2021-02-18

Shifting loads in extreme conditions

More than 1.5 million forklift trucks made by KION’s brand companies are in use in a wide variety of Industries around the world – and each has its own individual requirements. One of the most obvious challenges is the different temperature zones in the various production and warehouse environments. From the glowing heat of industrial furnaces to the freezing cold of food storage units: the trucks made by KION’s brand companies are never out of their comfort zone, even in the most extreme environments.

Glass is one of the world’s oldest man-made materials. It was being made in Mesopotamia and Egypt as long ago as 3000 B.C. Besides sand, ash, and limestone there is one crucial basic ingredient: glowing heat. Temperatures of between 1,000 and 1,600°C are needed to transform the constituent parts into the versatile and malleable material. In ancient times, glass was mainly used for making pots and containers but it now has a range of highly specialized areas of application. One is the – literally – astronomically sized telescope mirrors that are made by the Schott company.

Lifting our gaze to the heavens

At the Mainz center of excellence for glass ceramics, two electric forklift trucks from KION subsidiary STILL are part of an extraordinary project. This is where the mirror segments are being made for the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), which is scheduled to go into operation at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in the Atacama desert in Chile in 2024. Measuring 39 meters in diameter, it will be the biggest telescope ever made and will enable scientists to see further into space than ever before.

In Mainz, Schott is making around 800 mirror elements for the telescope. Extreme precision is required when handling the casting molds, which contain molten glass and can be more than four meters wide, and this is where the STILL RX 60-80 electric forklift truck with its sensitive hydraulic control comes in. The driver’s cab is set to one side which, together with the high seat position, provides unobstructed views of the cast parts. This enhances workplace safety and helps to ensure that the products are not damaged. A smooth operation is absolutely critical to this complex project. To make a glass ceramic with the required properties from the raw glass, it has to be heated and ceramicized several times and this process takes almost four months for each glass. The trucks are in constant use, maneuvering the mirror elements through the various process stages at the furnace. During peak times, one of the precious disks is finished every day.

Massive irons in the fire

Another vivid example of how hot it can get in intralogistics is provided by Bohemia Rings in Zámrsk in the Czech Republic, where a fleet of forklift trucks made by KION subsidiary Linde Material Handling helps to keep the production line running. Each year, the plant produces around 20,000 metal rings measuring up to four meters in diameter for use in wind turbines, generators, construction equipment, and CT scanners. Many different processing steps are required to make the rings. In the forge workshop, five industrial furnaces operate at temperatures of up to 1,250°C to prepare the metal cylinders for further processing. Handling them in the initial stages while they are still glowing hot is extremely demanding. As soon as the iron cylinders, which can weigh up to seven tonnes, are hot enough, a truck takes them to a huge press for the next step. This means the trucks are constantly moving around with their red-hot loads – and thanks to special protective equipment for their tires, hydraulic hoses, and rear-view mirrors, they are well equipped to cope with the intense heat.

Conditions are also extremely challenging in the production plant of Fondium, a leading manufacturer of cast iron automotive components. You have to be tough to work in the hellishly hot environment of the smelting furnaces – and that goes for the machinery too. The whole site is extremely dusty, and the uneven ground makes maneuvering tricky. Almost 50 STILL trucks operate in these conditions, helping the company to handle the high production volumes of around 180,000 tonnes per year. Numerous modifications have been made to the five diesel trucks that are used for heavy transport in the smelting plant, from heat-resistant front and side panels to metal protection plates for tires, headlights, and tilt cylinders. Both the trucks and their drivers are thus optimally protected.

Non-stop operation in the far north

The temperatures in Älandsbro up in the far north of Sweden could not be more different. Here, close to the Arctic Circle, the mercury rarely rises above zero throughout the entire winter. Set amidst the majestic, snow-covered forests are the production facilities of Norrlands trä, a manufacturer of sustainable timber roof and wall components. The Linde Material Handling trucks used here are hard at work in freezing cold conditions all year round, from six o’clock in the morning to half past one at night, loading the long wooden sections. Despite the tough conditions, they have proven themselves to be just as robust and hard-wearing as the products that roll off the production lines of this long-established Swedish company.

It’s even colder in Andenes in Norway, around 1,000 kilometers further north. At the Andenes Fiskemottak fishery, seven STILL trucks stand ready to load tonnes of clipfish, cod, and haddock directly from the trawlers that arrive at the dock every hour. The forklift trucks pick up the valuable cargo and make their way along the slippery ice-covered quay to the hall for further processing. They face constant changes in temperature as they move between the moderate temperatures indoors and the icy cold outside. On these trucks, plastic covers that would break more easily in the cold have been replaced with stainless steel ones. But their constant exposure to salt water causes problems too. Especially rust-resistant paint is used to protect against corrosion and all the seams are sealed with silicone while silicone mats cover the mast mechanisms to ensure that the trucks always keep moving, even in the harsh conditions here.

Dependable performance in the freezer store

To ensure that the fish caught in the North Sea is perfectly fresh when it reaches tables all over the world, fisheries use specialized distribution processes and, most importantly, freezer warehouses. These are relatively cost-intensive spaces, which means that every square meter has to be used in the most efficient way possible. The freezer warehouse operated by Schmidt Zeevis in the Dutch city of Rotterdam has five storage levels with 800 pallet spaces where 133 different types of fish are stored. To handle the fresh produce in the narrow aisles, Schmidt Zeevis opted for an MX-X VNA (very narrow aisle) truck from STILL, which is equipped with a fully insulated cabin for use in freezer warehouses at temperatures down to minus 30 degrees Celsius. This truck can reach shelves up to 18 meters high while remaining perfectly stable, and can maneuver safely in even the tightest of spaces. Its precise storage and retrieval processes enable the produce to be kept cold and delivered in perfect condition to the customers.

Keeping it cool when demand heats up

The freezer warehouse at Gusto AG in Hohenpolding near Munich also operates in arctic conditions. Primarily a wholesaler of raw materials for bakeries and patisseries, the company has an additional product segment that is particularly exacting when it comes to storage, namely specialty ice cream in a wide variety of delicious flavors. Demand is especially high during the summer months, which of course means things get very busy in the freezer store too. The two-shift operation requires a high level of availability from the industrial trucks and warehouse trucks, which is why the two reach trucks, seven order pickers, and numerous pallet trucks from Linde Material Handling are equipped with lithium-ion batteries. They not only cope effortlessly with the extreme temperatures in the freezer section, but can be quickly and efficiently recharged – for example when the driver is taking a break. This ensures that everything runs smoothly at Gusto AG even during the busy summer months – and the demand for ice cream is always met thanks to reliable intralogistics.

Whether refreshingly cold strawberry ice cream, freshly caught fish, molten glass or red-hot metal: the trucks from STILL and Linde Material Handling have the precision required for any task, can cope with even the toughest of conditions, and eagerly accept every new challenge.

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