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Forklift basics, ensure you are choosing the best forklift for your application



Doing a little homework up front to ensure you are choosing the best forklift for your operation will result in optimal utilisation of your space and labour while maintaining a high safety factor.


Before making a decision on the best forklift for your operation you must have a thorough understanding of the properties of the materials or loads you will be handling, the methods you will use to store these materials and the methods you will use to ship and receive these materials



Once this is done you should familiarise yourself with the variety of forklifts and options available.



Forklift Fuel Types


Electric forklifts are designed for use on a flat surface only. Their big advantages are the absence of fumes and their quiet operation. lf you only intend to use your vehicles indoors, this is the way to go. In multi-shift operations you will need additional
batteries and charging/transfer stations. ln single shift operations, or, if the forklift is not used 100% of the time, you can charge it during off hours. Note that the batteries and chargers for forklifts are usually priced separately from the forklift truck itself. You will also have choices of standard batteries or sealed maintenance-free types, although the latter is very rare.


Battery powered


Basically there are two types of forklifts, battery powered and lC engine powered. AC (alternating current) motors are being offered by most forklift manufacturers, and no, this does not mean that you will be driving around with a really long extension cord. AC powered forklift trucks run off of DC batteries and convert the DC power back to AC to power the motor. The advantages of AC motors include faster acceleration, higher efficiency, and lower maintenance costs.


Regenerative braking technology recharges the batteries using the momentum of the forklift when slowing down (braking). The frequent starting/ stopping of forklifts makes them an excellent application for this technology. it is similar to the technology used in hybrid automobiles. New technologies in this are a include fast charging which provides a means to reduce or eliminate the need to change batteries on multi-shift operations. The idea here is to quickly recharge the batteries during breaks, lunches, and between shifts (frequently called opportunity charging). it is more expensive than conventional charging systems, and there is currently only one such system in South Africa. The system has lots of power issues and isn’t very green.


IC engine — LP gas powered forklifts


The advantages of using liquid propane (LP) include minimal fumes that you can smell although it still produces CO and other noxious gases (so heavy use indoors is dangerous and requires adequate ventilation), the ability to use it both indoors and outdoors, and the ability to quickly change LP tanks. It is commonly used in indoor/outdoor operations such as lumber yards. Petrol or diesel powered forklifts are for outdoor use only. These forklifts are heavily used in construction, scrap yards, truck loading, etc. There are a handful of companies already testing hydrogen fuel cell powersources for industrial forklifts. The advantages of hydrogen fuel cell power include
the ability to quickly refuel (similar to LP, petrol or diesel) avoiding the hassles and costs associated with battery changing/charging while providing the clean-air benefits of electric. Cost is still an issue at this point, but this is a technology to watch.


Forklift tyre types


There are three types of tyres on the market: solid (nylon) for warehouse forklifts; cushion for general use; and air for rough terrain. Cushion tyres are solid tyres generally with no tread pattern (though tread patterns are available) designed for use indoors on smooth solid surfaces. Pneumatic tyres require air and are designed for use outdoors on uneven and loose surfaces. Pneumatic tyre forklifts will also have higher ground clearance which raises the centre of gravity thus reducing its rated lift capacity.


Lift capacity and lift height of forklifts


Before you select the best forklift for the job, you will need to know the maximum weight and dimensions of the loads you will be handling as well as the maximum fork height needed to stack or rack the loads in order to determine the capacity of the vehicle needed. The lift capacity of a forklift is affected by lift height and load size. A larger size load moves the centre of gravity of the vehicle/load combination reducing the lift capacity as does the height the load is being lifted. Attachments also affect the capacity of a truck. Every forklift is required to have a rating plate showing the rated capacities. If there are any changes made to the forklift - like adding an attachment - the plate must be replaced with one showing the revised capacities. But why spend so much time on capacity? Why not just play it safe and get a higher rated forklift? The answer is size. Bigger is not necessarily better in warehousing. A
higher capacity forklift will be physically larger and require larger aisles than a lesser one.


Forklift mast options


The number of stages a mast has affects the closed height of the forklift as well as door heights. Single, double, triple, quad (reflects the number of sections or stages the mast has) are the types of masts available. In many circumstances you will not need to make a choice here since the lift height will dictate the type of mast you will get. However, in forklifts with very high lift heights, you may have an option. Going to a quad mast (which is very, very rare) instead of a triple, rated at the same height, will give you a shorter mast in the lowered position, eliminating overhead clearance issues. However, the more sections to the mast, the more play it will have when extended (the wobble factor).


Forklift aisle types


Forklifts are classified by the types of aisles they are designed to operate in. Wide Aisle and Narrow Aisle trucks are designed to turn in the aisle while Very Narrow Aisle trucks do not turn within the aisle. Wide Aisle: standard forklifts fall into this category of trucks designed to work in aisles greater than 3.3m wide. Narrow Aisle (NA) forklifts operate in aisles of 2.6 to 3.3m and are generally vehicles
such as Reach Trucks. Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) trucks operate in aisles less than 2m and often use guidance systems (wire, rail, or optical) to travel within the aisles. Types of VNA trucks are Order Pickers, Swing Mast and Turret Trucks (often called Lateral Stackers).