Power supply interruptions in South Africa have manifested in the manufacturing and distribution sectors through unreliability and inefficiency, resulting in disruption costs that adversely impact the performance of these operations. Many companies have turned to fuel-driven generators, machines and forklifts to ensure operational continuity through all stages of loadshedding. However, with the rising costs of fuel in South Africa and the added drive towards zero-emissions and carbon neutrality, electric forklifts can provide a more sustainable solution.

In a study conducted by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) in Canada, manufacturing operations and distribution centres were identified as two of the top ten sectors most affected by power supply interruptions. It just so happens that these two sectors also rely on forklifts as a key part of their daily operations.

The design and construction of electric forklifts, such as the Mitsubishi Counterbalance electric forklift, reduce consumption and maintenance costs, and enhance the value of the facilities in which they operate by ensuring that operations can continue smoothly during loadshedding.

Never have different industries been more at the forefront of energy issues, from power disruption to the global issue of sustainable energy consumption. In South Africa, the latter has taken a backseat with businesses fighting to keep up production while experiencing multiple power outages every day.

The challenges facing materials handling functions in businesses across the country range from the obvious, including operational disruption and downtime, to more complex challenges such as supply chain disruptions and the inability to plan production against the unpredictable nature of the loadshedding schedules. These are further complicated by related outages that arise from the pressure placed on the national grid.

The longer term, less obvious impact, is felt when there is damage to equipment as frequent power supply interruptions have the potential to accelerate wear and tear on battery-driven equipment, reducing its lifespan and increasing the chance of a voltage spike leading to higher maintenance costs.

All the above ultimately have a financial impact as operational costs rise due to the necessary investment businesses must make in backup power, compounded by downtime, slower production and even order cancellations.

Most South African operators are already well acquainted with these challenges and have developed strategies aimed at reducing both use and dependency on electricity where possible. One of the cornerstones of these strategies is often the use of battery- driven equipment that can fully charge in between power cuts and then unplugged to avoid the negative effects of cuts and surges.

In terms of forklift design, Mitsubishi are committed to creating new machines suitable for this new and complex energy conscious market. The Mitsubishi Counterbalance electric is a great option for businesses who need to make sustainable materials handling equipment part of their loadshedding strategy. With the range capacity from 1.0 Ton to 5.5 Tons, there is an electric forklift suited to almost all operational requirements.

The additional ECO features on the Mitsubishi Counterbalance electric add value to operations. The ECO Mode Button optimises forklift performance – including speed and power of execution – while saving energy at the same time for future use. There are also multiple regenerative functions which enable the forklift to recover energy wastage during coasting, plugging and braking stages as well as a speed suppression function on downslopes.

Advances in battery technology have led to the development of more efficient and higher-capacity lithium-ion batteries for electric forklifts. These advancements have extended the runtime and reduced charging times, making electric forklifts more adaptable to fluctuating power availability during loadshedding. The Mitsubishi Counterbalance electric has a battery protection feature where at low battery levels, it restricts lift ability and limits travel speed instinctively signalling the need for a recharge.

Despite higher upfront costs, the total cost of ownership for electric forklifts can be lower over time due to reduced fuel expenses, lower maintenance costs, and longer lifespans compared to internal combustion engine (diesel or petrol) forklifts. The total cost of ownership for electric forklifts can be broken down into three cost groups: initial costs, maintenance costs and energy costs.

In terms of initial cost, electric forklifts generally have a higher upfront purchase cost compared to traditional internal combustion engine forklifts. The price difference is mainly due to the cost of the battery and charger, as technically you are purchasing your fuel upfront. However, the initial investment can be offset by potential savings in running costs over the lifespan of the forklift.

Electric forklifts typically have lower maintenance costs compared to internal combustion forklifts. They also have fewer moving parts in their drivetrains, which means fewer components that can wear out and require replacement or maintenance. Additionally, electric forklifts don’t require oil changes or tune-ups like internal combustion engine forklifts, further reducing maintenance expenses.

The Mitsubishi counterbalance electric comes with a Mitsubishi Forklifts backed 3-years/5000-hour powertrain warranty, while Masslift extends the powertrain warranty to 8-years/12 000 hours if the customer takes a full maintenance contract. This is an indicator of the reliability and the robust nature of the forklift, but also Masslift’s commitment to ensure uptime and deliver on our promise of service excellence.

“When it comes to energy costs, electric forklifts are naturally more energy-efficient than internal combustion engine forklifts. Electricity is generally cheaper than fuel (diesel, petrol, or LPG) on a per-unit energy basis, which can result in significant savings in operating costs over time. The exact savings depend on the actual monthly usage patterns, but the ongoing fuel expenses associated with internal combustion engine forklifts in fuel costs can be substantial, especially for businesses with high forklift usage (from R40.00 – R85.00 per run hour in fuel alone depending on the brand),” says Kurt Pacak Regional Sales Manager at Masslift Africa.

Although sustainability has become a secondary concern compared to the mammoth challenge of going up against loadshedding, there is an undeniable global drive for sustainability and zero emissions, and many companies have committed to reducing their carbon footprint and promoting sustainable practices. Adopting electric forklifts aligns with these initiatives and enhances the company’s reputation for environmentally responsible operations.

Electric forklifts produce zero emissions during operation, making them environmentally friendly and compliant with strict emission regulations and as mentioned above this assists in helping companies achieve their sustainability goals. Electric forklifts do not emit pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, leading to improved air quality especially in indoor environments where forklifts are commonly used. With a focus on combating climate change and achieving carbon reduction targets, businesses in South Africa can contribute to the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement by adopting cleaner and more sustainable technologies like electric forklifts.

Embracing electric forklifts provides businesses with an opportunity to support the integration of renewable energy sources in their operations. By charging electric forklifts using renewable energy, such as solar or wind power, businesses can further reduce their carbon footprint and dependence on fossil fuels.

“The materials handling industry as a whole is focusing on sustainability and finding ways to increase productivity while being more energy efficient. Electrification is an important factor that Mitsubishi Logisnext are consistently considering and have put in place a series of sustainable development goals.

“The new Mitsubishi FB40-55N, for example, received the ‘Environmental Product of the Year’ international industry award in 2022. Building on this, Mitsubishi Logisnext is already planning a feasibility study for large electric forklifts in the 6-to-10-ton range,” Pacak adds.

For businesses planning to bring electric forklifts into their operations, Masslift Africa, the sole distributor of Mitsubishi forklifts in Southern Africa, supplies and maintains electric Mitsubishi Forklifts and provides support throughout the procurement and deployment process – and beyond.

Masslift Africa conducts an on-site survey ensuring the viability of switching to electric forklifts and upon delivery, conduct a full handover. This includes training on daily checklists, safe operating procedures, and proper battery maintenance. Where possible the battery supplier attends the handover to provide insight into how the business can ensure that the battery has the longest operating life possible. Masslift also offers full driver training courses to assist clients in the transition and consults on forklift driver licenses and compliance requirements.

South African businesses who adopt an energy-conscious approach and implement electric forklifts have the opportunity to not only meet their operational and production requirements during loadshedding but may also improve productivity despite these challenges and even save on energy costs.

The design innovation of the Mitsubishi Forklift counterbalance electric range and the integration of the new battery technologies affect the lifetime cost of the machine, but the qualitative and quantitative benefits may go far beyond that.