In an interview, Harald Will speaks about the subject of sustainability and the challenges of the future.
How important are corporate responsibility and sustainability for Linde Material Handling and how do these influence the research and development activities of the company?
Ecological and economic sustainability are of great importance to Linde Material Handling. This is reflected in the quality of our processes, services and products, as well as the demands we place on our employees. The objective is to support our customers worldwide in further reducing their energy consumptions, their emissions, and their costs. The best basis for this is the vast experience of our personnel, who we retain with the company for the long term and train up into genuine forklift specialists. And, of course, our intensive research and development activities. This is the basis for continually producing new, pioneering innovations as well as products of the highest quality and with the desired longevity. Our products are designed to last for at least 20,000 operating hours. This equates to an average service life of at least 10 years. Keeping the servicing expenditure of our forklifts to a minimum is planned in during the development phase. All of that combined makes our vehicles unbeatable by the competition, including when it comes to operating costs across the entire life cycle. And our customers profit from that.
How do innovations actually originate at Linde Material Handling?
Innovations are often the result of connecting existing knowledge, which leads to new applications. You don’t often get a massive breakthrough. Innovations are rather a result of many smaller optimizations, which then lead to a noticeable improvement in the overall system. However, besides sustainability, it is also vital to look at cost effectiveness. That is why innovations can only be realized over time.
Where do you see clear opportunities to preserve resources and avoid emissions?
Concentrating on improving individual components in a technical product always carries the danger that benefit achieved is canceled out by disadvantages in other areas. That is why I see the greatest potential for reducing the consumption of resources in optimizing the overall system. That means improving all relevant components and their interplay in the vehicle. This includes, for example, introducing mechatronic systems and optimizing the overall vehicle setup by adjusting software parameters. Only from the sum of these measures to the engine, axle, and control elements in the cockpit, for example, do I achieve efficiency gains and as a result, reductions in consumption and emissions.
Our objective will always remain to develop and produce vehicles that optimally fulfill the criteria for sustainability: to be technically exceptional, outstandingly cost effective, and ecologically responsible.
Can you already predict what will be the leading drive technology in the future?
Combustion engines will continue to be used for a long time. That is due to their performance capability, robustness, and cost effectiveness compared with alternative drive types. In addition, they also have promising potential for further optimization. Because of the issue of exhaust emissions, there is currently a trend towards forklifts with gas-powered combustion engines. However, electric forklifts are continuing to show improvements in performance and will become first choice for the medium term if manufacturers can succeed in reducing battery costs and generating greater performance from smaller batteries over a longer period. Lithium-ion batteries will make a significant contribution to that. Linde Material Handling is currently developing production-ready lithium-ion batteries for use in warehouse trucks. However, these are not yet universally fit for use in practice owing to their high costs.
The objective is to support our customers worldwide in further reducing their energy consumptions, their emissions and their costs.
In the long term, hydrogen can become the number one energy source. That is why, in the area of advanced technologies, Linde Material Handling has already developed close to production fuel cells and tested these intensively in a practical environment. No other system is so environmentally friendly whilst boasting the same level of energy efficiency as the Linde forklifts. It is our longterm objective to make fuel-cell forklifts competitive. Until then, however, current drive technologies in conventional forklifts must achieve reductions in consumption and emissions.
How important is research and development in the company?
Research and development is given extremely high importance at Linde Material Handling. This is reflected, for example, in the number of personnel in this area. Over the last ten years, the size of the development team at our Aschaffenburg location has almost doubled. However, we are not only expanding our personnel in Germany, but also in important markets around the world. In China, for example, we will be taking on almost 200 people in the near future in the development of vehicles for the Asian market, who are also equipped to construct and test their own prototypes. In addition, we will be further deepening our co-operation with universities and research institutes.
What is the major challenge facing you at present?
With around 40 national companies and agencies in 100 countries, multinational working is a matter of course at Linde Material Handling. Our engineers are currently developing forklifts and warehouse vehicles in 11 locations around the world. The various markets pose a wide range of challenges to our products and a variety of mentalities and languages must be taken into account when working together. To network and co-ordinate all of that will be one of the most important challenges. Going forward, technological, ecological, and economic challenges can only be overcome through networked co-operation.
A successful future requires optimally trained personnel. How do you ensure you have the right human resources?
For over 70 years Linde Material Handling has offered young people vocational training, the quality of which is known far beyond the confines of the company. There are also attractive programs for initial vocational qualification in our international locations.
In addition, the maintenance and continual expansion of qualifications is ensured through corresponding vocational development programs. This targeted in-house development of our specialists is something we intend to take forward in future. This should mould our personnel into genuine forklift experts who understand the entire system of the vehicle. That requires a high degree of specialization and long-term collaboration. It’s not surprising that our employees stay with the company for over 19 years on average. On that basis, specialists who have been trained as described can take up management positions within the company.
Just one more personal question in closing: How do you motivate yourself for the demanding challenges ahead?
I love meeting people from different cultures around the world. Having exchanges with different characters and mentalities, and working towards shared objectives is simply fantastic and very exciting for me.