A self-confessed ‘petrol head’ Gary Ison likes nothing better than rolling up his sleeves and tinkering with motorbikes, cars, jet skis, powerboats (Gary holds an off-shore power boat license) and, of course, forklift trucks!
“The way things work has fascinated me from an early age. Basically, I enjoy playing with anything that has an engine,” he says. “I realise that I am very fortunate to have a career that allows me to be closely involved with something that I like doing every day!”
Gary has been Toyota Material Handling UK’s Sales Training & Product Development Manager since 2015. Having entered the industry ten years earlier as a trainee engineer, he was Toyota’s product manager and a specialist in reach trucks, order pickers and very narrow aisle (VNA) technology when the sales training and product manager roles were merged to form a single position. With the wealth of experience he had gained as an engineer and his in-depth technical knowledge, Gary was the ideal candidate to take on the new job.
Today, Gary and his team are responsible for identifying mechanical improvements that could enhance truck performance as well as developing other feature benefits – such as ergonomics.
“Having worked on the ‘inside’ of trucks for my entire career it is fascinating to learn how the sales team go about promoting the ‘outside’- the features and benefits of the technology and mechanics,” he says.
The Kaizen – or continuous improvement – philosophy that Toyota applies across the business, drives product development.
“Several years ago there was some talk that the forklift truck had reached a technological peak in terms of achievable lift height, load capacity and travel speed. A lot of people felt it was hard to see how lift truck performance could be improved,” reflects Gary.
He continues: “So attention turned to driver comfort, fuel efficiency and alternative fuel sources, telematics to optimise truck utilisation, truck safety and so on. The forklift may be a mature product in many ways but it will never stop evolving. That’s Kaizen.”
The new range of BT Reflex reach trucks brought to market by Toyota in early August 2021 is a perfect example of the Kaizen philosophy in action, as Gary explains:
“At Toyota we’ve been focussing on how ergonomic design can boost driver comfort for more than a quarter of a century. During that time we’ve introduced some ground-breaking features, such as the unique tilting cab used on the Reflex E-reach truck series which reduces the strain on the driver and allows maximum visibility at height, but we believe that our new range of BT Reflex reach trucks represents the most ergonomically advanced machine we have ever produced.”
“A forklift operator’s office is the truck’s cabin,” says Gary. “It’s the place where s/he spends some eight hours a day, so it’s essential that every aspect of the cab’s design – from the height of the step-in to the shape of the control levers – is considered if the operator is going to be kept comfortable, and therefore productive, throughout his or her shift.
“By keeping the operator at the centre of our design thinking, the new BT Reflex range from Toyota offers reach truck drivers the best possible driving experience. Its innovative features guarantee comfort all shift long, which boosts truck performance and optmises intralogistics efficiency.”
Environmental concerns have been driving many recent technology advances too and over the last decade or so, electric-powered forklifts have become an increasingly popular choice for businesses across all industry sectors.
“Traditionally, electric lift trucks have relied on lead-acid battery technology but the Lithium-Ion solution has now become well established as a viable alternative. Today, in the right applications, Lithium-ion is revolutionising the way some companies operate their intralogistics processes. Lithium-ion battery technology is now seen as the next evolution in forklift efficiency,” says Gary.
“With Lithium-ion offering so many benefits it is easy to forget that, for some users, the traditional lead acid battery will still represent the best option. Our pride in the Toyota brand means that we will always provide the right power solution for every electric truck application. It doesn’t matter if it’s Lithium-ion or lead acid – as long as it’s right for the customer,” he adds.
“And that’s an important aspect of any new technical development. It’s easy to get carried away with some clever new piece of engineering but we have to think, ‘How does it benefit the user?’ If the answer is, it doesn’t, then that idea will stay on the drawing board!”