|The Early Days
Logistics have always played a pivotal role in the development of successful
For example, one can imagine how vital it was for the Romans to have an efficient supply chain to sustain the huge armies controlling their vast empire. This
would have required sophisticated forward planning and construction of
storage and distribution facilities. Transportation by oxen, and by sea was
slow and the empire ran without any of the advantages of mechanisation.
Today, we take for granted the easy and constant availability of our
groceries, fuel and consumer products, on virtually a 24hour basis,
without much thought about how the goods arrive at the retail outlet -
even though our daily lives are dependent on this availability.
Behind the scenes, complex and highly efficient storage and
distribution infrastructures are effectively the life support system for
modern societies. Without them chaos would rapidly ensue.
Mechanised material handling is in fact a relatively new industry and
originated in the USA. It was in the early 1940's that the first
tentative efforts were made to develop an alternative to manual handling
in the UK. For it did not escape the notice of young entrepreneurs that
the American liberty ships, providing vital wartime supplies in the
early 1940's, were using forklift trucks to unload their cargoes, rather
than the labour intensive manual methods in use at British ports.
One of the pioneers was Lansing Bagnall (Lansing Linde today) who
were among the first UK companies to design and develop tow tractors,
for British Rail, and powered pallet trucks which transformed the
internal transport of products to bring unheard of levels of efficiency.
Subsequent models included the first stand-on moving mast reach
truck, which was revolutionary in its time, enabling goods to be stored
to a much higher density than had ever been possible previously, and in
aisles of less than 2.5 metres.
In those exciting pioneering days it was necessary to sell the
handling concept as well as the product, since such methods of storage
was unknown and the market had to be created. Trade unions saw
mechanisation as a threat to their members and some companies were not
initially convinced of the benefits. In spite of these challenges, the
early pioneers preserved and continued to develop new types of handling
products, leading to the first mechanical exhibition held in London in
1948, which highlighted the economical advantages of mechanised muscle
to a much wider audience.
Designers in those days had to work within the restrictions of the
available technology, while at the same time researching new ways to
advance and improve in this area. Early control units for battery
powered units for example, were large and not very energy efficient,
existing as they did of heavy wiring and a series of contactors.
Power steering, and even overhead guards were a rare luxury, while
seats were very basic and usually without suspension, but one has to
remember that at that time, virtually all goods were moved manually, so
any mechanical assistance was a major step forward.
In a relatively short space of time, there were amazing advances in
engineering and electronics applied to the development of materials
handling equipment, leading to significant improvements in performance
As consumer demand grew, so did the need to create more efficient
distribution and storage, which in turn lead to the development of high
lift reach trucks and very narrow aisle system trucks and order pickers.
Lansing Bagnall developed the first man-down turrett truck, which
enabled aisle widths to be reduced to less that 1.5 meters and in the
1960's was already producing prototype man-up combi trucks.
The introduction of ISO containers to ships products, created a
demand for specialist container handling trucks for ports and terminals,
while smaller capacity engine trucks were produced to handle increasing
volumes of palletised and pallet-less loads in a wide range of
Engine truck transmission systems were also refined and improved, and
indeed new designs such as the hydrostatic transmission developed by
Linde, brought new levels of smooth control and energy efficiency to the
engine truck. w
With economic prosperity, came the ever increasing demand for
efficient, reliable distribution, which required the creation of
warehouse and inventory management systems, and which also optimised the
performance and efficiency of the materials handling equipment.
Today, modern materials handling equipment from leading suppliers is
comfortable and quiet in operation and has built-in diagnostics. Low
maintenance requirements and energy efficiency are also essential
features together with versatility and local after sales support.
Those early pioneers founded a major industry, which influences our
Everything we eat or wear, and everything in our home, including the
materials to build the house itself, has at some stage been stored and
handled by materials handling equipment.
An interesting fact to ponder when next you see a forklift truck.!!