Special Conversions of Forklift Trucks: Innovative Ideas for Improved Integration of Disabled Drivers

Forklift trucks are real all-rounders: They can lift, move, and stack loads, and can even do much more with the right attachments. However, while their areas of application are extremely varied, the trucks themselves are geared more towards the types of operators for whom the series vehicles have been designed. But what is the situation for forklift truck drivers who do not fit this norm due to physical disabilities or who have other special requirements when it comes to forklift trucks? The KION brands Linde Material Handling and STILL can find solutions for them too—custom-made solutions.

At the long-standing location of the KION subsidiary brand STILL GmbH in Hamburg, it is not just series models rolling off the forklift truck production line—there is also a small test area, where special unique models are being worked on every day. This is where the team for “Customized Options” works.

To give just one example of this team’s extremely varied projects: it converted a STILL forklift truck to include changed pedal arrangements and an aid for exiting the forklift for a driver with only one leg. This type of work calls for the design team to be extremely inventive and dedicated, and also requires extensive technical expertise, and the best place to find this is of course at the manufacturer of the forklifts that are to be converted. The test area team implements the individual special design right down to the very last detail: from the concept, assembly, and CE testing through to the operating manual for the intended use. This results in a special conversion that lives up to the standard truck in every respect and also gives the driver a high degree of normality in their day-to-day working life.

However, the test area in Hamburg is not the only place where the special conversions of STILL forklift trucks are made a reality. Other countries also have dedicated departments for this. When one of these individual solutions is implemented, the associated designs and 3D drawings are entered straight into the STILL database for Customized Options. This means that the development teams around the world can access the catalog of previous special designs—and if necessary can implement an individual solution for a forklift truck driver with special requirements even quicker.

Special Designs to Prevent or Minimize Discomfort

There are also a large number of Customized Options for industrial trucks that have preventative purposes, and some of these can be seen at the KION subsidiary Linde Material Handling. These range from wooden joysticks for people with a contact allergy to plastics to wider access steps and rotating seats to make it easier to look behind the truck. The latter was designed by the team for special designs at Linde Material Handling in Sweden. Many of their customers use the company’s forklift trucks in the paper industry, where loads are heavy and bulky. This means that forklift truck drivers often have to drive backwards, which in the long run leads to an increased risk of accidents and considerable back problems.

The development department in Sweden therefore designed a seat that can be rotated by up to 180 degrees, making it significantly more ergonomic for drivers. To make this special solution a reality, the Swedish developers were in direct contact with the Customized Options team at the company headquarters in Aschaffenburg and had access to all the 3D models and drawings of the series production forklift trucks. And conversely, their solution was then included in a comprehensive global database of Customized Options, exactly the same as at the subsidiary STILL. This helps to ensure efficient processes even across different countries.

Different Countries, Different Challenges

“Each country has its own very specific requirements and finds its own entirely individual solutions,” reports Klaus Müller, Head of Customized Options at KION ITS EMEA. In his experience, the climatic conditions also play a role in special solutions. In the north, the departments for special designs focus primarily on auxiliary heating and specially insulated forklift cabs to create comfortable conditions for drivers and prevent colds, while in the south there is more demand for extremely powerful air-conditioning systems and tinted windows. Special sound insulation to reduce noise in particularly loud environments also forms part of the growing portfolio. The development teams at Linde Material Handling and STILL have the right answers for every question and they also sometimes transfer their solutions to forklift series production depending on demand.

Well Equipped for Use in Areas with Fire Hazards

There is likely to be a very special challenge for the team at the STILL test area in Hamburg before the end of the year. The works fire brigade of a renowned automotive manufacturer has requested a special conversion of a forklift truck that could be used in an emergency to remove a burning vehicle from the production environment, i.e., directly from the assembly line. The difficulty here is that a fire produces smoke, which can find its way into the cab, impairing the driver’s visibility and their safety. The solution the Customized Options team can offer here is a pressurized cab that keeps the air inside the forklift truck clean at all times and provides a truly unique addition to the works fire brigade’s fleet.

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