Europe´s leading fork manufacturer Vetter made the leap into the absolute heavyweight league when it started producing large forks, so-called ‘BIGForks’, in 2012. With capacities of up to 120 tons and higher, cross-sections greater than 350 x 150 millimetres, and blade lengths of more than 4,000 millimetres, the most demanding applications in container handling, quarries or heavy industry are catered for. As quality and safety are given the highest priority, nothing is left to chance when manufacturing ‘heavy metal’ forks. Not only does Vetter use VQ1300 high-performance steel, it also manufactures the heavyweights on a new, modern and globally unique production line for large forks.
The fully automatic production line for BIGForks is a technological masterpiece designed for the individual requirements of fork production and into which the entire expertise gained over more than 50 years has flowed. The forks are manufactured according to the bend-and-upset principle, a forging method that perfectly meets the requirements at hand. Compared to the conventional hammer forging or open-die forging previously employed, this method offers a wide range of advantages, especially for large forks: Narrow tolerances can be achieved, and each fork is the same as the previous one thanks to optimum reproducibility. Furthermore, this process enables the OptimaForkHeel with additional wear zone to be formed, thus reducing deflection and ensuring optimum stress distribution. This results in increased safety and extends the service life of the fork significantly. For forks of this size this is a USP.
The material is decisive
Because the demands placed on forks vary widely and these have to withstand the most extreme loading conditions – whether for indoor, outdoor or harbour applications and whether for high-temperature or low-temperature applications – Vetter only uses steel of the highest quality. Over the decades Vetter has developed new, specific steel qualities that are sourced directly from the steelworks. This ensures that the highest demands on strength, toughness, purity, hardness, workability and fatigue strength are met.
Vetter uses two outstanding material qualities: the special fork material VQ32+ and the high-performance steel VQ1300 for the BIGForks. This steel with a controlled purity grade is titanium-stabilised and has an exceedingly low wear rate. VQ1300 stands out due to its high yield strength and resilience. This results in numerous benefits for the user, for example higher load-bearing capacities for the same cross-section, greater wear resistance and optimised design options – especially for fully tapered forks used in the timber and panel industry. But for a top product supplied by Vetter, the quality of the steel is not the only decisive factor. In particular, the high degree of vertical integration over the entire value chain of the product – whether due to the precise and high-quality mechanical processing or sophisticated heat treatment – makes a Vetter fork a quality product that customers all round the world hold in high esteem. For the heat treatment of BIGForks, the fork specialist relies on a fully automatic plant with precise temperature and treatment-time control. The heat-treating process is very complex and ensures an optimum combination of hardness, strength and toughness. It is adapted to suit every fork cross-section and every steel analysis. The computer-controlled heat treatment plant allows exact reproducibility. Processes and values are continually analysed in an in-house materials laboratory to increase the depth of Vetter´s expertise.
Vetter manufactures several hundred thousand forks per annum – a figure that already includes quite a significant percentage of large forks, which is all the more remarkable given that it has only been a player in the “heavyweight” arena for about four years now. Fork production is subject to continuous monitoring during the entire process to ensure that the strictest quality standards are met. The products are maltreated on in-house test benches – a process with which one is familiar from a large Swedish furniture store. They are subject to static and dynamic tests and sometimes even deliberately destroyed in order to gain new insights that make the product safer. After all, we are talking about a safety product on which everything depends. This depth of testing for large forks is undoubtedly a première in the industry. Vetter was the first fork manufacturer in the world to be certified to ISO 9001 in 1992 and to ISO 14001 in 2007. Furthermore, numerous well-known OEMs have audited the fork manufacturer and selected it as a preferred supplier.
Custom and high-volume production
Vetter has been producing quality forks for more than 50 years, and with the know-how gained in this field over the decades, the company has grown into Europe’s leading manufacturer. Quality forks from Vetter are not only in demand among industrial truck and construction machinery manufacturers as original equipment but are also retrofitted in a wide variety of versions to meet customer-specific requirements. As every application requires an individual solution, there isn’t a lot that Vetter hasn’t already done. Whether series or one-off, large or small, customer-specific or standard, in the meantime the product range comprises more than 30,000 active articles. The high degree of vertical integration coupled with precise production control makes this possible. In addition to a total of four production lines, Vetter has a large machine shop for mechanical processing. Worthy of particular mention is the welding expertise, which is certified in accordance with ISO 3834-2 and monitored by own welding engineers. All mounting options are available for the forks: Whether a roller-guided fork, a fork with TWS mounting, a pin-type fork, a bolt-on fork or a tailor-made solution, Vetter creates absolutely unique designs. And of course, the range of services does not stop at production and just-in-time delivery of the forks. Vetter provides the customer with an all-round carefree package: data exchange via EDI and Web portals, a design service, a high level of stock availability, short production times, complete documentation, optimized and customer-specific packaging solutions, a repair service, and also – very important – trainings the customer’s service technicians and sales staff.
That the previous accomplishments are by no means the last word is shown by the remarkable innovations that Vetter regularly launches onto the market: 100% stainless steel forks, also for use in potentially explosive areas; DuoLoc folding forks; or the “swan-neck” fork for warehouse equipment.