Review: Mitsubishi RBF16CA reach truck

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The Mitsubishi RBF16CA is an electric sit-on reach truck that has everything a forklift operator would want.

Review: Mitsubishi RBF16CA reach truck
The many facets of the Mitsubishi RBF16CA reach truck.

After testing Mitsubishi’s Grendia FD70 N diesel counterbalance forklift truck late last year and more recently the RBF16CA electric sit-on reach truck, I now realise there must be some pretty big forklift operators out there — operators who can positively dwarf the machine they’re sitting in.

Even the 1.6-tonne reach truck has a suspension seat that can be dialled up to hold 110kg. The instrument and steering wheel panel have sufficient tilt and reach to allow my rotund mid-section to move freely; it is way more comfortable and with better legroom than an airline seat in Economy.

Accommodating my bulk aside, the 1.6-tonne Mitsubishi RBF16CA reach truck has every operator feature you need in an electric reach truck.

 

Mitsubishi RBF16CA reach truck

MLA might describe it as a no-frills model but frankly there was nothing basic about it. It just took me a while to get used to the sideways seating position after driving nothing but conventional counterbalance models.

The Mitsubishi RBF16CA reach truck is middle of the range of three electric reach trucks from 1.4 to 2 tonnes.

All have brushless AC drive motors that not only provide more torque than DC units but are more reliable. Unlike counterbalance forklifts, the motor is connected directly to the single drive wheel and can rotate 360 degrees, making these trucks way more manoeuvrable.

To improve stability on maximum mast reach, a steel shoe is fitted to each outside corner and instantly stops any sway.

 

Walkaround

Compared to a counterbalance truck, the Mitsubishi RBF16CA reach truck is incredibly compact.

A well-positioned grab handle and two-stage step into the driving position make access very easy.

The suspension seat on the Mitsubishi RBF16CA is adjustable forwards and backwards, and next to the tiny steering wheel with knob is an instrument panel that displays travelling direction and speed, battery discharge status, current time and total operating hours.

A ‘dead man’ pedal next to the brake pedal automatically engages the parking brake when released. Three driving modes (normal, economy and power) are provided so new operators can be gradually trained up.

To the right of the driver’s seat are the direction switch and four toggle switches for mast raise and lower, mast in or out, mast rake and fork side shift. To the right of this cluster is a stop button that must be raised and the key switch turned on to re-start the machine.

A tray ahead of this holds documents and there’s a drink holder to the left. Next to the seat back is a recess for holding a mobile phone.

The overhead guard has vertical reinforcing bars to improve vision up the mast the lifting cylinder and chain drive are positioned to the left, giving the operator an uninterrupted view of the forks when nudging into a high-stacked pallet.

My only complaint about the reach truck Mitsubishi RBF16CA is that the twin floodlights have bulbs instead of more energy-efficient LED lights.

 

Servicing a Mitsubishi RBF16CA

Regular maintenance intervals are every 300 hours when grease points need to be topped up and the chain greased. The AC drive motor is sealed and requires no maintenance for the life of it. With the key switch on and flicking a switch to the right of the driver’s seat the entire battery pack slides out with the mast.

The standard battery pack is a 48-volt 360-420 amp/hour lead acid unit but the demo truck had a 480-560 unit weighing 1,165kg.

This provides enough charge for around 5.5 hours of continuous operation but can be charged in eight hours using a three-phase 20A socket, usually on much lower overnight electricity rates using the switch mode power supply charger supplied.

The battery pack can also be left on trickle charge permanently until the next work session because, unlike lithium ion batteries, lead acid units like being kept fully charged. A nice touch is that when the battery draws down to 20 per cent capacity, only the drive motor operates. This allows the truck to get back to the charging point. Fully discharging a lead acid battery is a sure-fire way of ‘killing it’.

To marginally increase the time between battery charges a regenerative system is fitted. When the mast and forks are lowered the hydraulic drive motor puts energy back into the battery pack.

To maintain battery electrolyte level plastic hoses connect to a garden hose fitting allowing normal tap water to be used. Water level cut-offs are fitted so the battery pack can’t be over-filled, but who’d imagine a battery could stand up to the minerals found in drinking water.

So much for the old days of checking battery specific gravity with a hydrometer and using only distilled water.

A side hinged door under the driver’s seat accesses the drive motor and hydraulic and power steering pumps. Component access is a common theme now with Mitsubishi forklifts to reduce unit down time and servicing costs. The standard warranty is 1,200 hours or one-year.

 

On the job

This is the time I both relish and dread. I love reviewing forklifts, but at the same time don’t want to make a fool of myself in front of the distributor or importer.

Having never driven an electric reach truck before, I watched other MLA employees drive the Mitsubishi RBF16CA reach truck before I hopped on board.

Turning the key switch activates the extraction fan cooling system for the motor and pumps. Foot on the dead man pedal and the truck is ready for action.

There are two ways of driving the truck: one is to use the forward/reverse switch; and the other is to spin the steering wheel. As the drive motor rotates 360 degrees, leaving the direction switch in forward and spinning the wheel (using the dash-mounted direction indicator as a guide) the truck can go from forward to reverse without touching the direction switch.

However, I wasn’t that game, so the direction switch got a real workout. MLA entrusted me to retrieve a 600kg box and pallet from the highest stack (about 6m), bring it out, drive away from the stack and lower the pallet to the ground, then reverse this process.

MLA senior area manager Rob Lewis (an incredibly patient guy) set the travel mode on economy or ‘turtle’ so I could gain confidence, then off I went.

Retrieving the pallet and lowering the pallet from the stack were straightforward but it took me two attempts to slot the pallet back in the stack.

I learned the better way with the Mitsubishi RBF16CA reach truck was to go slightly past the stacking position then do a sharp turn to line up the rack and pallet then slide the mast out to allow for the load wheels well out from the truck frame; very different from a counterbalance model.

But I found I didn’t have to use the sideways shift; with a little practise all operators could master the difference.

What seemed an hour later the task was completed. The only trouble I had was judging where the forks were in relation to the stacked pallet.

The mast control toggle switches were a delight to use and very responsive compared to the normal levers found in counterbalance trucks. Even with the pallet that high the truck was completely stable.

Having the chain offset made a big difference to judging where the forks and pallet were in relation to the stack.

The suspension seat dialled up to maximum bulk was so supportive. And how nice it was to not have an internal combustion engine thumping away behind me. The only noise when not moving or raising or lowering the mast was the motor and pumps cooling fan. My tinnitus sure had an easy run that day.

 

The bottom line

The biggest change I’ve seen in my 25 years of testing forklifts is just how good operator ergonomics have become. Features such as offsetting the mast chain, seat slides and steering wheel/instrument panel tilt and reach have made operating these machines so much less stressful than even 10 years ago.

The Mitsubishi RBF16CA reach truck has everything an operator needs to make a factory shift seem to go that much faster. Buyers must be impressed too because the first run of units imported had all been sold after just brief demo drives the day before I tested the RBF16CA. Some were even sold from the brochure.

Thanks Lewis and MLA for having the confidence in me not to drop a loaded pallet.

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