MLA Vulcan captures heavy forklifts market share

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MLA Vulcan forklift MLA Vulcan forklift MLA Vulcan forklift
MLA Vulcan forklift MLA Vulcan forklift MLA Vulcan forklift
MLA Vulcan forklift interior MLA Vulcan forklift interior MLA Vulcan forklift interior
MLA Vulcan forklift MLA Vulcan forklift MLA Vulcan forklift

Larger capacity fork lifts are coming into their own due largely to the ongoing global commodities boom and associated growth in the intermodal freight task. Matt Wood investigates.

The MLA Vulcan range of 16 tonnes and over machines, which first showed up on the Australian market in 2005, reflects how the heavy end of the container handling fork lift market is seeing a dramatic increase in demand as industry moves to keep pace with the mining boom.

The name has nothing to do with Star Trek's Dr Spock, however. It's a fairly safe bet it refers to the Roman god of fire and volcanos, not the pointy-eared science fiction character.

There are plenty of familiar names among the 'big truck' manufacturers, including the usual suspects - Kalmar, Hyster and Clark/Omega.

But what of the Vulcan?

MLA Holdings has been in the fork lift game since 1980 and has been active in the smaller capacity end of the market handling new, used and rental Mitsubishi fork lifts as well as container handling machinery.

The Vulcan name refers to MLA's range of heavy lift fork lifts covering the 16-tonne to 45-tonne capacity.

The MLA Vulcan range of 16 tonnes and over machines, which first showed up on the Australian market in 2005, reflects how the heavy end of the container handling fork lift market is seeing a dramatic increase in demand as industry moves to keep pace with the mining boom.

The name has nothing to do with Star Trek's Dr Spock, however. It's a fairly safe bet it refers to the Roman god of fire and volcanos, not the pointy-eared science fiction character.

There are plenty of familiar names among the 'big truck' manufacturers, including the usual suspects - Kalmar, Hyster and Clark/Omega.

But what of the Vulcan?

MLA Holdings has been in the fork lift game since 1980 and has been active in the smaller capacity end of the market handling new, used and rental Mitsubishi fork lifts as well as container handling machinery.

The Vulcan name refers to MLA's range of heavy lift fork lifts covering the 16-tonne to 45-tonne capacity.

The origins of the range actually lie with one of Europe's biggest materials handling manufacturers - Linde. But, while the Vulcan may have its origins in Linde, the machine itself has been built and made for Australian conditions, with heavy-duty cooling packages developed specifically for local conditions. These machines are manufactured in both the United Kingdom and China using the same quality assurance standard.

The 'baby' of the range starts with the H160, which has a lift capacity of 16 tonnes at 1,200mm load centre, and continues through the capacity range to 32 tonnes capacity H320 with conventional fork tines.

Above this capacity, things become interesting with the H400 container top lift, the H420 general use fork lift and the big daddy C4531 and C4535 container reach stackers. Both of the reach stackers will stack standard height 9'6 (2.9m) shipping containers 5' (1.52m) high.

On paper at least, the Vulcan range seems to have most heavy fork lift roles covered.

I found this particular H420 Vulcan nestled among the coal elevators, dock cranes and mangroves of Newcastle. It had been set up for flexibility and as a result is equipped with fork lift tines as well as 20/40 top lift container spreader supplied by Swedish equipment manufacturer ELME.

This set-up gives the operator the flexibility to use the machine with bare tines if required by detaching the spreader attachment.

On approaching the big green beast, some standout features were already evident.

The mast of the machine towering above the surrounding yard was impressively uncluttered with the hydraulic lift rams mounted behind the mast channel and the lift chains travelling up the outside channel set into the mast. The tilt rams also are mounted above the cab of the H420. The increased leverage provided by the tilt rams' location means strain is reduced on the hydraulic system as a whole.

The diversity of the tasks that these machines can be expected to undertake means that every vehicle platform has to have some degree of flexibility.

This machine has a forward-mounted cab to maximise forward visibility while loading and unloading trucks. In general, top lift container handlers tend to have the driver's cabin mounted high and towards the rear of the machine to maximise visibility while stacking containers four and five high in container yards.

Vulcan reach stackers can be fitted with a sliding cab so that the driver can move the cab to the rear when driving and stacking in a container yard scenario or forward when loading or unloading trucks and train carriages, maximising visibility in both roles. This is a big plus in markets like ours where half-height intermodal rail containers are commonplace; the operator needs to keep the smaller, but no less heavier, containers in sight at all times.

To help with stability the reach stacker range can be easily optioned with stabiliser legs, a big plus when stacking and or rotating loaded containers at height. 

Climbing onto the H420 was especially easy with a wide staircase with handrail leading up to the driver's cabin. Once seated, looking forward, my first impression of mast visibility was confirmed with a remarkably clear view through and around the mast.

In fact, considering the forward position of the cab, visibility all round was excellent for such a big truck, the scalloped counterweight over the rear steer axle is impressively low with the option of a counterweight mounted reverse camera available.

The cabin itself was reasonably well appointed, as you'd expect with its European heritage, with a comfortably small steering wheel easily reached from the air ride seat.

Climate control and sun blinds were also a nice touch with all other instrumentation on this truck kept to a minimum and out of the way.

The multi-function joystick on the driver's right takes care of all hydraulic functions much the same as many of its competitors.

To the left of the steering wheel lie the controls for the compact Dana-Spicer TE-26 4 speed torque converter transmission with a simple digital readout.

For operations where speed limiting is required MLA use the E-gas vehicle monitoring system which can be used to limit the machines' speed via the engine's electronic control module (ECM) rather than locking out top gear of the transmission to control speed.

This means that by using the E-gas system a container handler can still idle across the yard in top gear, maintaining a safe speed, but saving fuel at the same time.

Load-sensing hydraulics also help save fuel by removing the need for the driver to plant their accelerator foot to generate hydraulic pressure to lift a heavy load. The load sensing system evaluates how much engine rpm and hydraulic pressure is needed and regulates engine revs accordingly.

The H420 relies on Cummins power with a 246kW QSM11 engine installed deep with the bowels of the Vulcan chassis; the choice of Cummins is pretty much a no brainer here in Australia where you'd have to try really hard to find a place where there wasn't a Cummins mechanic.

MLA, like most materials handling equipment providers, has workshops in every state along with an agent in the Northern Territory.

On some models in the Vulcan range, all daily checks can be carried out at ground level; on the H420, however, fluid checks have to be done by lifting the engine cover, not a huge inconvenience but then again the easier you make access for these checks the more likely they are to get done.

If the large capacity fork lift market continues to heat up, the big green machine should prove a worthy contender.

MLA appears to have all bases covered with the Vulcan, which manages to combine European design, safety features and ergonomics with a tried and true driveline in an innovative package.

There's every reason to believe that it should 'live long and prosper'.

Originally published in Plant & Equipment magazine issue 234

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