Brisbane produce wholesaler United Lettuce, received a major productivity boost when it switched to Linde material handling equipment more than a year ago, according to Bill Mills.
United Lettuce is one of more than 50 primary wholesalers selling fruit and vegetables from 7,000 growers to over 800 commercial buyers at the Brisbane Markets six days a week. It is a hectic, crowded and highly competitive environment as brothers Joseph and Daniel Spoto well knew before they stepped up to take over the business established by their father Tony, who is now transitioning towards retirement.
One of the key decisions taken by the brothers on taking the reins was the switch to Linde as supplier of gas and electric forklifts and electric pallet trucks. As the business’s human resources and workplace health and safety manager Bill Mills was heavily involved in the decision. “There were several reasons for changing over our fleet,” Bill explained. “The existing equipment was quite old, we were looking for more efficiency and comfort for the operators and we wanted to build a relationship with whoever became our supplier.”
“We looked at two other brands, but we quickly homed in on Linde because had we seen what an adjacent business was able to achieve with its fleet of Linde equipment in this environment. “You can see the innovation with Linde, whereas when you look at the basics of other brands they haven’t changed. They are virtually the same as they were ten years ago.
When our operators first went to look at Linde equipment it was a big shock for them. Now they wouldn’t want to be using anything else.
United Lettuce trialled Linde gas and electric forklifts, concentrating on evaluating the gas forklifts because it was familiar with the Linde electric E16C 1275 series forklift through a one-off purchase two years previously. That Linde electric forklift had proven to be very reliable, as had Linde service support for it on the rare occasions it was needed. More than 460 delivery forklifts are in use outdoors throughout the Brisbane Markets, as well many more which operate only within the premises of individual tenancies.
All United Lettuce forklifts are used extensively in the outdoor market areas. The company has a selling floor in the main market area where buyers inspect produce and place orders and a separate sorting shed where produce is initially delivered. Its electric E16C forklifts primarily service the sorting shed and in very busy times make deliveries elsewhere. The Linde H20T 391 series gas forklifts are used as delivery trucks, travelling all over the market from 1am nonstop until 11am, six days a week.
“Because we were previously with another material handling equipment supplier for many years we thought long and hard about making a change,” Bill Mills said. “We also spoke at length with our operators to get their opinions. “Each of our operators experienced a full shift on a couple of different Linde forklift options while we considered what to do. While the initial cost may have been more than the alternatives, we soon found the Linde forklifts were cheaper to run and more productive. We wouldn’t go back.
Service and safety
Another crucial factor which ultimately swayed the decision was Linde’s commitment to service. Our experience has been that Linde service performance and its efficient call-centre to arrange technicians’ visits is very, very good.
“We can also ring the Linde technicians direct, or even arrange a visit by simply speaking with them as we see them around the markets. That’s the type of flexibility we appreciate and there is nothing like having a good rapport with the actual people who are doing the work.”
United Lettuce optioned its Linde H20T and E16C forklifts with the BlueSpot workplace vehicle and pedestrian safety system, additional LED lights front and rear, windscreens front and rear, UHF radios and load damping hydraulic accumulators.
“The hydraulic accumulators have proven to be a particularly good, but relatively small investment,” Bill Mills said. “The hydraulic accumulator takes the shock out of moving over market roads and poor surfaces, particularly with heavy loads. Fatigue levels have declined and the noise levels are low, which is important when you are working with the UHF radios. The Lindes are a very impressive, sturdy piece of kit.”
Fuel economy promises kept
United Lettuce director Joseph Spoto researched what his company could expect in terms of fuel consumption, a key element in evaluating the business case for choosing Linde. “Linde suggested we would have savings of 20 to 25 percent on what we had previously experienced, but after a year of use the forklifts have well and truly exceeded our expectations,” Bill Mills said. “To put it in real world terms, I filled one of our previous supplier’s forklifts after little more than a shift and the gas bottle took 30 litres. After the same amount of use it only took 19 litres to fill the Linde H20T. “We don’t even routinely look at fuel use any more. It’s not on our minds all the time as it was with the previous thirsty forklifts.
“We wanted FleetFOCUS initially to track and control forklift use, because the company is aware of its obligation to prevent unauthorized use of its equipment. The system solves that issue and gives us the ability to thoroughly monitor the forklifts and their operators. I’m preparing a business case at present to examine whether we can justify purchasing another electric forklift. FleetFOCUS is the ideal tool to help achieve that.
“We’ve had a good productivity hit since switching to Linde so ironically it hasn’t been as important to drill down into all the statistical information on forklift and operator activity it would also provide. The switch to Linde was certainly the correct one for us.”