How do you equip forklift trucks for extreme conditions?

FONDIUM, headquartered in Singen, Germany, has joined forces with long-term partner STILL to upgrade its vehicle fleet for the special demands of a metal foundry. The goal is to maximize the number of hours of operation in a tough environment. 

There’s hot, there’s really hot, and then there’s an iron foundry. The production of cast metal components for the automotive industry takes place under extreme conditions. Off-the-peg solutions are unable to stay the course. Yet there are also ways and means of making processes safer, better and more efficient – as demonstrated by FONDIUM, a leading maker of heavy-duty vehicle components. In order to remain competitive in a fiercely contested market, the company has partnered with STILL to ensure the fleet of forklift trucks at its production plant in Singen is technologically fit for the future. Heavy-duty forklift trucks are ideal for moving the castings the foundry makes. But the introduction of new vehicles needs to be planned with care: they have to withstand exceptionally harsh conditions.

Made-to-measure forklifts

Trucks need to be carefully planned, designed and configured for the very special environments that await them. Defining the requirements is best done in an interdisciplinary way.

“We held a number of intense discussions where it became clear that the only way to create an ideal vehicle fleet was through close cooperation between the various departments at our production facility,”

concludes Manuel Veser, Head of the Logistics Center in Singen.

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This process resulted in a total of 18 modifications to the forklift truck model to tailor it to deployment in the foundry: the windshield comprises flat, heat-resistant glazing mounted in a steel frame. To protect the front tires against flying sparks, the vehicle has metal fenders, and the headlights and cylinders for the tilt mechanism are in protective metal cages. An additional heat shield is positioned to the right of the driver’s cab. Moreover, the hydraulic elements on the attachments also have their own special safeguards against sparks and falling residual cast metal.

The solution has proven highly successful. Around 50 electric STILL forklifts have clocked up some 15,000 hours of operation over the last four years without any significant downtime.

Li-ion-powered storage systems for greater availability

The company has not only introduced state-of-the-art technology in its foundry. Lithium-ion batteries now power 23 pallet stackers in its warehouse. Dedicated charging points in the various departments help ensure maximum availability. Mathis Märgner, in charge of fleet maintenance in Singen, explains: “As each department has its own charger, we can give the Li-ion batteries for the pallet stackers top-up charges during work breaks. The batteries achieve 50 percent of maximum capacity after just 30 minutes, without negatively impacting service life. This solution eliminates the need for wet-cell batteries that require replacement units, long charging cycles and significant maintenance effort in dusty environments.”

Visibility into the entire fleet

To make the most of the vehicles in their foundry and warehouse, FONDIUM has implemented STILL FleetManager. This software indicates, for example, the workload each forklift truck is subject to, and where improvements can be made. It also supports the exact analysis of patterns of damage, enabling targeted preventive action to be taken.

Overall, it has been possible to improve fleet asset utilization, allowing a reduction in the number of vehicles from 136 to 119.