It’s likely that you’ve heard about the new legislation regarding the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans.
From 2040, all new petrol and diesel cars and vans (and in all likelihood, petrol and diesel engines in general) will be banned from sale in the UK and France in a bid to increase air quality in our towns and cities. It’s also quite likely that many other European countries will follow suit over the next few years.
This ultimately means that we’ll need to start thinking about how we can start making changes to reduce our reliance on petrol and diesel engines, before the ban comes into force.
How will the 2040 ban affect the material handling industry?
Although 2040 seems a fairly long way off, is 20 years really enough to ensure that new infrastructure and processes are put in place to support the ban when it finally comes in?
This is a challenge that will affect almost every industry, but will have a very specific impact on the material handling industry.
As it stands, the majority of forklifts are battery operated, and a lot of the charging infrastructure is already in place to ensure that everything remains operational. However, we start to run into issues when we consider forklifts that are operating outside for extended periods of time, those that are performing heavy-duty tasks, or those that have a need for greater flexibility due to unexpected peaks and troughs in their operation.
In these cases, electric or hybrid vehicles tend to lag behind in terms of performance, durability, battery life and flexibility in comparison to their diesel or LPG counterparts.
According to TCM’s Graham Jones, ‘Now is the time to put processes in place within businesses to move away from the reliance on diesel trucks and prepare for the new innovations that will transform how businesses operate’.
It’s becoming increasingly likely that these new innovations will include huge advancements in battery technology. While there is already a range of battery powered forklifts available on the market, the real work needs to be down to forklift companies finding the right battery solution for their customers.
According to Malcolm Mitchell, Managing Director of Amvar Handling Solutions, forklift batteries 'represent roughly 1/4 of the total cost of the truck and last around five years, depending on duty and careful maintenance. But there are plenty of cases where batteries last much longer.'
Five years is a fairly long time, but for busy operations, are you really getting the ROI from your truck, and have you considered how you will mitigate against downtime if one or several trucks require a battery change or general maintenance at the same time?
It looks like our biggest challenge will be sourcing batteries that are able to keep up with the demands of our industry, and with new technological advances in lithium-ion and renewable energy sources, a solution may be around the corner.
What will you need to consider before the 2040 ban comes into force?
Either way, by 2040, all new forklift trucks will need to be battery operated, or rely on other low emission fuel technologies, so how can you ensure that you’re ready for the change?
If your forklift fleet is comprised of mainly diesel or LPG machines, there are several things you’ll need to consider to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Firstly, you’ll need to consider the cost of replacing your existing forklifts when they reach the end of their working lives, or when their lease is up with their electrical counterparts. This is likely to involve a slightly higher initial cost, for the machine itself and the charger, although ongoing maintenance costs will be much, much lower than they would be for diesel engines.
Moving from LPG machines will require a rethink of how your operation runs. Time to charge will need to be factored in. Complications come from traditional batteries that need to be run until they’re 20% full, and not charged opportunistically, which causes a reduction in battery life and ultimately lead to complications. Factoring downtime into your operations schedule is important to ensure you’re working as efficiently as possible.
With the additional equipment required, you’ll also need to find space for designated charging stations, which could impact the layout of your warehouse. However, if you’re looking to become more efficient overall, this could actually improve your operations by giving you the opportunity to evaluate your warehouse structure and what you’re currently doing to see where you can make improvements.
Electric forklifts tend to perform much better on flat, smooth surfaces, and aren’t really suitable for being used for prolonged periods outside, so if your operations are mostly yard based with varying surface materials at different gradients, you may find the battery will drain much quicker. There is also some speculation around just how safe an electrical vehicle is when used in wet weather, and forklift manufacturers will need to take this into consideration before the new regulation comes into play.
But it’s not all bad, so don’t start panicking just yet! With technologies constantly improving, it’s likely that by 2040, forklift manufacturers will have created new, highly efficient electrical machines that are capable of heavy-duty work across multiple working environments. With constant improvements in energy technologies, batteries are also on track to be vastly superior in power, efficiency and capacity to their predecessors.
As the 2040 regulation is still fairly new, there is a lot of speculation about the details. Does this ban just cover cars and vans, or will it be extended to include all petrol and diesel engines? Will manufacturers and/or the government look to start increasing the cost of diesel forklifts to make purchase and running costs unviable? And what support and funding will be available to help businesses make the change when the time comes?
Ultimately, only time will tell.