So when Hyster invited me to Italy to their Masate Plant I was wondering just why they thought I would want to travel 1,250 miles to look at a product I thought I knew. I couldn’t have been more wrong.The WOW factorAs an engineer who builds and equips warehouses, I have discovered that my customers prefer to buy exactly the right size, not a millimetre bigger than they actually need. The internal operations then hold the attention of the prospective owner and these obviously vary quite widely and dynamically but in relevance to Hyster there is a point where big and functional must transform into nimble and small, but does the new Hyster Reach Truck do both, what more does it have pinned to its mast.The Masate plant is a 1940′s structure with its iron lattice work roof truss buoyed up with a liberal amount of concrete and infiltrated with extensions and expansions over the years. So in 2009 despite the best analysts’ projections, when the phones stopped ringing and society very nearly lost huge chunks of infrastructure, Hyster stood back and watched production slow down in a matter of days. Not so with operating costs. So what do you think they did? They decided that they would put their skills to work on the business, they used the time, peace and quiet to regroup, retrain and reinvent themselves and re-emerge fitter leaner and faster, not to mention smarter. Cool doesn’t even come close to describing what has been achieved, but this is Italy! The Italians don’t do ugly! Did Hyster actually realise that in fact the Italian contingent was about to show them a thing or two about beauty I wonder?The Masate plant conceals an operation which is so advanced, so precise and so well thought out, it is likely to feature in the next James Bond film, Q would be out classed and the puns would be blown away with what Hyster has forked out for Masate.Of the Euro 6m cash injection 20 percent has gone directly into investment in quality. They have had the Transformers Constructertron, Contrôlée and Correctus transform all things in the process. So detailed and laser guided is their precision build program that they are actually correcting precision metal components as they come through the factory door ready for the build. Each process adds its own perfect build, checked and Q.A.’d as it is built. Soon your Hyster order will be as traceable as DHL deliverance anywhere on the planet.Not content with a revolution in quality they went to work on the human beings who use their products and precisely measured them. They studied their work day and even what they wear. They then took that to their design construction teams and redesigned the entire build operations with RFID technology so they could still discuss the performance of Inter Milan without letting an own goal into the production line.
The key metal components are synergised and infused into and through production and when they are production perfect they are ready for the Carl Cloos 360 treatment. Inspired by the weapons system on the front turret of an attack helicopter, Carl precision welds masts together, so quickly, precisely and perfectly that they didn’t dare show us the operation.What emerges from all this ‘Star Wars’ technology is a piece of equipment that is so perfect, graceful and elegant that its launch really should have been down the cat walk at the next Milan fashion show. Gucci and Prada would be impressed; they would certainly struggle without forklifts in their industry. This truck is designed to be worn by the operator not driven. Thrust into the palm of your hand is fingertip control that might have you believing this truck knows what you are thinking. Just like your computer, inevitably there is more than one way to do the same thing, so your personal preferences have not been trashed in the interests of someone else’s idea of progress. Nice thinking!What is it… well it’s a Hyster truck of course! Only not as you know it! It lifts more pallets, at higher, high safe speeds, with less operator fatigue whilst encased in a fully armoured pod capable of taking a direct 2000 kg’s incoming hit without flinching. WOW! Is this machine good, no, it’s in an ‘ F ‘ class of its own, way beyond any WOW factor.Even the women were asking if they looked good in it! It was so comfortable that it was hard to get them out of it. Hyster have actually managed to produce a work of art! Had I not seen it built with my own eyes I might have been worried but this Italian job is a heist the industry is not expecting and has been borne out of the carnage of 2008/9. Both we and they deserve the success of it.What they have built is a remodel of one of the world’s top selling fork lift trucks namely the reach truck. This is not so much a reach truck, it’s more a game changer, it still has all the strength of a Shrek, but now it’s an adornment, personal ultra-light weight battle armour that won’t get in the way of your safety shoes and won’t jar your teeth through your tongue every time jump in or out of it.The view through all the metal work is surprisingly good. Pallets are not simply picked they are laser locked by height and entry and the operator simply points and picks whilst a fork mounted camera provides additional proof of the lock. When you put this truck on you are no longer in a reach truck you become a pallet handling transformer.As far as information technologies is concerned, built in as standard, are mounting points for any IT gear you want to fit. The RFID kit means that when you need service support, they already know what is needed and how much work you have done in your pallet pod. They know you won’t want to get out of it once in it, so they have made the service intervals substantially longer. Like fine Irish whiskey all the oils have been double and triple filtered so that they are purer and last longer, the double CAN bus system means that if for some strange reason you become marooned in your vehicle it will always have enough juice left to get you safely out of harm’s way so you are not blocking the approach routes in the storage work zone.Emissions and energy efficiency have all been thought through so that you will hardly leave the carbon foot print of a field mouse in your travels.The price tag is comfortingly sensible with a well thought through range of finance options available but more specifically the rental market has been paid due homage in this remarkable build programme. They of all people don’t want a fleet of lemons so they are going to love this. It’s a gift. In fact, no stone as gone unturned in this 4 year makeover.Some Shrek fans all over the world at first sight may be apprehensive with this new Italian Machine. Beneath its Italian designer artwork is the muscle of a well hewn gladiator with all the passion and strength of a Roman legion fed into every nut, bolt and hydraulic cylinder of this lioness dressed up as a pussy cat.As an engineer was I impressed? I was amazed at the amount of human effort that had gone into this new product. Who would have thought that whilst Rome burned so to speak, Hyster took the flames of recession and used them to re-forge their business to emerge stronger and right on the front line of total business cost reduction? They have cut their costs to the point that when you partner with Hyster you are guaranteed a partner that understands how to do tough in the board room, on the shop floor and most particularly out there in operations, your operations. I know who I would want on my team.So that said, what does all this mean when faced with who to choose? Well Hyster offer two warehouse choices. They believe that the small and lower warehouse operation needs space and that anything that needs a truck at all needs safe operating space which they would define in old money as being more than eight feet, the distance needed to allow two pallets to pass in comfort. The reach truck turning circle accommodates this both safely and comfortably and for greater density they say “bring it’” on with an aisle suitable to take only one pallet width but that gets a move on. To that affect their VNA gear is not to be sniffed at and is probably the first port of call for anyone looking for very high speed stock operations.
Hyster are willing to take on the challenge that faced with similar equipment equivalents theirs will wipe the floor with any other machine and kick ass in the IT department too. They would take this further and add that in their opinion the speed of operational turn round in the smaller warehouses where articulated trucks are gaining ground, that the sheer speed and performance of the new Hyster reach truck will overall warrant the additional space because it delivers far greater efficiencies and a world class performance to match. World class football needs a decent sized pitch to make the best of the game. This, of course, is the rule of space law. There comes a point where ‘compact’ dies in its own claustrophobia and that there is an optimum minimum which allows efficient operations through flexibility. It’s an interesting debate and it’s far from over, however it should not be allowed to detract from the effort which has been sunk into “Project Truck”.As a tribute to this success, over 6 major awards and accreditations have been hard won and include a dynamic combining of information technology into business management, international standards and production control which have not seen such intensity since Rover’s latter days and Nissan’s early days. What’s more it’s clearly there in the work force and work place that show an obvious pride in ground they have broken not just in their work place but for that customer base too. Shop floor guys are not Oscar winners, but not one of them hesitated to talk about what they did and they know their stuff too!The fact is you cannot invent such high standards. The research into work place practice is epic here and I have no doubt that much patience, support and guidance has been gained in the aspiration to achieve such commendably high standards.When I wrote about Briggs Equipment last year I was a tad sceptical of the spin off strategies and motivations with other Materials Handing market movements.When you turn up in Masate you can’t miss the NMHG influence in all this. A new dawn in the meaning of world class is now showing itself and NMHG have thrown down the gauntlet.The days of entrepreneurial loose cannon operations are over; this is the serious face of well benchmarked, properly documented and controlled engineering in our industry sector.If you want to be inspired go take a look. Big is beautiful and not at all ugly after all.