Customized lift truck provides safer, quicker unloading of tube, pipe, other long loads


The Tube & Pipe Journal July / August 2014
July 10, 2014
By: Eric Lundin

BSS Industrial, a plumbing and heating products distributor, was accustomed to using slings affixed to its fork lifts to lift tube bundles from truck beds. The drawback was that on occasion the load would swing, creating a tipping risk for the lift truck. Lift truck manufacturer Combilift developed a truck with standard-length forks for placing and picking inventory, and a longer set of forks for lifting tube bundles from the delivery vehicle’s bed.


The National Distribution Centre of BSS Industrial, Coventry, U.K., is big and bustling. It is part of the Plumbing and Heating Division of Britain’s largest builders’ group and operates 24/5 to supply its 62 branches throughout the U.K. Its 47,500-sq.-ft warehouse stocks more than 250 miles of tube, pipe, rod, and rail in more than 600 product lines, mainly in lengths from 10 to 20 ft. In a typical day it moves 56 tons of material, either into or out of its 2,353 storage locations.

When the contract for BSS Industrial’s previous truck fleet ended, the company received an electric stand-up lift truck, Combilift model C4000 EST, for use on a trial basis.

The ST range has a very narrow cab, available in stand-up or sit-down style. Its ability to operate in very narrow aisles makes it ideal for steel and pipe distribution facilities. This 4-ton-capacity truck works in aisles as narrow as 70 in. The trucks are fitted with guide rollers for guided aisle operation, enabling faster travel down the aisles with reduced risk of product damage. The 31-ft. lift height allows access to the 13 storage levels at BSS.

The company was interested in using several of the C4000 EST at the NDC and a similar model, Combilift’s C2500 EST, in its network of regional branches. The only drawback was fork length. At 30 in., the forks don’t allow the driver to reach bundles in the center of the trailers that bring product to the branch locations. The lift trucks would have to unload the trailers from both sides and use slings to unload bundles in the center of the trailer bed.

Applying slings is an extra step, and the drivers must move the load with slow, deliberate movement. Fast, jerky motions can cause the load to swing back and forth, a dangerous condition that can cause a lift truck to tip over, leading to damage and injury.


BSS shared its concerns with Combilift. The manufacturer designed and built a set of additional hydraulically operated fold-down forks, which are longer than standard forks. To reach bundles in the center of the trailer bed, the operator uses a lever to deploy the custom 60-in. forks. After moving the load to the edge of the trailer bed, the operator folds up the long forks and goes back to using the standard forks to remove the bundle from the trailer and take it to its storage location.

According to National Distribution Centre Manager David Dempsey, the trucks are well-suited to the job, with the design of the cab making it easy for operators to enter and exit. He added that the onboard camera gives the operator a good view of the load, even when accessing the highest storage locations, and hydraulic fork positioners make fork width adjustment a snap.

Martin English, branch manager at BSS Industrial’s Bristol location, said that the lift trucks are both safer and more efficient.

“The ability to access over halfway across the truck bed without the need for slinging eliminates any oscillation of the loads and minimizes any risk to the operators,” he said. “We can also offload from one side of the heavy-goods vehicle, which makes the procedure much quicker and more economical on space.”

Eric Lundin

Eric Lundin

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8262

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The Tube & Pipe Journal

The Tube & Pipe Journal

The Tube & Pipe Journal became the first magazine dedicated to serving the metal tube and pipe industry in 1990. Today, it remains the only North American publication devoted to this industry and it has become the most trusted source of information for tube and pipe professionals.

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