Versatility Rules

The right equipment can increase your materials handling efficiency and productivity.

Shrinking space at lumberyards and on jobsites, compounded by the need to stock more SKUs and the increased use of long engineered lumber products and building components, has made moving materials from point A to points B and C more complicated than ever.

Materials handling equipment with versatile performance features, such as multi-directional driving, interchangeable attachments, and forks that adjust themselves to the load, offer lumberyards flexibility, the opportunity to simplify materials handling, and increased productivity. "Everyone wants to be able to do more with less," says Doug Snorek, marketing manager for Mustang Mfg.. Thus, there's more demand for equipment that can multitask, such as telescopic handlers, multi-directional units, or forklifts with interchangeable attachments.

For example, forklifts with four-directional capabilities can handle long loads and are able to squeeze into narrow aisles, according to Jere French of TCM Lift Trucks. The forklifts' ability to switch between sideways and conventional travel also lets them handle heavy palletized loads without changing attachments, giving them a flexibility that appeals to many dealers, according to John Colburn, marketing director for The Raymond Corp.'s reach-fork product division.

Attachments do come in handy for accomplishing more with one machine. "A lot of LBM dealers are getting into wall panels, and they need something to deliver them," points out Patrick Keenan, product manager for Moffett. However, purchasing a machine designed only to handle wall panels is a large investment for just one application, he says. That's why the company developed a truck-mounted forklift with interchangeable forks–one set for wall panels and one for lumber.

Attachments also can help minimize product damage. "Materials are getting longer and longer, and more and more flexible," making them more susceptible to damage during transport, says Tommy Cadden, president of Combilift. Fork positioners that adjust width-wise to support and stabilize longer loads can eliminate much of the flex along the product length and minimize damage. Fork positioners and side-shifting masts, which adjust left or right, also help save time by allowing the driver to approach a load imperfectly and still precisely position the forks.

Stacking materials in the yard as high as 30 feet is becoming more common, and consequently there has been a trend toward mast lift-heights up to 240 inches, says Martin Boyd, national product planning manager for Toyota Material Handling. On jobsites, telescopic handlers, shooting boom attachments, and cranes are more suitable than forklifts for lift heights of more than 165 inches, advises Butch Hunter, marketing manager for Princeton Delivery Systems.

Tele-handlers are becoming a viable alternative for lumberyard tasks that forklifts can't handle. While many telescopic handlers are too large for some residential jobsites and most lumberyards, Mustang, Gehl, Bobcat, Sellick Equipment, and JLG offer more compact models that provide easier maneuvering, precise materials placement, and a greater variety of attachments.

As yard real estate continues to tighten and material needs change, dealers may need to consider new solutions, including trying equipment and attachments they haven't considered before, or even designing their yards around equipment capabilities.

–Stephani L. Miller