Forklift Operators Are Asking for Tires That Help Keep Their Workplaces Clean

June 6, 2018

A trend toward cleaner working environments is boosting demand for certain types of forklift tires. Operators of warehouses and factories want their floors to be scuff-free and their forklifts to be battery-powered. Modern Tire Dealer asked forklift tire manufacturers how these preferences are playing out at commercial tire dealerships.

Responders were Seth Walters, vice president, strategic sales initiatives, Alliance Tire Americas Inc.; Gary Pompo, manager of field technical services, BKT USA Inc.; Darren Stratton, product/project manager-material handling, Camso Inc.; Julian Alexander, product line manager material handling tires, Continental Tire the Americas LLC; Henno Plaggenborg, segment director for industrial vehicles and light transportation at Kenda USA’s Starco Europe subsidiary; Maria Cristina Ambrosi, operations marketing manager -OHT logistics tire segment, Michelin North America Inc.; Chris Strabley, senior project engineer, OTR Wheel Engineering Inc.; and Brad Feeney, director of commercial tire programs at TBC Brands LLC.

MTD’s first question regarded demand for non-marking forklift tires: Are manufacturers seeing more demand and, if yes, why?

Alliance Tire Americas: We are definitely seeing more interest in non-marking tires, particularly in clean warehouse environments like fulfillment houses and warehouses for retailers like Amazon. They are also widely used in food facilities. The rise in popularity of online retail is probably helping drive the demand.

BKT: We are not seeing the trend moving that fast toward non-marking tires. As companies like Amazon grow, their environments are cleaner and require electric forklifts, which make the use of non-marking tires necessary. You see non-marking tires more in indoor warehouse operations; the machines that work both inside and outside don’t use them.

Camso: There’s a significant increase throughout North America, Europe and Japan for non-marking solutions where there is demand for cleanliness.

Continental Tire the Americas: There has been a significant increase in demand for non-marking tires in North America and Europe. Cleanliness and hygiene are becoming increasingly important as facilities are updated according to the latest trends, including digitalization and environmental requirements fueled by legislation. Companies do not want to see tire marks or black rubber dust left by forklifts on the ground or on their goods. That is where non-marking tires come into play.

Kenda’s Starco subsidiary: Yes, there is a trend. We estimate non-marking forklift tires have gone from 25% to 30% in the worldwide market. More logistic houses have smooth floors and operators prefer the non-marking tires to avoid stripes on the floor black tires make. A growing number of countries have environmental regulations to use non-marking tires.

Michelin North America: Non-marking forklift tires are typically used in warehouse environments dealing with food and hygiene-specific products. They may also be used in warehouses/distribution centers, high-end company buildings or homes or in other facilities that want to avoid any floor markings.

OTR Wheel Engineering: Non-marking is used in newer warehouses with clean polished floors where they do not want black tire marks; they want to keep their facility looking beautiful.

TBC Brands: Only certain grocery or food processing plants are required to use non-marking tires for hygiene purposes. So the trend toward non-marking forklift tires comes down to a business decision. With the growth of online fulfillment centers, it is important to keep outside contaminants to a minimum. By using solid non-marking tires, you eliminate the carbon dust contamination. It is also a trend created by the original equipment tire fitments on a growing electric forklift market.

Applications and tread patterns

MTD asked if there’s a need for non-marking tires in certain applications, and if tread patterns contribute to  non-marking solutions.

Alliance Tire Americas: Because the surfaces tend to be pretty uniform, compounds would be more important than tread patterns. Tires for those environments need to be both non-marking and very wear-resistant. Removing carbon black from the tire compound, a common strategy for creating non-marking tires, tends to significantly reduce tread life. We’re working on compounds that are non-marking while also highly durable.

BKT: We see the need for non-marking tires only in the clean internal environments, such as convention centers, domes, etc. Due to the conditions these tires are used in, tread patterns are not really a part of the solution. Non-marking tires are mostly used in clean, flat conditions, but occasionally there are some special needs in different applications.

Camso: Previously non-marking tires were mainly used in the food industry as they are food-safe. As companies improve their facilities and improve floor conditions, they don’t want to see tire marks left by forklifts or for black rubber dust to transfer onto the goods they are distributing. Non-marking is also gaining popularity with rental fleet owners. By equipping their fleets with non-marking tires, they can fully utilize their fleets in any application. Tread patterns are not part of non-marking solutions. The non-marking characteristic of the tire is a direct consequence of the rubber compound composition.

Continental Tire the Americas: Non-marking tires are also beneficial for rental fleet owners who want to offer their forklifts to a broad variety of potential customers, no matter their industries. Traces of the manufacturing process can significantly influence the goods produced in many industries including automotive, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, foods and paper. The bright sidewall and tread compounds of non-marking tires reduce the number of driving and braking marks caused by black tire wear. All Continental solid tires, both Super Elastic and Press-on-Bands tires, have a non-marking twin.

Kenda’s Starco subsidiary: In particular, the food industry prefers non-marking tires. Tread patterns of non-marking tires do not differ from marking solutions.

Michelin North America: Black tires contain material additives that provide UV protection and wear resistance. Depending on the specific use, customers may demand pneumatic radial tires for forklifts, tractors and other industrial equipment designed to provide maximum uptime, exceptional tread wear, excellent stability and machine/payload protection.

Michelin manufactures forklift tires designed to have less “squirm” with rubber that sticks to the ground, providing long tread wear, stability and uptime. For example, the Michelin XZM offers genuine comfort without suspension. This equates to better shock absorption, protection of the operator, possibility to carry fragile goods, and protection of the machine.  In addition, all Michelin industrial tires are compliant for use in areas where there is a high risk of fire or explosion and are known as “Antistatic Class 1.”

OTR Wheel Engineering: Tread patterns are not an issue for the non-marking solution. Non-marking is not a preference limited to only forklifts. Most material handling applications find uses for tires that would not leave marks on the floor. Convention centers, casinos, hospitals and stores to name a few have improved floors that would be marked with rubber scuffs if non-marking material was not used.

TBC Brands: While only required for the grocery and food industry, we are seeing more use of non-marking forklift tires in retail, fulfillment centers, commodity warehousing and various other indoor applications. Tread patterns are not specific to non-marking solutions. There are two main patterns, smooth and traction, and the choice is really a business decision. These two patterns are available in marking and non-marking versions.

Battery power and forklift tires

Are battery-powered forklifts displacing petroleum-fueled forklifts? Manufacturers gave us their view on the use forklifts powered by batteries and what that means for tires.

Alliance Tire Americas: As with non-marking forklift tires, electrically powered forklifts typically operate on hard surfaces. We’re seeing a lot of interest in quiet, exhaust-free, long-lasting electric forklifts, which tend to be a great fit for our Galaxy YM SDS press-on bands. Press-on bands provide long service life on concrete floors, and our tread patterns for those solid YMs — smooth and traction, which has an extremely high rubber-to-void ratio — help smooth out the ride for the operator and minimize jostling of the load.

BKT: The U.S. is moving toward use of clean energy and sustainable materials. Larger warehouses and more trucks running with longer battery life will increase the use of forklifts with batteries. However, there are still plenty of gas-powered forklift applications needed, especially for the outdoors and trucks that go in and out frequently.

Camso: We see a growing trend for electrically powered forklifts. As the trend for battery-equipped forklifts is growing, ensuring that one facility’s fleet can run through complete shifts without downtime due to recharge battery is key. Numerous factors play a role in determining the overall reduction of costs associated with energy savings, but one must remember that every aspect of the forklift operation is affected by the tires on which they run, and this is especially true when maximizing battery life.

Continental Tire the Americas: According to recent studies, 20% of all vehicles used in material handling will be electrically powered in five years. Even today, many companies place their trust in environmentally friendly electric forklifts.

Kenda’s Starco subsidiary: There is a trend toward electrically powered forklifts; this goes for other applications too, such as  multipurpose vehicles. In many places, the emissions from fuel trucks are no longer accepted in working environments.

Michelin North America: Actually, the trend toward electric is not new — approximately 50% of forklift sales in Europe are electric. Michelin is constantly reviewing industry and technology trends through continual research and development, and investment to provide innovative tire solutions for the markets.

OTR Wheel Engineering: Lots of people are turning to electric vehicles. Tires with low rolling resistance are preferred. Electric versus internal combustion introduces limitations and concerns as it relates to power and energy consumption and efficiency.

TBC Brands: There is a trend toward electric (class 1, 2 and 3) forklifts. Over the last 15 years, class 4 and 5 forklifts (80% to 90% are powered by propane), have gone from 45% of annual sales on average to 35%. In 2017, electric forklift sales accounted for 65% of total sales in the U.S. This trend is due to three main factors: 1) fewer moving parts, 2) lower cost of ownership, and 3) cleaner to operate. While being cleaner is an added benefit, this is a trend based on cost savings and indoor safety, in most cases.

Lower rolling resistance tires

Forklift tire technology is changing to help extend the life of a forklift’s battery. We asked manufacturers to explain how.

Alliance Tire Americas: Electric forklifts can be heavier than diesel or propane units, making solid tires a great solution because owners and their tire dealers don’t have to worry about the load capacity and inflation pressure like they would with a pneumatic tire. And replacement is simple: The whole press-on assembly can be quickly replaced while the forklift batteries are being charged.

Where operators need more traction in an electric forklift, there are other patterns in our SDS solid line, like the Yardmaster SDS Resilient line as well as our pneumatic product lines, which offer aggressive and long-lasting tread. Diesel and propane forklifts are still extremely popular. For those units, which tend to deliver more torque than electric forklifts, the sidewalls and bead bundles of our pneumatic tires are designed tough to efficiently transmit the machine’s energy to the ground, with minimal slip. And our solids and press-on bands dramatically extend tire life regardless of how the forklift is fueled.

BKT: Rolling resistance is very important for efficiencies and longer tread life, just like car tires. But the market is still very strong in the traditional fork lift applications. At one time they would have to take tires off and bring them in. Now there are fleets of servicing dealers with service trucks just for forklift customers. The service trucks go to a customer’s location and do all the work right there.

Camso: The rolling resistance of the tires can have a major impact on battery life and, therefore, it’s a key element in preventing downtime and maximizing machine availability. Low rolling resistance (LRR) tires allow you to drive longer and lift more for longer periods of time. The difference between LRR tires and standard tires lies in the nature of the compound used and the overall make-up of the tire. An LRR tire rolls with less effort and utilizes less energy. LRR tires and conventional forklift tires also differ in that the optimized rolling properties of LRR tires not only reduce fuel costs but generate less internal heat in the tire. This in turn maximizes lifespan and durability.

Several Camso new tire solutions answer the energy efficient requirements of fleets moving toward battery and alternative fuels. The Solideal RES 660 Xtreme Series and the new Solideal PON 775 tires are examples of products designed to maximize the efficiency of the forklift with impressive low rolling resistance rubber compounds.

The tread design and the tread depth, for instance, do have a certain influence on the rolling resistance performance of the tires. On the other hand, the rubber compound composition and the way the tire is built have a more important influence on this rolling resistance performance.

Continental Tire the Americas: A crucial success factor is the reach and charging times of the battery used. During times of 24/7 work and three-shift systems, downtimes due to recharging batteries can lead to a decrease in productivity.

Today, the average forklift battery lasts around eight hours while the charging process takes one hour. On abrasive ground where more energy is needed to keep the forklift moving, the reach of the battery can even be much lower. That is why tires play an important role. Tires with low rolling resistance are able to decrease the energy used and contribute to the reach of one battery charge.

Rolling resistance is among the key characteristics that drive the development of Continental solid tires for industrial use. Both Press-on-Bands, such as the MH20 or the PT18, and Super Elastics like the SC18 come with special compounds offering high cut resistance and low rolling resistance. They are the right choice for e-forklifts, with each case depending on the forklift’s specific application.

Kenda’s Starco subsidiary: At Starco, we focus very much on minimizing rolling resistance, this gives the machine more battery life time due to less energy consumption. Tread pattern is one parameter we can adjust to improve energy efficiency. We also adjust the compound, which, for instance, impacts the rolling resistance when starting and stopping the truck.

Michelin North America: Fuel savings has always been part of the Michelin strategy. Our radial tires are more fuel efficient than bias or solid tires. A tire is a compromise of many factors including tread life, fuel efficiency and tire life. In order to provide the best tire possible for the market, it must involve the best rubber compound, tread design and casing construction and subsequent extensive field testing prior to its introduction.

OTR Wheel Engineering: Design considerations for electric-powered equipment must include the amount of energy to move the vehicle, and the only component to contact the surface is the tire. This is arguably one of the most important parts that needs to be engineered with this as a priority. Electric compounds are a specialized rubber formulation to be more efficient on battery utilization. Tread is an additional concern; the contact area of rubber versus tread void will impact rolling resistance of the tire.

TBC Brands: Tire manufacturers are using compounding and tread patterns to lower the tire’s rolling resistance. TBC distributes the Advance brand throughout North America. Along with the standard smooth and traction tread patterns, Advance has introduced the K3 line. The K3 line of Advance solid tires is lightweight and designed for low rolling resistance to maximize battery life for the electric forklift operator. The K3 line is available in non-marking and marking options.    ■

About the Author

Ann Neal

Ann Neal is a former senior editor at Modern Tire Dealer.