Green Materials Handling; Industry Outlook Survey

From conveyors to pallets, industry leaders make the case for how their products can make a difference to companies focused on the green supply chain
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By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
April 01, 2010 - MMH Editorial

Reducing a carbon footprint
Last year, Toyota Material Handling, U.S.A. (800-226-0009, http://www.toyotaforklift.com)) was awarded the Governor's Award for Environmental Standards in Indiana for an initiative that reduced energy consumption by 2.2 million kilowatt hours and a reduction in carbon dioxide output of 3,611 tons. “That's important because our customers are asking not just about our products, but also what we as a company are doing about sustainability,” says Melinda Beckett-Maines, Toyota's national marketing manager. But Toyota's efforts don't stop with energy consumption. The company has converted 60% of its painting processes over to dry coat and reduced the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced by the paint process in half. A Toyota plant in Columbus, Ind., is a zero landfill facility. And, Toyota is working to ensure that its suppliers share its commitment to environmentally sustainable manufacturing. “Companies are not only looking for environmentally friendly products, they are interested in doing business with environmentally-friendly companies,” says Beckett-Maines.

Developing fuel cells
Over the last year, NACCO Materials Handling Group (NMHG), maker of Yale and Hyster brand lift trucks, (503-721-6000, http://www.nmhg.com)) has been working with Plug Power and Central Grocers to develop a fleet of 236 fuel-cell powered Yale lift trucks. When the entire project is complete later this year, hydrogen fuel to re-power the cells will be delivered and dispensed on-site, allowing for quick refueling, increased productivity and zero emissions. For end users that aren't ready for the leap to hydrogen fuel cells, NMHG has introduced a new line of industrial combustion engine trucks that reduces fuel consumption by at least 8%. It is also partnering with environmental agencies and technology companies to develop the next generation of battery-powered lift trucks. “Some of our largest customers are already planning facility enhancements to accommodate new types of equipment to charge their trucks in an efficient, productive and safe manner,” says Jonathan Dawley, vice president of marketing. 

Automatic Guided Vehicles and mobile robots

Smooth and efficient robots
Industrial robotic technologies bring two components to the table, contends Brad Wyland, director of product strategy at Seegrid (412-621-4305, http://www.seegrid.com)). First, they are unmanned and run on electric power rather than fossil fuels. And because a robot is computer controlled, it is more smooth and efficient in how it uses power. “That not only leads to better energy consumption, we believe you'll also see a reduction in wear and tear on wheels and other parts,” says Wyland. “That will reduce the total cost of ownership and reduce your overall footprint.” In the future, Wyland adds, Seegrid plans to investigate alternative sources of energy to power the robots. Second, robots enable the move toward “lights out” automation. “When you're using robotic technology, you can reduce your HVAC costs and the amount of lighting you need in certain areas of the facility,” Wyland says.

Controlled efficiency with AGVs
Like industrial robots, automatic guided vehicles use electric batteries and computer controls to operate more efficiently than lift trucks. “We do the same tasks as a lift truck, but we can more precisely control the acceleration and deceleration rates,” says Mark Longacre, JBT's (215-822-4489, http://www.jbtc-agv.com)) marketing manager. “Because we can control the battery cycles, you'll see longer battery life.” JBT is also researching alternative power sources for its vehicles. For instance, the company implemented a nine-vehicle system that uses hydrogen fuel cells for a tire manufacturer. “The vehicle creates a little bit of water vapor that evaporates,” says Longacre. “So far, it has worked well and provides an even source of power that is rock solid.” The company is testing a methanol fuel cell to recharge a traditional battery during operation. “Methanol doesn't have the energy density we need to power the vehicle directly,” he says. “But it does give us some efficiency gains, and methanol is considered a cleaner and more sustainable fuel.”

Green equals lean
“For Jervis B. Webb, sustainability is about enabling a lean operation that reduces waste,” says Sarah Carlson, marketing director for Jervis B. Webb (248-553-1000, http://www.jervisbwebb.com)). For the last year, Webb has replaced the standard absorbed glass mat batteries (AGM) that it used with fast charging, thin plate pure lead batteries (TPPL). “TPPL batteries last up to 50% longer than AGM batteries, and they are 90%-plus recyclable,” says Carlson. “And, because they charge faster, you can operate your facility with fewer batteries.” That translates into less energy, less parts and less maintenance. “To us, that's part of green in the bigger picture,” says Carlson.



About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.


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