Linde Material Handling (MH) is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of forklift trucks and warehouse equipment. With a sales and service network in more than 100 countries, the company is represented in all major regions of the world. In Europe, Linde MH is one of the market leaders with its Linde and Fenwick (France) brands. The company is part of the KION Group and has around 13,000 employees worldwide.
Interview with Stefan Prokosch, Senior Vice President Brand Management at Linde MH.
Easy Engineering: What are the main areas of activity of the company?
Stefan Prokosch: Linde MH develops high-performance intralogistics solutions. These are based on electric and IC forklift trucks, warehouse trucks and equipment, fleet management software, automation solutions, driver assistance systems, financing offers as well as forklift-related services and operator training. As a holistic solution provider, we offer our clients services and products along the entire value chain, including digital tools as well as solutions in the fields of security and energy. Thus, we always keep the big picture in mind and use the best components to help increase our customers’ efficiency and effectiveness.
E.E.: Why should customers choose Linde MH? What makes it special?
S.P: We are driven by innovation; we always want to make things better. We offer products, tools and services with an outstanding quality and high performance to master the challenges of our customers. We take care of user-friendliness and ergonomics because we know that happy and healthy drivers deliver a higher throughput. We have reinvented forklift driving, lifting and steering with the introduction of the double-pedal, the ‘Linde Load Control’, and the ‘Linde steer control’. Our products are operating even under toughest conditions and difficult applications in almost every industry.
When it comes to the area of energy, we have developed our own lithium-ion battery as well as our own 24-volt fuel cell, which is available for various pallet trucks and stackers, double stackers, order pickers and tractors. At our production site in Bavaria, we have built a complete hydrogen infrastructure with a refueling facility and put it into operation in May 2023. The facility uses ‘green’ hydrogen only and is unique for the materials handling industry in Germany as well as Europe. While Linde MH has been engaging in the research of fuel cell technology for over 20 years and collaborated with companies such as BMW or Mercedes Benz, the facility will help us to understand fuel cell technology even better. This shows that we aim to design solutions for our customers that will not only withstand the challenges of today, but also those of tomorrow.
E.E: What are the ranges of products?
S.P: When it comes to trucks, our product range comprises around 77 model series with up to 382 design variants and over 10,000 equipment options. These include counterbalance-, heavy-, reach-, warehouse- and VNA (very narrow aisle) trucks, but also tractors and logistics trains. As a full-service provider, our portfolio also includes automation and digitalization solutions that consider the entire material flow of our customers. These can be used in the areas of loading / unloading, transport, storage and picking. Our automation solutions enable trucks to self-locate in real time and navigate inside a building with no added infrastructure. The driverless equipment increases efficiency, saves on personnel costs, requires no guidance, and raises safety standards. When it comes to digital applications, our spectrum is broad and includes fleet management solutions such as ‘Linde connect’ as well as several applications within the area of energy usage and optimization.
E.E: What’s the news for 2023 about new products?
S.P: This year, we have introduced both new trucks and digital solutions such as the Linde connect:charger, a battery charge management application that makes the charging processes of battery-powered industrial trucks transparent and reduces electricity costs. In addition to two new semi-automated- as well as a new vertical order picker, we have launched the Linde X35 – X50 series. These are high-performance electric forklift trucks which, while potentially CO2-free in operation, are on a par with IC industrial trucks. The new models enable customers to move even exceptionally heavy loads of 3.5 to 5 tons with electric forklifts under the most challenging conditions.
This makes them attractive for applications that were previously out of the question for industrial trucks with electric drive systems. In addition, with our Linde E35 – E50 trucks, there now are new classic electric models on the market that are optimized for indoor use. Compact and maneuverable, the trucks are the perfect vehicles for tight spaces and ensure high handling capacities.
E.E: At what stage is the market where you are currently active?
S.P: Despite the current negative geopolitical and macroeconomic factors, we do believe that the long-term upward trend remains intact, with the materials handling market growing at a faster rate on average than global economic growth as a whole. Sustainability and electrification are among the main driving factors in the market for industrial trucks and services. Customers are increasingly demanding solutions for environmentally friendly supply chains, primarily electric trucks. Furthermore, customers are becoming more and more interested in hybrid solutions in which automation technology is added to standard industrial trucks to create automated guided vehicles. Digitalization has led to greater demand for networked trucks, such as fleet management systems and products that use big data to support for example predictive maintenance tools. In addition, the industrial truck market is benefiting, among other things, from customers’ growing requirements regarding the quality, efficiency, and eco-friendliness of industrial trucks and from higher expectations in terms of service, availability of spare parts, and flexible rental solutions. Customers are more focused on optimizing total cost of ownership and, increasingly, on the ability to integrate the trucks into fully automated intralogistics solutions.
E.E: What can you tell us about market trends?
S.P: The industry faces a multitude of challenges, in particular we are noticing an increasing demand for energy-saving applications with a low carbon footprint. Also, the shortage of drivers plays a significant role. An attractive workplace is becoming more important in order to attract new as well as skilled workers to companies. We at Linde MH aim to meet all these requirements. When it comes to the aspect of sustainability, we are offering CO2-reduced or even CO2-neutral solutions for the high demands that are placed on vehicles and equipment in the intralogistics sector. For this reason, we are offering a broad portfolio of energy options. It ranges from IC engine-powered trucks, which can now also run on fuel made from hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO) to battery technology (lead-acid as well as lithium-ion) and fuel cell systems. But the safety of the drivers is also very important to us. That is why we have formulated our ‘Vision Zero’ concept that encompasses our entire portfolio of safety-oriented technical innovations for industrial trucks as well as intelligent assistance systems, comprehensive training programs and advisory services.
E.E: What is your most innovative product marketed?
S.P: Given its high complexity and its use of innovative technology, this is the ‘Linde Energy Manager’. The energy management solution creates transparency about the entire energy supply situation in the company and enables forecasts for the future with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). In this way, not only can electricity load peaks be avoided, but energy costs can be saved, and CO2 emissions reduced. Users are also given the opportunity to actively participate in the energy market and to structure their energy purchases systematically. The software has already proven its worth in several Linde MH plants, where it has led to considerable cost savings. With the Linde energy manager, we go far beyond our previous range of energy solutions and services, including energy systems and advisory services, and establish ourselves as a holistic energy specialist.
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