Side loaders are extremely versatile machines, coming in many shapes and sizes to suit a variety of different jobs, varying from the smaller three ton models to well over forty tons. But there’s always one job that will challenge anything you throw at it and give manufacturers some problems to solve.
If you’re not familiar with the side loader, it is a variation on the common fork-lift truck. However, instead of lifting the load at the front, as the name implies, the side loader lifts at the side and in most cases within the vehicle platform. This may not sound like much of a variation but it makes a huge difference to storage techniques, warehouse specifications and best use of storage space.
Carrying the load at the side can also decrease the safety risk when transporting loads over a certain length, such as timber, steel girders or long vehicle chassis. To transport such loads on a fork lift you would have to carry it sideways on, thus increasing the width of the vehicle massively and creating problems with storage, as carrying it lengthways would mean overbalancing the vehicle and endangering the operator.
These days the smaller end of the side loader market is very well served with many manufacturers, such as Baumann, Battioni & Pagani, Lancer, Bulmor, Combilift and more, manufacturing a wide range of models from around three tons upwards. However, the heavier you go the fewer the options, with only a handful of manufacturers producing the really big machines.
How big is big? As an example we’re talking at least twenty eight tons for a fifteen ton side loader.
Confused? Side loaders, like other industrial vehicles, are measured by their maximum carrying weight, but the actual tonnage doesn’t include the vehicle weight.
So it’s not just the size that’s impressive, there are bigger axles to take the considerable strain these machines are put under each and every day with, as in our example here, a combined maximum weight of forty three tons providing the stress as they take the strain.
And those stresses and strains should not be underestimated, with long hours and extreme working conditions, some side loaders have been known to fail completely and in some cases the chassis has been known to completely break in two!
With this in mind, before these extreme machines can be sent out to work in extreme environments, they have to undergo some pretty extreme testing. For instance, long distance driving and short and repeated changes in direction under load are just the beginning for the axles, and so they will have been tested for around twenty thousand working hours at maximum speed before their design has been approved for production.
Some manufacturers of the heavier machines have gone the extra mile in order to provide a machine that can cope with pretty much anything you throw at it. With both solid steel vertical outreach cylinders and bearings that in some cases are fifty per cent larger in diameter than any others on the market.
There are thicker steel chassis too, thicker particularly in the parts of the chassis that are under most stress whilst the forks are under load. Some chassis specifications are now known to include areas around the well width, the area in which the forks operate, up to three inches thick.
To give some idea of just how heavy duty a chassis that is, many medium tanks used in World War Two, such as the American Sherman tank, had frontal armour that was around the same thickness.
The safety of the side loader operator is paramount and with this in mind, some more direct approaches to insure against injury have been implemented for use in extreme environments.
Reinforced cabs are the most obvious safety upgrade, with drivers now surrounded by heavy-duty steel mesh on windowed areas and solid steel plates covering every part of the cab that doesn’t interfere with the operator’s line of sight.
Solid steel external cages are also placed around the cab, looking much like roll cages in cars, to protect against injury from falling loads.
So what are these extreme environments that we’re talking about?
Many of the most challenging applications for the side loader are to be found in the steel industry, transporting extremely heavy loads of manufactured steel and raw materials, but many other machines are purpose built to work in timber, concrete and other miscellaneous industries around the world.
Of course industries change and new and innovative designs and further reinforcement will be needed in the future to ensure that side loaders keep up with evolving and emerging markets and industrial techniques around the world.
One thing is for certain though, and that is that side loaders will be working at the heart of heavy industry, and in some of the most extreme environments, for many years to come.