Many manufacturers are working to satisfy the growing demand for greener GSE. One of those is Harlan Global Manufacturing, a Kansas City, US-headquartered manufacturer of tugs, tractors, belt loaders, other GSE and material handling equipment used in the aviation and other industries
Harlan, which was founded by Jim Kaplan back in 1962, produces a wide range of baggage and cargo tractors, but – says Jamie Kaplan, the company’s CEO today – his priority at the moment lies very much in one particular technology: a lithium iron phosphate battery-powered tractor called by Harlan the HTSBEL, or TRANSCON-E.
Development of the vehicle dates back to 2010, when Kaplan identified the need for a battery power pack superior to lead-based battery technology. He recalls developing new relationships with cutting-edge cell technology developers in an effort to develop Harlan’s own lithium iron-powered tractor. Lithium iron phosphate batteries represent a much better alternative than lead acid technology, he considers, for a range of reasons, not least of which is their lower weight and their ability to offer up to four times as many cycles as a lead acid battery of similar size.
The short-wheelbase, low-profile HTSBEL has a maximum drawbar pull of 6,000lbs. It is compact but strong, and it can even be used to pushback smaller aircraft when used with a front-hitch package. Various options are available, including a complete cab assembly, heating and defrosting capability, mirrors and a variety of hitches, and the unit comes equipped with an on-board charger suitable for 220 or 240 Volt outlets.
But it is the HTSBEL’s battery pack that really sets it apart, Kaplan remarks. The 300 amp/hr up to 576 amp/hr lithium iron phosphate battery packs along with the highly efficient AC motor integrated drive axle, supports long duty cycles between charges. In its normal recharge mode, the battery can be charged in three or four hours, depending on the scale of the de-charge being reversed. By employing a ‘fast charge’ option, that time can be cut down to about an hour and a half. The process is as easy as charging an electric car, Kaplan confirms.
HTSBEL customers include carriers Air Canada and WestJet. Saudi Arabian Airlines is amongst the latest addition to the client base, while another important one is TCR, which passes Harlan tractors on to its own customers. And Harlan’s HTSBEL customers are coming back for more, clearly satisfied with their purchase: Air Canada has placed four different orders, WestJet three.
With 170-plus units already in operation, Kaplan is expecting to sell at least that quantity again over just the coming 12 months. Their cost-effectiveness is a big selling point, he reveals. A battery-powered tug may be more expensive to buy than a diesel equivalent, but its TCO is much less, given the fuel savings that the battery-powered option offers. In fact, the difference in initial purchase cost can be made up in little more than a year and a half through fuel savings in the case of a heavily used tractor, he argues.
Harlan can offer specialist maintenance and repair services, but the vehicle is specifically designed to be easy to operate and maintain, Kaplan notes. A sophisticated battery management system (BMS) provides early warning of any potential problems, for example (and the data collected can also be accessed remotely as required by authorised users). Moreover, because the lithium iron phosphate cells are not welded together as is usually the case with pouch-style lithium battery cells – instead being bolted together – they can be relatively easily separated for purposes of repair or replacement.
While the HTSBEL is now very much the flagship product of Harlan, Kaplan confirms that there are no plans to do away with the diesel and petrol equivalents in the company’s product portfolio. There will continue to be demand for these units, he forecasts, at least for the foreseeable future.
Nevertheless, it is the electric unit that is likely to define the future, he suggests. “We have a bigger battery pack than our competitors, for the same cost,” Kaplan insists. “Moreover, we are a one stop shop, able to offer maintenance and repair over all aspects of the vehicle and its battery.” To this end, Harlan has its own team of technicians and engineers at its US plant; it can also send its specialists out to a customer’s place of work to provide training or support.
Harlan has customers in 89 different countries for different models within its product range but: “We really think that the electric tractor is the future,” Kaplan concludes.