Rack & stack
The growing number of warehouses in the Middle East has placed increased pressure on suppliers of material handling equipment.
With the number of warehouses being constructed in the Middle East constantly rising, demand for materials handling equipment throughout the Gulf reached record levels in 2007. The momentum is set to continue into 2008, with vast freight handling projects such as the current expansion of the Jebel Ali Free Zone already under way, and the completion of Dubai Logistics City on the horizon.
Of course this has been great news for Mohammed Abdulrahman Al-Bahar, a provider of forklift trucks and major goods handling equipment. Indeed, the sales of materials handling equipment represented by Al-Bahar have performed well, showing a healthy double-digit growth in 2006.
"The logistics sector has driven a huge amount of this demand," says Sudhir Tripathi, materials handling industry manager, Al Bahar. "The region's top selling products in the logistics sector reflect this assertion. Across the five Arabian Gulf countries we work in, the biggest demand continues to be for counterbalanced lift trucks up to five tonnes capacity," he said.
The group has also seen an increasingly significant demand opening up in the sectors for heavier lift trucks, port-handling equipment and specialised warehousing equipment cranes.
These products have seen substantial growth, and Al-Bahar has focused a great deal of attention and resources to these over the last five to seven years. "The Atlet and Landoll warehousing equipment, and Hiab and Terex cranes have steadily been gaining market share over the last 10 years, and the outlook for the coming years is very upbeat too," enthused Tripathi.
A materials handling exhibition held in Dubai proved indicative of the appetite in the UAE and surrounding markets for the top-end hardware.
"Our theme at the show was ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“everything in materials handling' and we had an extensive display of equipment and services. The interest and feedback from visitors was extremely encouraging.
Al-Bahar selected the event as a showcase for a range of forklift solutions.
"We used the show to launch the new 8-16 tonnes N-Series forklifts from Caterpillar. The live demo of the Bendi narrow aisle forklift was also very well received and helped raise a lot of inquiries for the product."
The response received also indicated there were many buyers from the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries interested in new purchases, or upgrading existing warehouse fleets.
- The most critical hazard to avoid is the carrying of a load that is beyond the capacity of the lifting equipment, be it residual capacity at various heights and/or different load centres.
- Driving with an elevated load
- Carrying unstable or loose loads
- Carrying people
- Blind corners and trouble spots
- High loads that obstruct operator visibility
- Improper direction of travel on a ramp (loaded forks should go uphill)
- Keeping all parts of the body within the confines of the truck when operating.
Exhibition sales are often used as a suggestive barometer for industry appetite, and the performance of Al-Bahar would suggest the freight and logistics sector is in excellent and optimistic shape.
"At the stand itself we sold four counterbalanced forklifts and secured two orders for lease with option to buy. With follow up, a few more units have been sold since and over the next two to three months we expect more of these to come in too. All these developments have been very encouraging and we have already decided to go even bigger at the next exhibition in 2009.
The burgeoning logistics and freight handling industry has obviously driven much of the group's recent business, and the future expansion of major facilities will see the Sharjah based firm targeting third-party logistics and inhouse warehousing and logistics companies in the free zones, ports and industrial areas right across the region.
Dealing with companies ranging from new operators to the biggest logistics heavyweights, the group has a unique insight into the trends and materials handling market in the Middle East.
"The main drivers that we see are effective utilisation of space, safer handling of goods and enhanced efficiency in terms of faster or larger through-puts," explains Tripathi. "The average storage height has been increasing and we are now at heights of about 12 metres in some installations where our equipment work. A lot of the informed customers are also looking at minimising wasteful aisles and transfer spaces and we see more and more narrow aisle equipment being put to work.
The firm believes in a strong after-sales service and operates, one of, if not the leading materials handling training facility in the Middle East. The Regional Training Centre at the group's Sharjah headquarters offers comprehensive customer training in maintenance, diagnostics, troubleshooting and repair. "We also provide consultation on lowering life cycle costs and back it up with training on equipment management and predictive repairs which is a vast field and requires detailed customising as per each customer's requirements.
As companies are becoming increasingly safety conscious across the region the group has tailored operator training schemes that focus on handling techniques with a strong emphasis on practical aspects of operational safety. "For more complex operations, our principals back us up with operator training though their trainers from the EU or Japan. We have felt a growing need to expand the training programmes and the coming months will see us offering customers more choices, more often.
Safety awareness has been driven up the agenda of many companies in the region as competition stiffens and international operators move into the marketplace. "Right now safety awareness amongst the responsible operators is probably right up there with the rest of the world. These firms are doing everything necessary for to ensure employee safety, although it may be said that in some companies there is still room for improvement.
One of the major aspects for safe operation that the group put emphasis on through its workshops and after-sales service in the importance of regular maintenance, from the daily checks by the operator at the start of each shift to the preventive maintenance as per the manufacturer's guidelines and the specific requirements of a job site.
"Even with the best operators, poorly kept equipment can be the biggest hazard on site. Most companies would offer scheduled maintenance contracts for customers who cannot do it themselves, but at Al-Bahar we also offer total maintenance and repair options and free on-site consultations through our product support engineers to ensure equipment is kept in prime condition throughout its working life," explained Tripathi.
The logistics industry boom in the Middle East shows no sign of abating. However, as global companies move in on the territory, competition will force operators to become more efficient with warehouse space, man-hours and equipment costs.
- Areas for lift truck operations should be well lit
- Concave mirrors installed at blind spots
- Proper flooring especially for narrow aisle man-up equipment
- Well-designed battery charging area with the necessary safety apparatus
- Consider the complexity of the lift truck during training and schedule refresher courses yearly.
- Areas deemed hazardous due to the presence of easily combustible gases or other similar material need not only more exact training but also specially-modified or purpose-built lift trucks.