How to Spec the Right Forklift for Your Operation

When it comes to spec'ing forklifts there's more to the task than meets the eye, manufacturers and dealers say.

March 2012, Government Fleet - Feature

by Stephen Bennett

At a Glance

Some considerations when spec'ing lift trucks are:

  • Which type of power to use: liquid propane, gasoline, diesel, or electric.
  • Load capacity needed.
  • Dimensions of facility and aisle size.
  • Whether the machine will be used indoors or outdoors.
  • Incentives or rebates that may lower prices for certain types of trucks.

Crown said customers need to spec forklifts based on the facility where they will be used. The Crown FC 4500 Series sit-down rider electric lift truck features three selectable performance levels for different needs.
Crown said customers need to spec forklifts based on the facility where they will be used. The Crown FC 4500 Series sit-down rider electric lift truck features three selectable performance levels for different needs.

People tend to think, mistakenly, "It's just a forklift," said Jesse Thacker, vice president of All Pro Alaska, a Nissan forklift dealer in Anchorage. "Actually, it's a customized piece of equipment, built for the end user, based on the end user's need."

Melinda Beckett-Maines, national marketing manager for Toyota Material Handling USA, said, "The vast majority of our buyers in government buy internal combustion, pneumatic trucks - a Class 5 product. But that doesn't mean one size fits all."

Consulting with a representative from a local dealer is the best first step toward ensuring you end up with just the right equipment, forklift manufacturers uniformly advised.

Electric units account for more than 60 percent of the market in the U.S., manufacturers said, though forklifts powered by other forms of energy - liquid propane or diesel, for example - might be better suited for specific needs.

Manufacturers offered the following additional advice on how government fleets can spec forklifts for best results.

Crown: Match the Spec to the Facility
"There is no typical spec, just like there's no typical customer," said Joe Knapschaefer, manager, government sales, Crown Equipment Corp., based in New Bremen, Ohio. "In general the government is not going to frill up the truck," he said, though safety accessories such as backup alarms are frequently specified.

A customer with a need for a sizeable number of forklifts might also have a number of different facilities, each with different structural features that must be taken into account, Knapschaefer noted. "The spec of that truck has got to match the particular facility where it's going to be used," he said. "They can't just order 240-inch stock pickers and put them into all their different facilities," Knapschaefer said. "It would be either overkill or underkill."

In most cases, government facilities are much lower height than commercial facilities. Aisles can be very narrow (approximately five to six feet wide) to narrow (seven to eight feet wide) to wide (10 feet or more). "There are very specific lift truck products that will work in those aisles," Knapschaefer said. Crown's forte has always been electric forklifts, though it does offer an internal combustion propane-fueled truck introduced a few years ago.

The choice of fuel or power for forklifts is dictated by whether the machine will be used indoors or outdoors; if indoors, and the warehouse stores food products, electric forklifts are the rule, Knapschaefer said. "You just don't want exhaust fumes around food," he said. In warehouses that store other types of goods and materials, and where an internal combustion model is required, propane is the cleanest burning fuel, Knapschaefer said.

 The greater the weight to be shifted, the more likely an internal combustion unit will be needed, he noted. Using an electric machine for heavy lifting saps the batteries. "You won't get much run time out of them or [the machine] just won't be able to lift the loads," Knapschaefer said.
A 6,500-lb. capacity forklift truck is the biggest capacity electric unit that Crown manufactures, Knapschaefer said.

Most of Crown's forklift trucks have multiple meters, each measuring a particular use by the hour. A run time hour meter measures how long the key was turned on; a lifting meter measures hours the hydraulic pump is used to move the fork up the mast; a seat time meter measures hours that the seat is occupied. Data from these meters can be reviewed by management to determine whether it is getting sufficient productivity from the machine, Knapschaefer said. If the information indicates the machine is underused, that could mean the specs were not developed enough for the desired application, Knapschaefer said.

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