Study: Increased movement at the forklift truck workstation

Students from the Technical University of Munich design a forklift truck workstation in accordance with the principles of universal design

How should workstations be designed so that forklift truck drivers can work effectively and safely for a sustained period? Seven students from the master’s degree programme in Industrial Design at the Technical University of Munich tackled this topic for one semester, during which time they worked with Linde to develop a workstation in a forklift truck in accordance with the of universal design (UD).

We have an ageing society, which means that even in the logistics industry there will be increasing numbers of employees still working beyond the age of 60 in the future. Companies are therefore faced with new challenges: Working environments need to be created that meet a range of physical requirements. And it was for this exact problem that the students wished to find solutions. The starting point for their work was a Linde E20 electric forklift truck from the current series.

Working with Linde MH, eight students from the master’s degree programme in Indus-trial Design at the Technical University of Munich have designed a forklift truck workstation in accordance with the principles of universal design. The students based their designs on the Linde E20 electric forklift truck.

Easy on the back
Before the students started developing their initial ideas, they took a trip to the Munich Wholesale Market to watch the forklift truck drivers in action. By observing the drivers, the students noticed that, although the forklift trucks hardly stayed in one place for any length of time, the drivers themselves sat in the cabs for long periods of time without moving very much. “Sitting for long periods is not good for the back”, says Fritz Frenkler, who holds a chair as a university professor at the Department of Industrial Design at the Technical University of Munich. In addition, it becomes more difficult to turn around as you get older, because your body starts to stiffen up.

As the driver gets into the truck, his seat position, display and language are automatically adjusted to suit his individual requirements. The information required for this process is saved in the “TaLindesman”, which the driver keeps about his person.

Movement requires space
The students based their proposal on the structural conditions and requirements of the Linde electric forklift truck that features a two-tonne load-bearing capacity. A lithium-ion battery, which replaces the lead batteries, frees up more room and leads to new design options such as a very low entry point into the truck, which allows drivers to get in and out of the truck safely. The lower weight of the lithium-ion batteries is offset by weights attached to the underbody. Furthermore, the driver’s field of vision is expanded by omitting the A-columns. A rotary seated workstation, which can be converted into a standing workstation as required using a handle, allows the driver to adopt different positions in the truck and prevents just one area of the body from being put under strain.

The driver is able to reach the operating elements in either the seated or standing position, enabling him to move more flexibly and obtain a good overview when lifting and lowering the load.

The TaLindesman
In order to motivate and show appreciation toward the forklift truck drivers, as well as to improve the way information was being processed, the students worked on additional concepts. One such concept involves the driver being informed about the forklift truck’s battery charge status from the truck exterior. In addition, each user is given his own electronic key — his TaLindesman. This key stores personal data, such as the font size for the display or the preferred seating position in the forklift truck. When the driver gets into the truck, the system identifies the key and automatically adopts all the settings stored on the key. As all keys are in contact with one another, an early warning system is in place for when another forklift truck approaches: The TaLindesman vibrates and beeps to alert the driver. The on-screen display of the forklift truck is deliberately kept to a minimum and provides the driver with only the most vital information, such as the wheel position, lift mast tilt or position of the fork arms. However, there is also a touchscreen function that allows the driver to communicate with colleagues.

The driver can control the truck whether he is in a seated or standing position, meaning he does not come under strain from always staying in one position or the other. This can help prevent long-term complaints such as back pain.

Focusing on the person
The students are aware that the concept they presented involves preliminary results that require further investigations, tests and developments. A key prerequisite would also be the economical application of lithium-ion technology in counterbalance trucks. However, the Linde management team were broadly positive of the concept. “Thanks to this study, we have obtained valuable information about the potential for the future development of forklift trucks”, says Manfred Höhn, Head of Communication and Branding at Linde.

The rotary seat reduces stress on the driver’s spinal column and provides for a good view of the route ahead: Thanks to a second pedal, the seat can be rotated by up to 120 degrees.

Universal design
UD stands for universal design: This concept involves products, equipment or environments being designed in such a way that a wide array of people are able to use them. The aim is for age, physical health, breadth of experience or language skills to pose as few problems as possible. In addition to a high level of safety, the objectives of this kind of design include intuitive user functions and a minimum amount of physical strain on the user.

The display shows information that is important to the driver, such as the current wheelbase and the position of the lift mast and the fork arms. The driver is also able to use the touchscreen to communicate with his colleagues.

The driver is able to see the battery’s charge status on the outside of the truck even before he climbs inside — useful information when starting a shift.