,000 sq. meters, the remaining space is used for warehouse and logistics. Around 45 employees rework up to 1,000 devices visually and technically every year. In 2015, STILL launched another reconditioning center in Lisses, France, and almost two years later they commissioned a new reconditioning center at its Italian location in Lainate just outside of Milan. The entire plant covers an area of 7,000 sq. meters, half of the space is for the reconditioning shop floor with the other half used as a forklift warehouse.

Considerable demand for used equipment

The reconditioned vehicle market has grown into a serious business segment in its own right. Increasingly, customers are realizing that they do not necessarily have to purchase the latest industrial vehicle to perform certain tasks, especially when a reliable used vehicle can also get the job done. And now because of the pandemic and its financial impact on so many markets, there are customers who simply do not have the budget to buy new ones. The benefits of owning reconditioned machinery are obvious: the vehicles guarantee a high level of performance, the purchase price for a used vehicle compared to a new one is very attractive and the vehicle is immediately available.

The demand for used machinery has steadily grown over the last few years throughout Europe. "On average, every second forklift sold is a used one," says Christof Samson, the head of the Rental and Used Trucks Division at STILL. "Every year, we receive tens of thousands of financing returns worldwide as well as rather ‘young’ vehicles from the rental business, which are also ideal for reconditioning before we make them available again on the secondary markets. After the shop floor overhaul of our used forklifts, it is not so easy, optically or technically, to tell the used ones from the new ones. The exception is in the operating hours recorded."

The road ahead: expansion and automation in Velké Bílovice

With demand for used forklifts quite high, it comes as no surprise that STILL has been expanding some of its processing centers the last couple of years. In 2018, the reprocessing center in Lainate added a new painting facility as well as a competence center for the regeneration of used batteries. An additional expansion by 2022 is also planned for the Linde plant in Czech Republic. By then, it will be possible to process over 5,000 forklifts annually in Velké Bílovice on a total area of 14,800 sq. meters (roughly 160,000 sq. ft.). A special feature of this addition will see to it that the used vehicles are no longer overhauled in individual garages. Instead, production lines will be used. The vehicles will then pass through various stations from dismantling to repair, painting and assembly. Many processes are planned to be automated so that more machinery can be retreaded even faster and cheaper. In addition, there will be more employees having specializations in the individual areas. And then, an entire team of astronauts will be on display in the factory.

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