A leading manufacturer of electric and engine powered materials handling equipment, Linde Material Handling North America continually sets the industry pace for more than 150 years. Based in South Carolina, and an integral part of an international corporation, the company is weathering the current economic storm. But be prepared for what it will do next, forewarns Dan Harvey.
Linde Material Handling North America (LMH-NA) was into electronic automotive technology long before it became a 21st century trend. Indeed, it perceived electronically based energy saving capabilities as far back at the 19th century, when it was headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio.
Originally known as the Rauch and Lang Carriage Company, the business first focused on carriages and then pioneered development of electric automobiles. After electric passenger vehicle development encountered a detour, the evolving enterprise transferred its garnered expertise into another direction: materials handling. Essentially, what the automotive industry eschewed, the materials handling industry embraced, much to its benefit.
ALWAYS A LEADER
Today, LMH-NA, now based in Summerville, S.C., manufactures a full line of moving equipment including electric and engine powered counterbalanced forklift trucks, laden and empty container handlers and low and high-lift warehouse trucks and tractors. A subsidiary of Linde Material Handling of Germany, which is a member of the KION Group and a leading international manufacturer of industrial lift trucks, LMH-NA serves customers throughout the world.
A transportation-and-materials handling fixture through the decades, LMH-NA demonstrated progressive development for more than 150 years. The innovative company, in earlier incarnations, pioneered the first electric ram truck for carrying steel coils. In subsequent years, it continued producing inventive material handling solutions.
“It all began for us in 1853 with Rauch and Lang, which produced carriages,” relates Mark Roessler, LMH-NA’s corporate general product manager. “The company, which witnessed ownership changes throughout the years, began building electric automobiles by the end of the 19th century. Then, with the demise of early electric automobile manufacturing, the company continued building car bodies for companies such as Packard, Duesenberg and Cadillac. But, at the same time, it began building electric-powered materials handling equipment.”
The first product, he continues, was an electric mobile crane built for the War Department in 1915. “The crane was specifically designed to move munitions in storage depots. That’s how we got started in the materials handling business.”
In 1920, the company developed its electric powered coil handler for the U.S. Steel Corporation. From there, things took off. “U.S. Steel became one of our biggest customers, and that established our permanence as a leading materials handling company,” says Roessler.
Fast-forwarding through subsequent decades, the company became part of United Technologies, and was ultimately purchased by Linde Material Handling in 1977.
COVERING ALL BASES
Today, LMH-NA is a full-line materials handling producer, as it designs and manufactures equipment for all major classes, according to Roessler. The five dominant classes include electric counterbalance trucks, high-lift warehouse trucks, low-lift warehouse trucks, internal combustion counterbalance trucks with cushion tires, and internal combustion engine trucks with pneumatic tires. “We’re also active in the towing vehicles class,” he adds.
LMH-NA markets its products from its Summerville facility for sale throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. “But we also export product to Asia and South America,” Roessler points out.
As far as technology, LMH-NA is probably the industry’s only company that breaks the mold in two areas, describes Roessler. “The type of technology we employ readily differentiates us from similar companies,” he says. “On the electric side, we focus on high voltage. Most of our equipment is 80 volts. Competitors primarily sell 36- and 48-volt equipment.”
As such, LMH-NA’s trucks are a bit bigger, and they’re more versatile, as they operate both indoors and outdoors.
On the engine truck side, LMH-NA focuses on hydrostatic drive systems. “All of our engine trucks incorporate hydrostatic drive, which we design and build ourselves,” says Roessler. “Competitors market torque converter trucks, which basically are automatic transmission type vehicles common to on-road applications.”
LMH-NA’s hydrostatic drive system is strictly an off-road design, which is why its usage is common in heavy construction equipment. “Applications include bulldozers, wheel loaders, motor graders, forestry equipment, excavators, combines and harvesters, among others,” says Roessler. “At the same time, we use it in all of our engine forklifts.”
Indeed, hydrostatic production takes the company outside of its primary industry (materials handling), as LMH-NA not only uses the technology in its own trucks but also sells it. “Purchasers include quite a few construction machinery, forestry equipment machinery, and agricultural machinery OEMs. Caterpillar and John Deere have traditionally been two of our biggest customers,” reports Roessler. “Also, companies that manufacture road paving and asphalt stripping equipment use our hydrostatic drive in their machines.”
Through its production activities, LMH-NA continues setting the pace. Not only does the company rank among the world’s leading lift truck manufacturers, but its equipment is also noted for its high-energy efficiency.
“On the electric side, higher voltage translates into a more efficient system in terms of energy, and that’s one of our biggest advantages,” describes Roessler, adding that it all comes down to the basics of electricity. “Simply stated: as voltage increases in an electrical system, amperage decreases.”
Further stating the LMH-NA case, amperage is what generates heat in an electrical circuit: Thus, the higher the amperage, the more heat generated. “As our systems boast higher voltage and lower amperage, they generate less heat and, in turn, generate greater shift life per battery charge,” describes Roessler.
On the engine side, with its hydrostatic system, the company eliminates most of the mechanical drive system components typically found on conventional forklifts. “These include transmissions, torque converters, friction service brakes, drive shafts and conventional drive axles,” says Roessler. “All of that is gone with our equipment, because the hydrostatic drive system is basically a fluid drive system that utilizes hydraulic flow and pressure to generate motion.”
Capabilities make the equipment more expensive, as it takes more money to design and build those kinds of drives. When it comes to forklifts, LMH-NA manufactures the “Cadillac” of its industry. “If someone is looking for an economy truck at the lower end of the price line, they’re not going to be purchasing a Linde,” comments Roessler.
The global Linde operation includes 10 manufacturing sites, but LMH-NA focuses its production activities at two U.S. sites, one for forklift trucks and the other for hydraulics and hydrostatic drives.
The 250,000-square-foot Summerville facility is designed to produce forklifts for the North American market. “These include the electric and engine-powered trucks as well as warehouse trucks,” notes Roessler. “It’s probably the smallest plant in the entire Linde system, but we’re supported by European, Asian and South American manufacturing operations.”
Hyrdaulics and hydrostatic production is located in Canfield, Ohio. Along with production, LMH-NA’s activities include consulting, training and after-sales support services.
WEATHERING THE ECONOMIC STORM
Through the years, the company’s growth has been steady, but it’s been weathering some tough times in recent years due to an industry decline triggered by recent global economic troubles. “In the United States, in 2008 and 2009, the U.S. materials handling industry fell off by about 50 percent,” describes Roessler. “I’ve been with the company for 32 years, and I’ve never seen such numbers.”
Like all companies in all sectors, LMH-NA is currently focused on weathering the storm. But it has plans for when the dark clouds pass. “Before the current economic situation, we were looking to build up the business on the warehouse side in terms of designing, manufacturing and introducing new generations of warehousing equipment, because we’re pretty solid on the counterbalance truck side. We are now in the process of launching a new line of indoor engine-powered trucks,” says Roessler.
Specifically, the line includes an internal combustion engine, cushion tire truck range that will cover capacities from 5,000 to 6,500 pounds. “Its being built here in Summerville for the North American market, primarily the logistics side: the freight forwarders and the third-party logistics companies,” explains Roessler. “It was designed for large indoor warehouses for moving pallets and packaged materials and for loading and unloading over-the-road trailers and rail cars.”
The company calls it its hydro cushion series, and as the name implies, it includes LMH-NA’s own hydrostatic drive system. “I like to call it a shuttle truck, as it was designed to accomplish a lot of forward and backward movement, which facilitates quick loading and unloading,” says Roessler. “It’s an ideal application for the hydrostatic drive machine, because that kind of work is very hard on a conventional forklift, in terms of strain on the transmission and the drive system in general, as it generates a lot of heat. Our hydrostatic drive system eliminates those potential problems.”
Also, the design eliminates brake wear. “Basically, you can operate a truck like this for its entire economic life and never touch the brakes,” says Roessler. “That’s a huge advantage for users who run a lot of shuttle operations. With a conventional truck, you’re applying the brakes all day long.”
Already, LMH-NA has garnered great interest for the product. “If the economic situation were brighter, we’d be better off. We already put the truck through the design process. We didn’t envision that our introduction would come at such a low point in the industry,” observes Roessler.
But current economic situations aside, the introduction will no doubt thrive, which will continue the company’s heritage of innovation and development. Rooted in the North American marketplace for more than 150 years, the company appears well positioned to weather the economy’s “perfect storm” and carry on its influence and tradition well into the future.