Global wood production is anticipated to grow, due to initiatives that support companies that lead sustainability efforts and an expected increase in import and export to meet the demands of the wood construction and furniture manufacture segments.

However, with purchasing still heavily influenced by the state of the economy and uncertain financial times ahead, ensuring uptime, increasing productivity, and realising a low total cost of ownership (TCO) for materials handling equipment become all the more important for timber applications keen to remain competitive in the market.

Businesses in the wood industry are often under pressure to do more with less. Uptime is critical, and the right materials handling equipment plays a big part in keeping operations running. However, often these trucks are big, heavy, and expensive and non-standard attachments may also be needed that require extra investment.

Consolidating a materials handling fleet is one way that these businesses can reduce costs, while still retaining a focus on productivity. Lift trucks that can be adapted from handling one type of load to another with easily exchanged attachments, and equipment that is equally tough for outside operations as it is indoors, are considerations. Equipment that provides a balance of versatility, performance, fuel consumption and power are in demand.


The timber industry is looking to alternative power options and how these could benefit its materials handling operations. Even applications that in the past have always used an internal combustion (IC) engine forklift are enquiring about lift trucks powered by lead acid or lithium-ion batteries, as well as hydrogen fuel cell technologies if there is sufficient infrastructure.

Electric lift trucks no longer have the reputation of only being suitable for indoor operations, and often are plenty tough enough for wood applications, from sawmills, to those creating board and building materials, through to operations handling wooden furniture. And with the right battery management, lift trucks can offer increased run times.


A ‘green’ approach is key for many materials handling fleets. Choosing zero-emissions electric lift trucks is common in applications that are aiming to meet emissions targets, whether for corporate or legislative reasons. There is often a cost benefit too.

It is fairly common for timber processing and manufacturing operations to be located near to, or to have on site, biomass power stations. This provides a rich source of energy, which can provide these applications with a cheaper power source that enables them to charge lithium-ion lift trucks at their site with optimal cost efficiency.

In these cases, being able to use this source of power to charge electric lift truck batteries provides a highly sustainable and environmentally friendly solution and encourages these applications to increasingly embrace and integrate electric equipment solutions, all while reducing their overall TCO.


The timber sector is increasingly embracing new technologies, driven by a need to maximise productivity and streamline processes and sites.

In some markets, incentives and schemes are driving digital adoption. This is an opportunity for businesses in the wood industry to explore automated materials handling equipment solutions.

Meanwhile, the warehousing sector is increasingly automating repetitive processes to increase efficiency. Eliminating the human factor from materials handling equipment may result in time and cost savings in the right setting. Workers previously carrying out recurring actions on a lift truck can be freed up to put their skills to use in more added value processes. Incidences of product and equipment damage may also be decreased with automation. Automation also provides a practical solution to labour shortages.

A smaller pool of candidates and a high turnover can also leave timber businesses with a less experienced workforce, which in turn can lead to lower productivity levels or more damage to the product or facility. Technologies such as lift truck object detection, pedestrian detection, awareness lights, load overload indicators and telematics all play an important role in these scenarios. More and more IT is moving into the forklift operator’s cab.


Wood handling operations are typically rugged, dirty and tough environments. Extreme cold or heat can push materials handling equipment to its limits, and trucks (and their operators) must contend with rough, uneven surfaces. Large, heavy timber loads also make visibility challenging, particularly for tall loads that are often 4m wide in front of the operator.

Having experienced a difficult few years economically, companies may also be forced to use an ageing fleet, leading to expensive repairs and costly downtime, which impacts productivity. One solution to this particular challenge is having local support for lift truck parts and maintenance. Fleet management systems can also help manage maintenance to extend equipment life and minimise downtime.

Considering the toughness of wood applications, it is no surprise that the operators themselves are typically influential in decision making around materials handling equipment. Safety and driver ergonomics are key for operators, who will benefit from lift trucks that offer ergonomic and technologically advanced features, with superior operator comfort, precise handling, and easy entry/exit to the cab.

However, to reduce overall costs, applications should always seek lift trucks that are designed for maximum reliability, with robust powertrain, strong axles and mast, and durable components throughout. Attachments that enable equipment to be dual function for versatility, performance and fleet efficiency will also help optimise operations.

Optimising fleets with tough materials handling equipment and assistive technologies is a good way for wood applications to be prepared as the sector recovers.