25th November 2021

Following the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jan-Willem van den Brand from the Hyster Big Trucks team shares insight from recent Hyster research and the key trends now affecting ports, with suggested solutions for this year’s most common challenges.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimates that around 80 percent of global trade is transported by commercial shipping.* However, in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the world economy, magnifying existing challenges for the global trading system.

As the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt, some previously known challenges in the ports industry have become more immediate priorities.

When retail shopping in much of Europe shut down, shipping experienced a dramatic slowdown. According to the International Association of Ports and Harbours, in the first week of May 2020, 65% of big European ports saw up to 25% fewer ships coming in compared with the average of the previous year.** However, since the reopening of global economies, and e-commerce booming, ports have seen recovery in demand and, in many cases, surges beyond previous years’ numbers.

Recent Hyster research with ports in the US showed that 22% of respondents felt that access to reliable container handling equipment was their biggest challenge during these times, with 20% finding the availability and lead time of trucks a big concern. 14% had also found that decreased container volumes had driven up their costs.

New materials handling equipment is a big investment and can have a long lead time, so having access to versatile equipment can be the key to keeping an operation running. When purchasing or leasing a lift truck, businesses should seek flexible fleet options, and consider both new and used equipment to suit budget requirements. 20% of survey respondents said the high cost to operate and maintain a fleet is a priority.  To simplify this for ports, everything from Hyster® warehouse equipment to ReachStackers is easily available from official Hyster dealers at

With a surge in e-commerce, retailers’ order fulfilment and restock means more shipments are flowing through ports. Many downstream, 3PLs (Third-Party Logistics firms) and road transport companies are looking to obtain more warehouse space and more employees. Meanwhile, ongoing congestion in shipyards and terminals requires ports to fine tune their materials handling efficiency. 16% of respondents in the Hyster US survey were challenged by container congestion.

Over-running equipment to meet throughput demand can sometimes result in service issues. Ports can’t afford any downtime, so it is important to invest in equipment designed for the specific application with reliability in mind.  Materials handling solutions should be backed by parts availability. Hyster distribution partners, for instance, can provide critical parts fast to reduce downtime, sometimes same day.

Right sizing the fleet with flexible equipment to meet a variety of demands and supplementing equipment with short-term leases or rental equipment can also help manage costs effectively and keep operations moving during peaks in demand.  Likewise, yard layout to optimise efficiency should be considered and Hyster works with many ports offering consultancy and simulation to find the right layout solutions.

Taking advantage of more vertical storage can be an option for some ports where higher density stacking can help reduce congestion.  Equipment that supports double container handling can help operations stack higher while also supporting greater productivity in moving containers. 

Ports and terminals should also not overlook that one of the most expensive parts of the fleet is the operator. Providing equipment that is comfortable and ergonomic with high visibility may help support increased operator productivity. The new cab on Hyster lift trucks with capacities over 8-tonnes is a great example of this, designed with operator productivity in mind.

Even through a pandemic, commitment to green initiatives remains a high priority. The European Green Deal aims to decrease emissions by 55% compared with 1990 levels by 2030***.  In the Hyster ports research in the US, where similar initiatives are in place, many respondents consider the growing electrification trend within the port and terminals industry to be their key challenge.

Therefore, it is more important than ever for ports to understand their clean power options for materials handling equipment—whether lithium-ion batteries or hydrogen fuel cells in combination with lithium-ion batteries.

Electric lift trucks lower emissions and do not have to sacrifice performance and toughness. Hyster has recently added to its lift truck range with new lithium-ion forklifts for loads up to 18-tonnes, and projects are underway to electrify Hyster Container Handlers and ReachStackers for ports in the US and Europe.

COVID-19 has accelerated change, forcing many businesses to look to the future, and enabling operations to recognise new opportunities to exceed expectations, whether in a period of lower shipping volume or increased demand.

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