South African Company Modifies Forklift

forklift costs photoA South African brewery recently modified one of its forklifts so that it can be operated by an employee with physical disabilities.

The worker can operate the vehicle using a single joystick that controls all of the forklift’s functions. The operator can drive it backwards and forwards, lift and lower the forks on the vehicle’s mast, and do everything else any other forklift operator can do with a forklift.

The prototype forklift was designed Manitou, a forklift manufacture that sells its vehicles in South Africa and elsewhere, It was put on display at the Electra Mining Show ini 2010 and was one of the expo’s most popular exhibits.

Jannie Smith, Manitou’s project engineer who helped design the vehicle, said the forklift presented some unique challenges.

“The key requirement for converting a conventional forklift to one usable for disabled operators is that it has to be universally accessible, owing to the extremely variable nature of disabled persons’ disabilities,” Smith said. “We solved the problem by applying a single hydraulic joystick, mounted at a comfortable position on the right-hand armrest.”

Standard forklifts have individual pedals for the gas and break, as well as separate levers for raising and lowering, leveling the vehicle’s forks, and moving them from side to side. But Manitou was able to design one that gave all of its functions onto one central point, the joystick.

This type of modification has been used for many years in automobiles, allowing people with disabilities the opportunity to drive their own cars. But it’s the first time the technology has been applied to forklifts, at least in South Africa, according to Smith.

For left and right steering, the joystick is moved in those directions. An on-dash indicator give the operator a visual indication of the direction in which the steering wheels are pointing at all times. This design element was necessary because the disabled operator needed to be strapped securely into the vehicle at all times for safety reasons. Consequently, the operator was not able to lean out of the vehicle to see which way the wheels were pointing.

The forklift also has a “dead man’s switch” which is a button that is located on the front of the joystick. This button has to be continually pressed in order for the joystick to work. When it is released, the vehicle comes to an abrupt stop.

The joystick also has six other buttons that control the mast functions of the forklift, allowing the driver to lift and lower the forks, tilt them forwards and backwards, and move them left and right.

The vehicle was used in the brewery on a trial basis.

Dezzo Equipment General Manager Cindy Smith said her company was happy to be part of this project because it could potentially open the doors for other people with disabilities who want to be able to work as forklift operators in the future.

“We are pleased to have been approached by the client for this unique modification, owing to the client’s wish to give a disabled operator the opportunity to continue with his/her job, instead of being relegated to soft duties in an office,” Cindy Smith said.

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