Tall Order

The three-high straddle carrier, a new product from material handling specialist Combilift, has found a home at FBT Transwest who has recently deployed a second unit into local operations.
Combilift's latest material handling solution.

The willingness of many transport operators to introduce new modes of equipment to realise increased efficiencies or gain a competitive advantage is nothing new.

The innovations intrinsic to the launch and development of these same modes often is.

FBT Transwest, a specialised supplier of high consequence transport, storage and related supply chain services, has looked in recent times to Combilift, a global material handling solutions provider, for equipment that can effectively deliver results the common reach stacker cannot.

The three-high straddle carrier recently launched in the local market by Combilift is a new product within its straddle carrier range.

FBT Transwest landed the first last September which it has debuted in Sydney and added another at its Melbourne depot in April. But first some backstory.

The SC3, a three-wheeled straddle carrier, is considered an industry benchmark in terms of smaller straddle carriers.

It’s the most popular in the world. First launched in Ireland back in 2010, it has since become a staple product within the Combilift range according to Jarad Wilson, Straddle Carrier Product Manager – Asia Pacific.

“That machine specialises in stacking containers two high,” he says.

“Combilift had customers who wanted more storage. That’s why the three-high variant has been developed and subsequently launched.”

It proved so popular with logistics and intermodal adjacent businesses, Combilift subsequently released to market four- and eight-wheeled variants of the SC3.

While these versions have evolved from the same basic structural design, the three-high, however, is an entirely new machine.

“It’s structurally very different with a new design,” says Jarad. “Whereas the SC3 had a lineage being a very popular machine with additional versions, the three-high is a brand-new development.”

Three high straddle.
Combilift’s new straddle stacking containers three high.

Here’s a primary advantage of the three-high: when there is an array of two high containers another container can be taken out from behind the group and lifted over the foreground containers.

“Three-high was about maximising your storage rather than the reach stacker where you end up with a cluster of containers stored in a block and it’s difficult to access some of the containers without moving others,” explains Jarad.

“In container handling if you have a reach stacker you can stack containers more densely but there are limitations with that.”

While a reach stacker can stack full containers at least three high and empty containers even higher, operators can encounter the challenge of accessing boxes in a block storage formation other than the one that is immediately closest.

“Outside of the containers presented at the front of the stack it’s very difficult to get to any of the other containers,” says Jarad.

“The advantage of a straddle container is you can have an array of containers laid out in lanes and you can lift one container out of the group and lift it over the other container and bring it out.”

At present, Combilift has over 200 straddle carrier units already in the Australian marketplace, with close to 100 units in New Zealand. Globally they have around 1000 straddle carriers currently in operation.

The Australian market, unlike Europe and North America, is unique in that containers are many times taken away from the ports before being delivered directly to the customer’s location. Straddle carriers, for this reason, are not only found on the wharf or at portside container yards.

“The three high straddle is for customers who have facilities away from the ports where they are storing containers for a number of different customers, so they need to be able to order pick,” says Jarad.

“In this situation selection is specific from the group — it matters what is picked and when, more than likely from a business with some experience working with straddles. Uptake is happening with some of the major industry players in the segment.”

FBT Transwest is one of them. Collaborating with Combilift According to Cameron Dunn, FBT Managing Director, was an easy choice.

“It’s not all about the sale. It’s also about the partnership and the quality they could provide,” he says. “We were very impressed with their ethos and their commitment to safety, which primarily led to us choosing Combilift.”

While Combilift already had the product, FBT helped to hone its development for the local environment.

Some of their older pieces of equipment are not suited for uneven ground. Flat hardstand can have drainage capability which will bring with it some level of undulation.

Combilift helped address that issue with a hydraulic suspension system. Jarad likens it to the three-legged stool versus the four-legged table at a café that gets the wobbles.

“The three-point contact is why our SC3 has been so popular for uneven ground, on the three-point contact every point will share the load,” he says.

“When you go to four wheels like the four-legged table, when you’re not on flat ground you need to determine some way to even out wheel loadings and to avoid having maybe one wheel suspended in the air and maybe one wheel getting a lot of loading and we have the Combilift hydraulic suspension system for doing that.”

As an early adopter of the two-high SC3 unit, FBT Transwest sought out Combilift for an option to stack three containers high.

The solution had already been identified internally by Combilift who proceeded to work closely with FBT on the conceptual design. Some of the primary areas to focus on were the guiding of the telescopic spreader as it travels up and down within the body of the machine.

Combilift straddle carrier at work.
Combilift’s new straddle carrier in action in the FBT Transwest yard.

Another key area was ergonomics, with specific details around vision for the operator, seating position and access both into the cab, and for maintenance.

“Anything to do with the operator’s interaction with the equipment was really important to them,” says Jarad.

“They have a very established team who had been operating similar straddle type equipment for a long time. So they knew that this was going to be different and they wanted a smoother transition for the operator’s to be using this equipment.”

Several fruitful discussions ensued particularly around the cab and controls layout. In sum, FBT were an insightful resource into the operator’s experience.

“They understood we hadn’t produced a machine that had a guided spreader, so it was the guiding of the load as it goes up and down that was an important as well,” recalls Jarad.

“They entrusted us to be able to provide an equipment solution with the required functionality and operating experience.”

FBT management liked the first three-high straddle carrier so much they wasted little time investing in a second. There was not, for their purposes, anything equivalent in the market that had the same capability.

Having the product well supported locally and made by a large European based business helps. That said, the response from the operators is equally important according to Jarad.

“You’ve got the guys who are spending the money and then you’ve got the guys who are using the machines day-to-day,” he says. “As it’s big equipment, you need to be comfortable in operating it.”

Jarad, to wit, visited FBT’s Sydney site earlier in the year after the machine had been working there for several months. The operator had not driven a three-high before so was, understandably, somewhat tentative to begin with.

“He loves the machine given it’s so much easier than other equipment he’s driven,” he says.

“It’s very smooth to operate, the way it drives and its ability to turn. It’s very manoeuvrable for such a tall machine. The feedback has been very positive. Obviously, FBT has bought a second machine and that’s also feedback to us from a management perspective that helps to endorse the validity of the product.”

  1. Australian Truck Radio Listen Live
Send this to a friend