SHD Logistics magazine paid a visit to Hubtex to find out about the latest trends in the field of special-purpose vehicle construction. What we learned is that the German manufacturer primarly focuses on electric vehicles in the development of its multidirectional sideloaders and special-purpose vehicles. And that's despite the fact that multidirectional sideloaders in the UK are mainly designed as gas-powered vehicles for handling long goods. For us, the Hubtex visit was reason enough to once again get to the bottom of the industry's ultimate question: electric motor vs. combustion engine – what are the pros and cons of these drive variations and what are the latest developments?
When seeking to find the best solution for a given application, a mere performance comparison falls way short of the mark. At first glance, it appears that multidirectional sideloaders with combustion engines are superior to their electric-powered counterparts. However, there are a host of disadvantages that potential buyers should be aware of before they opt for a combustion engine vehicle. The exhaust fumes created by such vehicles, for example, require sufficient ventilation. This is often not possible, particularly during use in enclosed spaces. In addition, continually rising fuel prices lead to higher operating costs – a factor that is often overlooked when looking at a vehicle's purchase price, rather than total cost of ownership. Variable costs are also proven to include higher maintenance and repair costs for vehicles powered by a combustion engine.
Duration of use: electric vehicles make up ground
Another important aspect to consider when purchasing a new vehicle is its maximum duration of use. This is an area where multidirectional sideloaders with combustion engines initially seem to have the upper hand. The sideloader is kept operational simply by refuelling the vehicle or having a new gas cylinder at the ready. This appears to be particularly beneficial during multi-shift operations with a large number of hours. In most cases, however, multidirectional sideloaders are only used in single-shift operation. And the battery capacities of modern vehicles have now reached the point where they can provide forklifts with enough energy for eight hours of continuous operation. When vehicles are deployed in multi-shift operations with an increased number of operating hours, users can choose to work with additional replacement batteries or to equip the vehicle with state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries. This means that lengthy operational disruptions have been made a thing of the past – even for electric vehicles.
The performance capacities of the vehicles must also be analysed when purchasing a new multidirectional sideloader. Vehicles with combustion engines offer a real advantage for long-distance transport over uneven ground. However, Battery Capacities and Performance have made real strides where the previous advantages have now been reduced. Diesel-powered multidirectional sideloaders need to be fitted with larger tyres to ensure good driving performance while on awkward surfaces. In contrast, electric-powered multidirectional sideloaders often have the benefit of a smaller turning circle, better handling and a reduced noise level. They can be built in a more compact fashion, allowing warehouse aisles to have a much narrower design. As a result, users effectively profit from larger storage capacities. Particularly in confined spaces, the benefits of an electric vehicle ensure less damage to materials and the vehicle itself. The reduced noise and emissions also allow for a more pleasant working environment.
Users should always consider the total cost of ownership, or TCO, when assessing all purchasing criteria. This holistic cost analysis method covers the entire life cycle of the vehicle and takes into account the costs for repairs, maintenance and upkeep as well as the safe disposal of the vehicle. Multidirectional sideloaders with combustion engines are generally less expensive to buy. However, buyers should note that the costs for gas and diesel are significantly higher than for electricity by 65 - 70%. In comparison with electric vehicles, engine-powered multidirectional sideloaders designs have more mechanical components and equipped with more moving parts, which are subject to higher wear and tear. The costs associated with general wear and tear and repairs are therefore greater in the long run, particularly if the vehicles are used intensively. Furthermore, the risk of undesired carbon and oil deposits in the engine or exhaust – will gradually reduce the performance of the vehicle and should not be underestimated. Electric motors today are virtually maintenance-free and can also be used outdoors in the rain thanks to their enclosed structure. Battery-powered multidirectional sideloaders usually require only a trained service technician, as common components parts are changed during service intervals, thereby managing items that are susceptible to wear and tear – particularly those used in the hydraulic system – thereby increasing the theoretical life cycle for many years.
Infrastructure creates additional costs
Whether they opt for an electric motor or combustion engine – buyers must also consider the costs resulting from the infrastructure required for the vehicles. Electric forklifts need charging stations and require a supply of battery water. To operate gas-powered multidirectional sideloaders, companies must provide sheltered storage for reserve gas cylinders. Diesel vehicles, meanwhile, require fuel and therefore at least one tank in which the diesel can be stored.
What's clear is that electric-powered multidirectional sideloaders are able to keep up with their engine-powered counterparts in terms of cost and performance. And when it comes to environmental performance, electric multidirectional sideloaders clearly have the edge. Electric vehicles run emission-free and therefore do not pollute the air. Diesel-powered vehicles, however, produce harmful exhaust emissions and can also pose a risk to groundwater. Companies therefore need to be proactive in taking measures to prevent fuel from seeping into the ground. Gas-powered vehicles are also not quite emission-free, even though they cause much less pollution than diesel-powered vehicles.
Automated vehicles are mostly electric
At a time when skilled workers are in increasingly short supply, the automation of production processes and vehicles is becoming ever more important. Multidirectional sideloaders are increasingly being fitted with assistance systems that relieve the driver of at least a portion of their tasks. The demand for driverless transport systems is also on the rise. This is where electric-powered vehicles have a clear advantage, since they can be automated much more easily. When it comes to automation, all major forklift manufacturers are generally focused on electric vehicles. There are a number of diverse reasons for this. So far, the vehicles that have been automated are usually those used indoors. And here, electric drives have the advantage of producing zero emissions. With electric vehicles, traction motors offer significantly better handling, positioning and mobility, meaning that various distances and routes can be covered more easily. In addition, programming interfaces and the control systems integration is generally simpler for electric-powered vehicles. The components built into the electric multidirectional sideloaders require much less space, ensuring there is sufficient room for automation components. Another aspect that is in favour of the automation of vehicles, is the fact that diesel-powered vehicles require a regular overhaul to fulfil current emission requirements. Control and automation software must therefore also be adapted for the new engines.
Conclusion: Electric multidirectional sideloaders unlock new areas of application
Overall, it is clear that choosing the right drive for a multidirectional sideloader involves much more than simply considering individual aspects. Users should instead adopt a more holistic approach and take into account the scope of application, total cost of ownership, performance capacity and duration of use. Only this way can the best solution be found. Electric-powered vehicles are developing at a rapid pace. With companies becoming increasingly concerned about their carbon footprint and a growing trend towards automation, electric multidirectional sideloaders are clearly making inroads into many new areas of application.