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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According to a Hyster sales manager, a truck for use indoors is sized to aisle width, weight at the ground, and maximum lift height, overhead obstructions, and doorways. Pictured is a Hyster OrderPicker.

According to a Hyster sales manager, a truck for use indoors is sized to aisle width, weight at the ground, and maximum lift height, overhead obstructions, and doorways. Pictured is a Hyster OrderPicker.

Hyster: Check the Application
Two broad considerations that government fleet managers should keep in mind when spec'ing forklifts are the physical features of the facility and the application of the equipment, said Lou Micheletto, manager of dealer warehouse equipment sales for The Hyster Co., headquartered in Greenville, N.C.

For use indoors, a truck is sized to aisle width, weight at the ground and maximum lift height, overhead obstructions, and doorways. For use outdoors, the type of tire will depend on the potential of tire punctures. The size and type of load will dictate what type of forklift attachment is needed. For example, if the loads are on slip sheets, a special attachment is required.

An application may require alternative-speed lift or travel; aisle lighting may require more or less truck lights; the potential for pedestrians near the truck will require additional sound and warning devices.
Other factors such as guidance in narrow aisles, floor conditions, and required throughput will influence truck specs.

Environmental conditions, availability of fuel, or recharging type all influence the power choice.

When the application requires rapid refueling, fossil fuel works best. Propane is the easiest to contain, whereas gasoline and diesel require a larger commitment in infrastructure, Micheletto said. Where emissions are to be avoided - indoors - electric tops the list, he said.

For the most part, government facilities do a good job of training operators and of doing routine maintenance, Micheletto said. "Every application has its own demands," he said. "We find if there is poor battery charging and watering practices, the battery life is shortened. There are times the lift truck is asked to pick loads greater than the rated capacity. Some operators, wanting to do a great job, will push loads or rapid reverse internal combustion trucks, each of which can increase maintenance."

Nissan Forklift: Know the End User

Nissan Forklift sales reps will visit a prospective customer's site to identify a customer's "true needs" and help pinpoint the proper specs, said Thacker of All Pro Alaska, the Nissan forklift dealer in Anchorage. (Nissan Forklift is based in Marengo, Ill.) Key points that a rep will cover: type, weight, dimensions, and packaging of the product to be lifted; height to which the product will be lifted; whether the operating environment is indoors, outdoors, or both; the condition of operating surfaces; and projected hours of use by day, week, and month. Special needs or constraints that must be taken into account include door heights and where the unit will be stored. For example, if the machine is to be stored outdoors during the cold season, spec'ing a block heater would be advisable.

It's important to know the lifting capacity the lift truck needs before purchasing it. The Nissan PF70 has a 7,000-lb. weight capacity.

It's important to know the lifting capacity the lift truck needs before purchasing it. The Nissan PF70 has a 7,000-lb. weight capacity.

The height of warehouse ceilings can vary widely - from 12 feet to 50 feet or higher, Thacker said, and forklifts must be specified accordingly. "Real estate is expensive," Thacker

said, "so instead of building out, we build up." For the same reason, aisle widths can vary from approximately five feet to approximately 12 feet wide. The more products stored in a warehouse, the narrower the aisles are likely to be.

"The mission of end users is to put as much stuff in that warehouse as possible so they can maximize storage per square foot," Thacker said. "If they can double storage capacity of the warehouse they can literally double output and keep costs low - and that's where the forklift comes into play. They need that forklift to turn a little tighter, lift a little higher, and get down this narrow aisle."

It's an oddity of the business that purchasers for many government fleets and agencies don't always know who the end user is going to be, said Thacker.

A few standardized questions can help define the forklift needs of government agencies, most of whom "need a basic vanilla truck," Thacker said. This can include standard sideshift range, 42-inch forks, headlights, tail lights, and a working light.

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If the machine will be used strictly indoors, then an electric unit is preferred because of reduction in CO output, Thacker pointed out. For outdoor operation, an internal combustion unit is advised, he said.
To enable turnaround in tight spaces, a Class 4 unit that has "cushion tires" - small tires made of hard rubber - is preferred, Thacker said. Class 4 forklifts are internal combustion engine, sit-down rider forklifts with cushion tires, suitable for indoor use on hard surfaces, according to definitions established by the Industrial Truck Association (ITA).

For indoor/outdoor usage, a Class 5 forklift with pneumatic tires is advisable. Class 5 forklifts are internal combustion engine sit-down rider forklifts with pneumatic tires, typically used outdoors, on rough surfaces or inclines, according to the ITA.

Often a forklift purchaser will specify 5,000-lb. capacity, but the majority of customers don't need that much, Thacker said. However, if capacity needs aren't clear to the purchasing agent, spec'ing 5,000 lbs. is often viewed as "a good, safe, guess," Thacker said - though he added that guessing is not a good idea when spec'ing equipment. For one thing, spec'ing 5,000-lb. lifting capability when much less is needed means "paying extra money for extra steel in the lift," Thacker said. "And you're going to degrade your ability to use the forklift in tighter spaces" because the bigger the lift capacity, the bigger the machine, Thacker said. Spec'ing a lesser capacity results in a smaller forklift that will fit more easily in tight spaces, and be easier to maneuver.

"It has everything to do with turning radius of the forklifts," Thacker said. "That's why the end user really has to know what they'll be lifting, because they can save time, space, and money."

Toyota Material Handling: know Local laws & incentives
A city or county fleet usually uses forklifts indoors and outdoors, in a yard, Mark Faiman said, as a general purpose tool. Faiman, a product manager for Irvine, Calif.-based Toyota Material Handling USA, said in his experience, a typical forklift for a city fleet is one with 5,000-lb. capacity, 48-inch-long forks to fit a standard pallet, and air-filled tires so it can operate outside as well as inside.

According to Toyota Material Handling's marketing manager, internal combustion, pneumatic trucks are popular among government purchases, such as this 8FGU25 forklift.

According to Toyota Material Handling's marketing manager, internal combustion, pneumatic trucks are popular among government purchases, such as this 8FGU25 forklift.

However, local rules or government policies can dictate certain specs, Faiman pointed out. For example, "Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)rules for your location may require you to install a strobe light, backup alarms, or other safety equipment due to the conditions present in the facility. You want to be aware of these items when spec'ing out your truck as it tends to cost more if you have to go back and retrofit a unit," he said.

Incentives or rebates can influence specs too. A previous incentive offered by the Railroad Commission of Texas covered 50 cents per gallon for propane used in forklifts, Faiman said. In California, an Air Resources Board funding program has underwritten replacement of diesel-powered forklifts.

Beckett-Maines of Toyota Material Handling said forklift customization is the rule rather than the exception, and 40 percent of Toyota's orders are customized. "That tells you how many one offs there are - where people have specific needs."

Toyota manages orders for customized machines as "special design requests," Beckett-Maines said. If a particular feature is repeatedly spec'ed, the manufacturer will make it a standard option, she said. A seat that swivels is an example of that.

Purchasers can find a good indication of resale value by looking through "For Sale" ads in publications catering to the material handling industry, industrial online auction sites, and even on eBay, Beckett-Maines suggested. That should give them an idea of which brands are holding their value.

"When you're buying a new lift truck, you might think, 'That's a big chunk of change,' " Beckett-Maines said, and justify it by anticipating savings in ongoing operation and maintenance costs. "But in reality the majority of the expense involved with a forklift comes afterwards, with maintenance and parts," Beckett-Maines said. "It's important to look at the overall investment, not just the purchase price, but how durable and reliable the product is. "

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Prepare New Propane-fueled Forklift Operators with Proper Refueling Training

Refueling training offered by propane providers is one way to ensure that new propane-fueled forklift operators develop proper safety habits. Photo provided by PERC.

Refueling training offered by propane providers is one way to ensure that new propane-fueled forklift operators develop proper safety habits. Photo provided by PERC.

According to the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), more than 600,000 propane-fueled forklifts are used in the United States today, making it important for facility management to adequately prepare operators on proper safety practices.

Refueling training offered by propane providers is one way to ensure that new operators develop these important skills and safety habits. The following are actual questions and answers posed by propane-fueled forklift operators during refueling training offered by propane providers Ferrellgas and Heritage Propane, provided by PERC.

Q: Why does our facility use propane-fueled forklifts? 

A: Many facilities use propane-fueled forklifts because they can be operated indoors or outdoor, while forklifts that use other fuels, like gasoline and diesel, are limited to outdoor use. Propane-fueled forklifts can be refueled quickly and run continuously.

Q: Why is it important to wear gloves when replacing propane cylinders?

A: It is important to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), such as thermal protection gloves, because even small amounts of propane that may come in contact with skin can cause freeze burn. Correct placement of the cylinder with the pin in the slot or hole is necessary because this keeps the relief valve pointing up and out, and away from the forklift operator.

Q: Are there any precautions I need to know about when refueling propane-fueled forklifts? 

A: Propane is a flammable gas. Never smoke or use any open flames or sparking equipment around propane-fueled forklifts and keep materials such as nylon, plastics, and other static electricity producing materials away from refueling areas.

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