From file "030_pss" entitled "PWfork.qxd" page 01
From file "030_pss" entitled "PWfork.qxd" page 01

Two emerging technologies could transform the workhorse of your yard into a high-tech business solution. The Raymond Corp. is exploring ways to power its forklifts with hydrogen fuel cells instead of batteries and to incorporate radio frequency identification (RFID) systems into forklift carriages.

A fuel cell harnesses the electricity created when hydrogen and oxygen are combined. Instead of refueling for hours like a battery, a fuel cell's tank can be refilled with hydrogen in minutes. Also, “the rate of voltage generation in a fuel cell is constant, so it produces the same amount of power for the first gram of hydrogen as it does for the last gram of hydrogen. You get a very stable profile of power from fuel cells,” says Mike Field, vice president of engineering for Raymond.

Hydrogen fuel cells that offer reduced down-time and longer runtimes could eventually be an option for forklifts.

Using fuel cells would eliminate battery change-outs and battery charging infrastructure, but would require hydrogen fueling stations. The technology is still too expensive to be commercially viable; however, Field predicts that there may be some limited installations in the next two years. Eventually, “fuel cells will be priced so that the end user sees a positive return on investment, compared to a lead-acid battery system, for large fleets,” he says.

Forklift-integrated RFID systems, conversely, may be available within five years. As a means to improve materials flow and tracking, RFID-equipped forklifts—with the scanning device mounted near the forks and tags attached to pallets—show promise. Because RFID does not require contact between the scanner and tag, forklift operators would not have to dismount to scan a pallet before moving it. Also, some RFID tags have read/write capabilities that could allow real-time updates on materials movement, so the technology could automate materials tracking if the RFID system was integrated with the yard's warehouse management system.

Raymond's approach to rolling out fuel cell and RFID forklifts will be cautious, Field says. “We want to bring the right technology to the market at the right time.”