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Forklift Types

Forklift Types – Picking the Right Tool for the Right Job

Forklift types

If you are in the market for a forklift and it has been a while since you last purchased a truck, or you are new to forklift buying, then there are some not so obvious features that need your informed consideration before you make a buying decision.

For the longest time the principal considerations when buying a forklift were how much could it lift and what kind of fuel it used; gas, propane, diesel or electric. Times change and in this case there have been major changes in the needs of the customer that have driven changes in the forklift industry.

An emphasis on increased productivity created manufacturing processes that sped up production creating new demands for speed in the material handling function. Distributors and warehouses optimized their productivity by narrowing aisles and increasing the height of racks creating new demands for maneuverability and maximum lift heights for their forklifts. There is also a new awareness of the contribution to the bottom line of the operator. Forklift designs now need to include features that ensure operator safety and encourage high productivity.

As a result, the forklift industry responded with a cornucopia of features and designs to provide buyers with a machine that is tailored to their specific needs. Without understanding exactly what is required in a materials handling function, it is easy for a consumer to under buy or overbuy a forklift product.

In short, it takes some research to find the right tool for the right job. To give you an assist, here are some typical applications by industry:

Small to Medium Retail Operations

The objective here is to get product from the dock, to the racks and then to the retail floor. You'll want something that has sufficient capacity to handle your largest delivery both in terms of getting it out of the semi and lifted up to your tallest stack. You'll also need to pick or reach your stock from the racks and move it onto the sales floor where customers may be present.

Here are a couple of ideas.

Reach Trucks – Designed to work in narrow aisles yet have significant maximum lift height to reach your tallest stack. Load capacity can range from 3000 lbs. to 4500 lbs. which is a nice spread for a retail operation. The truck comes in both sit-down and stand up operator configurations and most manufacturers have gone to great lengths to make the compartment ergonomically correct. If your operator is required to frequently leave the truck, the standup model with its low step feature may be the best bet.

Pallet Jacks – A retailer will need a way to get stock from the warehouse to the sales floor and a pallet jack could be just the ticket. This forklift, just like it sounds, is used to lift and move pallets in an indoor warehouse setting. Pallet jacks are available either manual or electric. An electric pallet jack is a popular option since it uses motorized control to lift and stack heavy loads to promote workplace safety.

Indoor Manufacturers

High volume manufacturers are interested in getting the product from the line onto a truck as quickly as possible. They are not in the warehouse business they are in the shipping business. Unless the facility has a very high ceiling and excellent ventilation manufacturers will want to use trucks powered by emission free electric motors. Aisle width and stack height are not major concerns. Load capacity and the ability to effectively work the dock loading and offloading materials is a primary concern.

Electric Counterbalance Forklift These sit-down workhorses are an ideal fit for many manufacturing operations. With load capacities ranging from 3000 lbs. to 10000 lbs. and equipped with treaded cushion or pneumatic tires, this truck can work both inside and outside. The downside of an electric truck in heavy use is the requirement to have spare batteries and the space and equipment required to charge and swap them out.

Warehouses with Narrow Aisles

More and more warehouses and distribution centers have turned to narrow aisles as a way to optimize their space and increase productivity. This of course requires a forklift that can maneuver these spaces and still have the lift capacity and reach to handle the loads.

We've already mentioned reach trucks but they are worth mentioning again when talking about narrow aisles. Because of their design they can "reach" remarkable heights (up to 3 stories) and they really pivot rather than turn when maneuvering.

Very Narrow Aisle Trucks This class of truck was designed as a result of customer requirements. They are stand up trucks with incredible turning radius that can lift up to 5000 lbs. 140" and higher. They can fit into the narrowest of aisles allowing businesses to utilize space that might otherwise not be appropriate for warehousing.

Construction Sites

Almost all construction sites are outdoors and/or uncovered. The forklifts on construction sites typically operate on uneven surfaces and their tasks can include handling very heavy loads. As a result these forklifts will almost always be powered by internal combustion engines (gas, diesel, LPG) and ride on pneumatic tires. The internal combustion engine (ICE) has the advantage over electric motors of not needing "charging stations" or a supply of spare batteries which would be highly impractical for a construction site. The pneumatic tires are filled with air giving the forklift a "suspension" that solid rubber or polyurethane tires can't.

There are a variety of truck types that are appropriate for construction sites starting with the sit-down counterbalance truck that can handle loads up to 19000 lbs.

High Capacity or Heavy Duty Trucks These are the big brothers of the sit-down counterbalance forklifts that are typically equipped with larger tires, bigger engines, taller masts with some capable of handling loads as heavy as 105000 lbs. and raise them 240" or better. These come in handy when moving concrete and steel components.

Telehandler This model is technically a reach truck but it is equipped with a boom rather than a mast. The characteristic that makes it invaluable to construction projects is its ability to operate on rough terrain and slopes. The telehandler can tilt to the left or right allowing it to level itself on a slope. Once it has leveled out, it deploys stabilizer legs to hold itself in position. The boom (forks attached to the end) can then extend up to 50' acting much the same as a crane.

Sea Ports

As you can imagine, the bulk of the cargo that arrives and departs our ports is containerized. However, there are materials that simply can't be containerized like timber, lumber, steel coils, large concrete components and steel pipes. The high capacity truck is suitable for both containers and large, heavy cargos.

Container Handlers For companies who deal exclusively in containerized imports and export, this specialty forklift is designed specifically for the task. Lifting any size container weighing up to 50 tons, the container handler can stack containers 5 high for temporary storage and load containers on trucks or rail cars.

As you can see there are any number of forklift products available on the market. The key is matching your specific needs to the capabilities of a specific class of truck. Once you have accomplished that we can help you find your ideal match with our Forklift Pricing Tool.