Giving material handlers a lift in the area of forklift operation is Komatsu Forklift USA, the North American arm of Japan-based Komatsu Forklift Co., Ltd. As it advances the industry and provides safer and more ergonomically correct machines, the company has also given a big lift to the operations of its customers.
The news out of Komatsu Forklift USA involves innovative thinking combined with state-of-the-art technology. Both have enabled the company to pursue the invention of lift machines that not only perform the job they’re designed to do, but do it with greater comfort for the operator.
One of its newest and most advanced machines is the company’s recently introduced BBX50, which it bills as “the new generation of forklifts, offering increased performance, power, and reliability while lowering maintenance time and costs.” This newest line of lift trucks is AC-driven, which means they maintain their battery charge longer than DC. This improves productivity by allowing AC trucks to operate at peak power for longer. Maintenance requirements are reduced, cutting time and costs. “The industry as a whole is seeing an increase in electric vehicles because of technical advances,” explains Steven Kinmonth, sales and marketing. “These vehicles usually run on liquid propane – so the benefit of the AC drive, of course, is that you don’t need to pay for fuel.”
Indeed, the industry is seeing many changes in lift truck production; an Industry Week article affirms: “Once 70 percent powered by internal combustion engines and 30 percent by electric drive systems, (lift trucks are) now 57 percent are electric and the internal combustion powered sector continues to decline.” The article goes on to say: “AC drives are rapidly overtaking DC technology as users seek the lower cost of operation from the inherently simpler AC drive approach. With fewer parts – no brushes or contactors – AC drives can greatly reduce maintenance costs.”
End users quickly find out that this combination is key in a tough competitive economy. Along with changes to the drive system, many operator compartment improvements have been implemented. Komatsu Forklift’s goal is to provide the operator with maximum comfort along with maximum performance. With capacity’s ranging from 4,000 to 6,500 pounds, Komatsu Forklift can now target more markets requiring 6,500-pound trucks.
Improvements for the new BBX truck include:
AC drive motor and AC hydraulic motor
No brushes or contactors that require periodic maintenance
No separate power steering motor
Ramp speed control and ramp start
Adjustable regenerative braking to conserve power
Transverse mounted drive motor for improved power transfer efficiency
Programmable display for speed and performance
These improvements translate into reduced maintenance costs and higher performance. Fewer moving parts mean fewer parts to replace and maintain. In addition, the elimination of brushes allows AC motors to be much smaller than comparable DC motors. This has helped increase the battery compartment area allowing the use of bigger batteries. The drive power is now adjustable for different speeds. The truck can be set on higher levels for working faster, higher productivity, and for an experienced operator. It can also be set in lower levels for extending operation hours longer or handling easy-to-break cargoes safely. The control unit controls traction motor/hydraulic motor speed, meter panel display, troubleshooting, and communication between controllers.
In addition, explains Kinmonth, there is now a faster, smoother response when the operator changes the direction. Furthermore, the BBX50 has more power when climbing a grade than the previous generation. The performance remains at 100 percent until the battery hits 80 percent discharge, which is beyond the capabilities of DC power. Power regeneration occurs when the accelerator is released and the truck is coasting as well as when the brake is applied. The Komatsu Operator Presence System is now standard in all trucks disabling the travel and lift/lower functions when the operator is off of the seat. With the introduction of AC technology electric trucks are now able to perform comparably to traditional I.C.E. trucks. The release of Komatsu Forklift’s new BBX50 series continues the company’s acceleration into the future as an industry leader.
Leader in the field
It’s no surprise that such leading edge technology should come out of Komatsu Forklift USA, a subsidiary of Komatsu Ltd., a world leader in construction and mining equipment. Komatsu Ltd. was founded in 1921 in Japan and is based in Tokyo. Komatsu Ltd., through its affiliates and subsidiaries, employs over 38,000 people worldwide. Komatsu Forklift Co., Ltd. , a division of Komatsu Ltd., began manufacturing forklifts in 1945. In 1976, a California corporation was established to sell and distribute these forklifts in the United States. Manufacturing of Komatsu forklifts in the United States began in 1987 with the opening of a plant in La Palma, Calif. In 1993, the distribution and manufacturing operations were consolidated into one company called Komatsu Forklift U.S.A., Inc. (KFI).
In 1994, ground was broken for a new facility and corporate headquarters in Covington, Ga. The plant and new corporate headquarters officially opened Aug. 1, 1995 and the first forklift drove off the assembly line on Aug. 25, 1995. In February 1997, a new building for the Product Support Department opened at the same site in Covington.
Komatsu Forklift U.S.A., Inc. (KFI) offers a wide range of electric, gasoline, LPG, and diesel forklifts from 2,000 to 35,000 pounds lifting capacity. These products are distributed through over 195 authorized dealers and distributors in the Western Hemisphere. “This equipment can be used for material handling in any warehouse operation,” Kinmonth stresses.
As the industry recovers from an economic slide over the last couple of years, other trends have emerged, Kinmonth explains, including bigger participation by the forklift operators, who now have more of a say in the design of material handling equipment. “Our products concentrate on making them comfortable as far as ergonomics, ease of use and low maintenance,” he says.
In line with this commitment, the company also has unveiled another line, a new internal combustion engine powered model BX50. New capacity models at 5500, 6500, and 7000 pounds combine with traditional 4000-, 5000-, and 6000-pound models to let the operator choose exactly the right capacity to get the job done with maximum economy and efficiency. The advanced EZlift hydraulic system enables lifting operation without accelerating the engine, for higher overall efficiency (less fuel is used when you don’t have to rev the engine; higher rpms results in greater fuel consumption). The EZlift hydraulic system uses a tandem pump to supply independent power for lifting and steering, giving you smooth lifting without revving up the engine. This not only keeps the engine from stalling when steering and lifting, but also results in less temperature build-up. More economical fuel consumption and more steering control in tight areas are achieved. “This helps in indoor applications where rack space is limited and there is little room for error, “ Kinmonth says.
The new Komatsu forklifts focus on sharp styling with maneuverability, low center of gravity and dynamism. The cabin design emphasizes comfort by isolating the operator compartment on suspension mounts. This dual floating structure reduces vibration providing a smoother ride. The redesigned counter weight and console maximizes visibility to the front and rear. Wide-open steps make getting in and out easy. The tilt cylinders are mounted under the floor giving ample space for operator’s feet and legs.
In addition, the Komatsu Operator Presence System Plus is now standard on all BX50 models. This system locks travel and hydraulic lift movement if the operator leaves the seat.
“As always, we strive to make the operator as comfortable as possible,” Kinmonth stresses, explaining the machine’s duel floating structure that separates the operator compartment from the frame, and helps to reduce vibrations, always a big concern for a person who may be operating a forklift continuously during an eight-hour shift.
Komatsu Forklift has built up a dependable dealer network with more than 195 dealer locations throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. They are staffed with a highly dedicated team of professionals, who are trained to meet each customer’s needs. In addition, Komatsu Forklift provides a range of other valuable services, including financial, rental and leasing programs that can be tailored to meet a particular set of specifications.
“What we focus on is reliability, low cost of ownership and durability of the product,” says Kinmonth. In this way, Komatsu Forklift USA will continue to give a lift to the industry, both in state-of-the-art advances and design.