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A forklift (also called a lift truck, a fork truck, or a forklift truck) is a powered industrial truck used to lift and move materials short distances. The forklift was developed in the early 20th century by various companies including the transmission manufacturing company Clark and the hoist company Yale & Towne Manufacturing. Following World War II the use and development of the forklift truck has greatly expanded worldwide. Forklifts have become an indispensable piece of equipment in manufacturing and warehousing operations
Forklifts are rated for loads at a specified maximum weight and a specified forward center of gravity. This information is located on a nameplate provided by the manufacturer, and loads must not exceed these specifications. In many jurisdictions it is illegal to remove or tamper with the nameplate without the permission of the forklift manufacturer.
An important aspect of forklift operation is that most have rear-wheel steering. While this increases maneuverability in tight cornering situations, it differs from a driver’s traditional experience with other wheeled vehicles. While steering, as there is no caster action, it is unnecessary to apply steering force to maintain a constant rate of turn.
Another critical characteristic of the forklift is its instability. The forklift and load must be considered a unit with a continually varying center of gravity with every movement of the load. A forklift must never negotiate a turn at speed with a raised load, where centrifugal and gravitational forces may combine to cause a disastrous tip-over accident. The forklift are designed with a load limit for the forks which is decreased with fork elevation and undercutting of the load (i.e., when a load does not butt against the fork "L"). A loading plate for loading reference is usually located on the forklift. A forklift should not be used as a personnel lift without the fitting of specific safety equipment, such as a "cherry picker" or "cage".
Forklifts are a critical element of warehouses and distribution centers. It’s imperative that these structures be designed to accommodate their efficient and safe movement. In the case of Drive-In/Drive-Thru Racking, a forklift needs to travel inside a storage bay that is multiple pallet positions deep to place or retrieve a pallet. Often, forklift drivers are guided into the bay through guide rails on the floor and the pallet is placed on cantilevered arms or rails. These maneuvers require well-trained operators. Since every pallet requires the truck to enter the storage structure, damage is more common than with other types of storage. In designing a drive-in system, dimensions of the fork truck, including overall width and mast width, must be carefully considered.
Forklift hydraulics are controlled either with levers directly manipulating the hydraulic valves, or by electrically controlled actuators, using smaller "finger" levers for control. The latter allows forklift designers more freedom in ergonomical design.
Forklift trucks are available in many variations and load capacities. In a typical warehouse setting most forklifts have load capacities between one and five tons. Larger machines, up to 50 tons lift capacity, are used for lifting heavier loads, including loaded shipping containers.
In addition to a control to raise and lower the forks (also known as blades or tines), the operator can tilt the mast to compensate for a load's tendency to angle the blades toward the ground and risk slipping off the forks. Tilt also provides a limited ability to operate on non-level ground. Skilled forklift operators annually compete in obstacle and timed challenges at regional forklift rodeos.
A truck mounted forklift.
The following is a list, in no particular order, of the more common lift truck types:
Hand pallet truck - no on-board power system of any kind; the operator's muscle power is used to jack-up and move loads.
Walkie low lift truck - powered pallet truck, usually electrically powered
Rider low lift truck - usually electrically powered
Towing tractor - may be internal combustion engine or electrically powered
Walkie stacker - usually electrically powered
Rider stacker- usually electrically powered, e.g., A Ergo
Reach truck - variant on a Rider Stacker forklift, designed for small aisles, usually Electrically Powered, named because the forks can extend to reach the load. There are two variants, moving carriage, which are common in North America, and moving mast which are common in the rest of the world, and generally regarded as safer
Electric Counterbalanced truck- comes in Stand on End Control, Stand on Center Control, and Sit Down Center Control, which is the most numerous
Internal Combustion Engine Powered Counterbalanced Forklift- comes in Stand on End Control, Stand on Center Control, and Sit Down Center Control, which is the most numerous. Engines may be diesel, kerosene, gasoline, natural gas, butane, or propane fueled, and may be either two stroke spark ignition, four stroke spark ignition (common), two stoke compression ignition, and four stroke compression ignition (common). North American Engines come with advanced emission control systems. Forklifts built in countries such as Iran or Russia will typically have no emission control systems.
Electric forklifts - powered by lead-acid batteries, several types of forklifts are electric: cushion tire forklifts, scissor lifts, order pickers, stackers, reach trucks and pallet jacks. Electric forklifts are primarily used indoors on flat, even surfaces. Electric forklift batteries last 6 consecutive hours or throughout an 8-hour shift with 2-3 breaks. Batteries prevent the emission of harmful fumes and are recommended for facilities in food-processing and healthcare sectors.
Fuel cell forklifts produce no local emissions, can work for a full 8-hour shift on a single tank of hydrogen, can be refueled in 3 minutes and have a lifetime of 8–10 years. Fuel-cell-powered forklifts are often used in refrigerated warehouses as their performance is not degraded by lower temperatures.
Sideloader- comes in Stand on End Control, and Sit Down End Control, which is the most numerous. It may be electrically powered, or have an internal combustion engine. Engines may be diesel, kerosene, gasoline, natural gas, butane, or propane fueled, and may be either two stroke spark ignition, four stroke spark ignition (common), two stoke compression ignition, and four stroke compression ignition (common). North American Engines come with advanced emission control systems. Forklifts built in countries such as Iran or Russia will typically have no emission control systems. Some sideloaders have hybrid drivetrains.
Telescopic handler - comes in Stand on Center Control, and Sit Down Center Control, which is the most numerous. Usually has an Internal Combustion Engine. Engines are almost always diesel, but sometimes operate on kerosene, and sometimes use propane injection as a power boost. Some old units are two stoke compression ignition, most are four stroke compression ignition (common). North American Engines come with advanced emission control systems. Forklifts built in countries like Iran or Russia will typically have no emission control systems. Some Telescopic handlers have Hybrid drivetrains.
Walkie Order Picking truck- usually Electrically Powered
Rider Order Picking truck- commonly called an "Order Picker"; like a small Reach Truck, except the operator rides in a cage welded to the fork carriage, while wearing a specially designed safety harness to prevent falls. A special toothed grab holds the pallet to the forks. The operator hand transfers the load onto the pallet one article at a time. This is an efficient way of picking less than pallet load shipments, and is popular for use in large distribution centers.
Articulated Very Narrow Aisle Counterbalanced trucks - sometimes called "Flexi or Bendi Trucks" after two of the largest manufacturers. Comes in Stand on Center Control, and Sit Down Center Control, which is the most numerous. May have an internal combustion engine or an electric motor. Electric motors are most common. Engines may be diesel, kerosene, gasoline, natural gas, butane, or propane fueled, and may be either two stroke spark ignition, four stroke spark ignition (common), two stoke compression ignition, and four stroke compression ignition (common). North American Engines come with advanced emission control systems. Forklifts built in countries such as Iran or Russia will typically have no emission control systems. Some units have hybrid drivetrains.
Guided Very Narrow Aisle truck - A counterbalance type Sit Down Rider Electric Forklift fitted with a specialized mast assembly. The mast is capable of rotating 90 degrees, and the forks can then advance like on a reach mechanism, to pick full pallets. Because the forklift does not have to turn, the aisles can be exceptionally narrow, and if wire guidance is fitted in the floor of the building the machine can almost work on its own. Masts on this type of machine tend to be very high. The higher the racking that can be installed, the higher the density the storage can reach. This sort of storage system is popular in cities where land prices are really high, as by building the racking up to three times higher than normal and using these machines, it is possible to stock an incredible amount of material in what appears to be a small space.
Guided Very Narrow Aisle Order Picking truck - counterbalance type Order Picking Truck similar to the Guided Very Narrow Aisle truck, except that the operator and the controls which operate the machine are in a cage welded to the mast. The operator of course wears a restraint system to protect him against falls. Otherwise the description is the same as Guided Very Narrow Aisle truck.
Truck Mounted Forklift / Sod Loader - comes in Sit Down Center Control. Usually has an Internal Combustion Engine. Engines are almost always diesel, but sometimes operate on kerosene, and sometimes use propane injection as a power boost. Some old units are two stroke compression ignition, most are four stroke compression ignition (common). North American Engines come with advanced emission control systems. Forklifts built in countries such as Iran or Russia will typically have no emission control systems.
The cost of a new forklift can vary between $15,000 to in excess of $150,000, dependent on the model and in particular the capacity of the forklift. The most common forklifts are typically gas powered and have a capacity of between 2 and 2.5 tonnes. The cost of these varies from around $18,500, for some of the less well known Chinese manufactured forklifts, up to around $20,000, for the German forklifts from well established manufacturers; it is important to take into account fuel and maintenance costs when calculating the total cost of ownership.
At the other end of the spectrum from the counterbalanced forklift trucks are more 'high end' specialty trucks:
These are, unlike most lift trucks, front wheel steer, and are a hybrid VNA (Very Narrow Aisle) truck designed to be both able to offload trailers and place the load in narrow aisle racking. Increasingly these trucks are able to compete in terms of pallet storage density, lift heights and pallet throughput with Guided Very Narrow Aisle trucks, while also being capable of loading trucks, which VNA units are incapable of doing.
These are rail or wire guided and available with lift heights up to 40' non-top-tied and 98' top-tied. Two forms are available; 'man-down' and 'man-riser' where the operator elevates with the load for increased visibility or for multilevel 'break bulk' order picking. This type of truck, unlike Articulated Narrow Aisle Trucks, requires a high standard of floor flatness.
Omni-directional technology (such as Mecanum wheels) can allow a forklift truck to move forward, diagonally and laterally, or in any direction on a surface. Omni-directional wheel system is able to rotate the truck 360 degrees in its own footprint or strafe sideways without turning the truck cabin. One example is the Airtrax Sidewinder. This forklift truck has also made an appearance in the TV -series called 'Mythbusters'.
In North America, some internal combustion powered industrial vehicles carry Underwriters Laboratories ratings that are part of UL 558. Industrial trucks that are considered "safety" carry the designations GS (Gasoline Safety) for gasoline powered, DS (Diesel Safety) for diesel powered, LPS (Liquid Propane Safety) for liquified propane or GS/LPS for a dual fuel gasoline/liquified propane powered truck. UL 558 is a two-stage Safety Standard. The basic standard, which is G, D, LP, and G/LP is what Underwriter's Laboratories considers the bare minimum required for a lift truck. This is a voluntary standard, and there is no requirement in North America at least by any Government Agency for manufacturers to meet this standard. The slightly more stringent GS, DS, LPS, and GP/LPS, or Safety standard does provide some minimal protection, however it is extremely minimal. In the past Underwriter's Laboratory offered specialty EX and DX safety certifications. If you require higher levels of protection you must contact your local Underwriter's Laboratory Office and check ask them what the correct safety standard is for your workplace.
UL 583 is the Electric equivalent of UL 558. As with UL 558 it is a two-stage standard.
These are for operation in potentially explosive atmospheres found in chemical, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, food and drink, logistics or other industries handling flammable material. Commonly referred to as Pyroban trucks in Europe, they must meet the requirements of the ATEX 94/9/EC Directive if used in Zone 1, 2, 21 or 22 areas and be maintained accordingly.
Automated forklift trucks In order to decrease work wages, reduce operational cost and improve productivity, automated forklifts have also been developed. Automated forklifts are also called forked automated guided vehicles and are already available from a growing number of suppliers. Counterbalanced forklift components A typical counterbalanced forklift contains the following components:
Truck frame - is the base of the machine to which the mast, axles, wheels, counterweight, overhead guard and power source are attached. The frame may have fuel and hydraulic fluid tanks constructed as part of the frame assembly.
Counterweight - is a mass attached to the rear of the forklift truck frame. The purpose of the counterweight is to counterbalance the load being lifted. In an electric forklift the large lead-acid battery itself may serve as part of the counterweight.
Cab - is the area that contains a seat for the operator along with the control pedals, steering wheel, levers, switches and a dashboard containing operator readouts. The cab area may be open air or enclosed but it is covered by the cage-like overhead guard assembly. When enclosed, the cab may also be equipped with a cab heater for cold climate countries along with a fan or air conditioning for hot weather.
Overhead guard - is a metal roof supported by posts at each corner of the cab that helps protect the operator from any falling objects. On some forklifts, the overhead guard is an integrated part of the frame assembly.
Power source - may consist of an internal combustion engine that can be powered by LP gas, CNG, gasoline or diesel fuel. Electric forklifts are powered by either a battery or fuel cells that provides power to the electric motors. The electric motors used on a forklift may be either DC or AC types.
Tilt cylinders - are hydraulic cylinders that are mounted to the truck frame and the mast. The tilt cylinders pivot the mast backward or forward to assist in engaging a load.
Mast - is the vertical assembly that does the work of raising and lowering the load. It is made up of interlocking rails that also provide lateral stability. The interlocking rails may either have rollers or bushings as guides. The mast is driven hydraulically, and operated by one or more hydraulic cylinders directly or using chains from the cylinder/s. It may be mounted to the front axle or the frame of the forklift. A 'container mast' variation allows the forks to raise a few meters without increasing the total height of the forklift. This is useful when double-loading pallets into a container or under a mezzanine floor.
Carriage - is the component to which the forks or other attachments mount. It is mounted into and moves up and down the mast rails by means of chains or by being directly attached to the hydraulic cylinder. Like the mast, the carriage may have either rollers or bushings to guide it in the interlocking mast rails.
Load back rest - is a rack-like extension that is either bolted or welded to the carriage in order to prevent the load from shifting backward when the carriage is lifted to full height.
Attachments - may consists of a mechanism which is attached to the carriage, either permanently or temporarily, to help in proper engagement of the load. A variety of material handling attachments are available. Some attachments include sideshifters, slipsheet attachments, carton clamps, multipurpose clamps, rotators, fork positioners, carpet poles, pole handlers, container handlers and roll clamps.
Tires - either solid for indoor use, or pneumatic for outside use.
Dimensioning devices-fork truck mounted dimensioning systems provide dimensions for the cargo to facilitate truck trailer space utilization and to support warehouse automation systems. The systems normally communicate the dimensions via 802.11 radios. NTEP certified dimensioning devices are available to support commercial activities that bill based on volume.
Sideshifter - is a hydraulic attachment that allows the operator to move the tines (forks) and backrest laterally. This allows easier placement of a load without having to reposition the truck
Rotator - To aid the handling of skids that may have become excessively tilted and other specialty material handling needs some forklifts are fitted with an attachment that allows the tines to be rotated. This type of attachment may also be used for dumping containers for quick unloading.
Fork positioner - is a hydraulic attachment that moves the tines (forks) together or apart. This removes the need for the operator to manually adjust the tines for different sized loads.
Roll and barrel clamp attachment - A mechanical or hydraulic attachment used to squeeze the item to be moved. It is used for handling barrels, kegs, or paper rolls. This type of attachment may also have a rotate function. The rotate function would help an operator to insert a vertically stored paper into the horizontal intake of a printing press for example.
Pole attachments - In some locations, such as carpet warehouses, a long metal pole is used instead of forks to lift carpet rolls. Similar devices, though much larger, are used to pick up metal coils.
Carton and multipurpose clamp attachments - are hydraulic attachments that allow the operator to open and close around a load, squeezing it to pick it up. Products like cartons, boxes and bales can be moved with this type attachment. With these attachments in use, the forklift truck is sometimes referred to as a clamp truck.
Slip sheet attachment (push - pull) - is a hydraulic attachment that reaches forward, clamps onto a slip sheet and draws the slip sheet onto wide and thin metal forks for transport. The attachment will push the slip sheet and load off the forks for placement.
Drum handler attachment - is a mechanical attachment that slides onto the tines (forks). It usually has a spring-loaded jaw that grips the top lip edge of a drum for transport. Another type grabs around the drum in a manner similar to the roll or barrel attachments.
Man basket - a lift platform that slides onto the tines (forks) and is meant for hoisting workers. The man basket has railings to keep the person from falling and brackets for attaching a safety harness. Also, a strap or chain is used to attach the man basket to the carriage of the forklift.
Telescopic forks - are hydraulic attachments that allow the operator to operate in warehouse design for "double-deep stacking", which means that two pallet shelves are placed behind each other without any aisle between them.
Scales -Fork truck mounted scales enable operators to efficiently weigh the pallets they handle without interrupting their workflow by travelling to a platform scale. Scales are available that provide legal-for-trade weights for operations that involve billing by weight. They are easily retrofitted to the truck by hanging on the carriage in the same manner as forks hang on the truck.
Single-double forks - are forks that in the closed position allow movement of a single pallet or platform but when separated, turn into a set of double forks that allow carryin two pallets side by side. The fork control may have to replace the side-shifter on some lift trucks.
Any attachment on a forklift will reduce its nominal load rating, which is computed with a stock fork carriage and forks. The actual load rating may be significantly lower.