60 Seconds with Brett Wood, chairman, Industrial Truck Association

Modern Materials Handling's staff sat down with Brett Wood to discuss the Lift Truck industry.
By · August 04, 2017

Title: Chairman, Industrial Truck Association; President & CEO, Toyota Material Handling North America

Location: Washington, DC (ITA); Columbus, Ind. (Toyota)

Experience: A 28-year veteran of the lift truck industry, Wood has previously served as chairman of the ITA’s General Engineering Committee. He is also currently a member of MHEDA’s Manufacturers Board of Advisors and the MHI Board of Governors, serving as the vice president of MHI.

Duties: As ITA chairman, Wood works with the executive board to determine the strategic direction of the association and provide a voice to its position on industry issues.

Modern: How did the lift truck industry fare in 2016, and do you have any insight into sales through the first half of 2017?

Wood: 2016 was a record year for our industry with more than 230,000 units sold in North America. That represented almost a 3% growth compared to the prior year. The results of the first half of 2017 indicate another healthy year for sales as all lift truck categories are out-performing the results from the first half of 2016. This reflects the strong economy in general, as lift trucks and materials handling equipment are at the center of our country’s overall supply chain business.

Modern: When you look into the future, how will tomorrow’s lift truck differ from what we use today?

Wood: Lift trucks continue to evolve from the traditional industrial “beast” in the materials handling world to a more intelligent solution in the customer’s ever-demanding logistics world. Lift trucks are becoming more connected and will share more data about their operation and environment. This allows technicians to know which component on the truck will soon need servicing. We expect to see more automation and integrated solutions. Our industry will need to support the growing electric lift truck market with more than 65% of all lift trucks sold now being powered by batteries. Beyond the lift truck, we expect to see “smart attachments” providing more automation and better communication, and alternative power sources like fuel cells and lithium ion batteries will likewise evolve.

Modern: There has been talk for a few years about automated lift trucks as an alternative to automatic guided vehicles. How is that technology developing, and what will it take for end users to adopt them?

Wood: Semi-automated and fully automated lift trucks are now part of our materials handling landscape. As guidance technology continues to improve, more and more customers will embrace this opportunity. But, our industry needs to evolve with the technology, as this type of product requires special selling skills to recognize a potential application and also special support skills to service the product. The potential for driverless automobiles make the daily headlines, but driverless lift trucks are a reality.

Modern: At ProMat this past year, we saw virtual reality technology being showcased for operator training. What are the possibilities of this technology for the industry?

Wood: Computer technology that previously was limited to academic laboratories and military applications is now finding its way into our industry. Virtual reality systems are an example, and operator training is probably only the beginning. Using virtual reality for operator training has the potential to offer a safe training environment, customized applications, different types of loads and could reduce the overall training time. As our Xbox-generation become lift truck operators, this type of computerized training will be expected.

Modern: Will lift trucks have a role in the emerging area of Internet of Things and Big Data? If so, how?

Wood: The Internet of Things and Big Data will continue to find its way into our everyday lives and lift trucks are no exception. Telematics options have been available for several years and continue to evolve. Operational data is now at the fingertips of customers, allowing them to make informed business decisions about improving their efficiencies. Thanks to Big Data, managing fleets becomes easier and it is not unreasonable to think these options will become standard.