August 19, 2010

Crown unveils fuel cell-powered forklift with in-dash controls, gauges

New design allows driver to check cell status, access control box without stopping truck, manufacturer says.

By Mark B. Solomon

Crown Equipment Corp. said it has rolled out the industry's first hydrogen fuel cell-powered lift truck with the fuel cell controls and gauges integrated into the truck's dashboard.

Typically, controls and gauges like fuel-level indicators and start/stop buttons are located on the fuel cell. The traditional configuration requires the operator to stop the truck to access the control box and check the cell's condition and status. The new integrated design eliminates the need to stop the truck, thus boosting productivity by keeping the vehicles in operation, Crown said.

Another change, according to Crown, is a new design that places the fuel cell's power unit behind the operator rather than in the battery box directly below the truck's steering controls. "Because many fuel cell packs have a taller profile [than a traditional battery], there isn't enough room to fit them below the steering control without creating safety and performance issues," said Rod Squires, product manager for Crown, in a statement.

Squires said Crown hit upon the idea of placing the cell pack behind the operator as it was working with Wal-Mart Canada, the new product's launch customer. A fleet of the newer-generation trucks has been delivered to Wal-Mart Canada's new perishables distribution center outside of Calgary, Alberta. The trucks are expected to be operational next month. The Calgary facility is believed to be the first Canadian distribution center to be powered exclusively by hydrogen fuel cell lift trucks.

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the technology is currently being tested at the retailing giant's facility in Washington Courthouse, Ohio. There are no plans to expand its usage in the United States beyond that DC, the spokesman said.

Frank Devlin, segment manager for Raymond Corp., a competitor of Crown, said in an e-mail that Raymond does not currently offer integrated fuel cell display functions in its lift trucks. He said that Raymond has been testing and researching various fuel cell-powered lift truck designs, but that the company's current engineering focus is on developing designs where the fuel cell fits in the battery box rather than on making modifications to the truck.

As an example, the company's Model 5000 series Orderpickers are available with an optional 21-inch battery box, which allows a fuel cell to fit without modifying the truck, Devlin said. The truck also allows the driver to view a fuel cell display from the operator compartment, he said.

The fuel cell display on that model is not integrated because the truck is designed to work with both lead acid batteries and fuel cells, Devlin said.

About the Author

Mark B. Solomon
Senior Editor
Mark Solomon has spent 25 years in the transportation, logistics and supply chain management fields as a journalist and public relations professional. From 1989 to 1994, he worked in Washington as a reporter for the Journal of Commerce, covering the aviation and trucking industries, the Department of Transportation, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to that, he worked for Traffic World for seven years in a similar role. From 1994 to 2008, Mr. Solomon ran Media-Based Solutions, a public relations firm based in Atlanta. Mr. Solomon graduated in 1978 with a B.A. in journalism from The American University in Washington, D.C.

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