“I gain great satisfaction in making someone else’s job easier,” enthuses Malcolm Cole, Engineering Manager at Yale Europe Materials Handling.
In March 2017, Yale® was delighted to be presented with the Ergonomics prize for the MPT Series Rider Pallet Truck at the FLTA Awards for Excellence ceremony. For all those involved with the project, this moment was the culmination of years of research and development, all geared towards creating the best possible product for customers’ use.
Devising and assembling this award-winning truck required the expertise of a well-balanced and experienced team, led on this occasion by Project Sponsor Mark Stent, the Engineering Concept Centre (ECC) Operations Director. Alongside Senior Project Engineer Matthew Wiacek, who served as the Project Manager, the two have nearly 50 years’ experience in the world of materials handling. Combined, they oversaw an extensive design and construction process, liaising with Mechanical Engineer Alex Manning and Project Engineer Andrew White, who were members of the development team responsible for making the Rider Pallet plans a reality, as well as Malcolm Cole, Engineering Manager, who presided over the testing and validation of the project at each stage of development.
“We started the project in 2012, so it would have been early 2014 when we started talking to people about it to involve a wider team in the truck’s original conception – sales, industry and solutions experts, as well as dealers,” explains Matthew. “We sought the views of customers and truck users so that we could understand their needs. We used this knowledge to produce prototype A, our first real functioning truck, which we could take back to customers and confirm that we had interpreted their needs correctly. In 2014, our attention focused on production and development of the design to ensure it was reliable before building a production-ready prototype B in 2015.”
With the increased focus in recent years on the productivity of employees, as well as their health and well-being, ergonomics is continuing to play an even more prominent role within the logistics industry. It is therefore no surprise to discover that right from the initial idea stages of the design process through to the final testing of prototypes, customer input remained central to the entire MPT Series Rider Pallet Truck project.
“There were a number of visits to various customers not only to conduct interviews, but also to observe their operations and to see exactly how they used their trucks,” says Mark. “We wanted to understand what they were trying to achieve as opposed to just doing what everybody else does.”
“We tested and validated each element, updating the truck to evaluate every aspect of it,” adds Malcolm. “We brought in contract forklift truck operators who tested it in a range of environments by carrying out a set of tasks we observed at customer locations. They provided valuable feedback which was acted upon.”
The importance of incorporating so much customer feedback into the development process ensures that products are as ergonomic as possible, as well as keeping Yale at the forefront of an increasingly competitive market.
As Mark puts it: “We would rather start with the customer and a blank piece of paper, which is where you then get the unique selling points, features that are different to all of our competitors. So we were therefore driven by the aspirations of the customer.”
This intensive research into customer needs is clear to see from the final design of the Yale MPT Series Rider Pallet Truck. Designed with customer productivity in mind, this series of the Yale Rider Pallet Truck ensures operators of all sizes can find comfortable positions in which to operate. An adaptive seat offers sit, lean and stand functionality at the touch of a button, giving operators freedom of movement, whether for short or long transfers.
Looking to the future
After the FLTA success, Yale is not about to sit back in its efforts to create the best products possible for its customers. Instead, the focus for Yale is shifting towards what lies ahead for ergonomics in the materials handling world. In monitoring both its own operating environment, as well as researching elements of its customers’ businesses, Yale is seeking to enhance its future design, development, testing and validation processes, for both its new products as well as adaptations of its existing ones.
In terms of ergonomics too, Yale is casting an eye towards future trends - all of which will see customers’ needs at their heart.
“The next generation of operator has grown up with the smartphone – they expect instant responses, they expect things to just work without having to think about them,” observes Mark. “Everything is touch screen and simple connectivity. They think everything should be possible.
“There is also going to be much more of an emphasis on tailored products. People can now order exactly what they want; they no longer have to simply order a generic piece of equipment. If you order a car now there are countless different configurations of that car you can order. If you shop online there are numerous products that you can have with you by the next day. So, we need to cater for this demographic who are searching for that bespoke product that specifically suits their needs.”
Also looking forward, Matthew stated: “One of the biggest trends in ergonomics is some form of automation. There are so many new systems appearing in the market and everyone is working with automated solutions of some kind or other. It’s happening now, largely only with the much bigger companies, but others will soon start to follow. The people who will do it best will be the ones who can integrate automated solutions in the most flexible way.”
Productivity as a priority
Wherever the future of ergonomics leads the Yale engineers, there is something that can be guaranteed to stay the same – their desire to provide the most productive solutions possible for the customer. The pride that both Malcolm and Andrew take from seeing the impact of their designs and ideas on the customers who use their products makes this evidently clear.
“I like seeing something that started out as just an idea and then months or years later is accepted by the customer, who is using it every day without thinking about how it evolved,” says Malcolm.
Supporting this comment, Andrew adds, “I enjoy investigating new concepts, trying something new and ultimately seeing the effect it has on someone’s job. I like seeing it go down a production line or being used at a customer’s site, especially if it is solving a particular problem which they had.”
It is understandable why winning the FLTA Award for Ergonomics has been such a boost for all those involved at Yale. In the words of Alex: “It gives us confidence in our vision. It’s justification for all those decisions we made and those processes we employed and it gives us a reason to carry forward as much of that as we can into future projects.”