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Forklift Theory: How to make the most of the fabricator’s best friend.

forklift moving in a job shop

Published via LinkedIn by Bruce Thomas, May 2021

Depending on the size of your workplace, you likely have one or more forklifts or other industrial trucks at your disposal in order to keep your profit centers running efficiently. Even if you only need the one, there are some rules that prove universal when it comes to making the most of your machine and its efficiency in your job shop, saving you time and money. Here’s tips we’ve gathered from the team at Tempus Tools and their decades of experience to find out how you can easily make your forklift even more efficient.

Your forklift is useful, but is it accessible?

Your forklift is far less useful to you if you struggle to access it within your workplace. Make sure that your forklift is always returned to the same designated area when you finish using it. You can mark this out with brightly colored floor tape. Make sure that this area, as well as the walkways the forklift regularly uses, is never blocked off by pallets or other equipment.

If fetching your forklift seems to take longer than it should, or if it’s in such high demand that you or others have to go into downtime, this is also an issue of accessibility. In this scenario, it might be wise to consider getting a second forklift and setting up an additional parking space on the opposite end of the floor. If the functions of the areas are different enough (e.g. one area is production-based while the other focuses on incoming and outgoing deliveries), segregate each forklift to its own operation zone so that each area can have sufficient access to a machine.

Are you using your forklift safely?

Although it is easy to get used to your forklift operating around you, as the only mobile heavy machine in the job shop it is easily the most dangerous, and should not be underestimated. On average, forklift accidents cause 85 deaths, 34,900 serious injuries, and 61,800 non-serious injuries in the US annually.

On the shop floor, it’s every employee’s job to keep themselves and others safe. This includes a safe environment, systems of work, well-maintained machinery, proper training and supervision, and complying with all safety rules and regulations. Here’s some of the ways that you can maximize safety around your forklift:

  1. Keep a log of employees that are licensed to use your forklift. Only licensed operators should be allowed to use the machine, and unlicensed trainees should be supervised at all times while operating. Inexperienced operators are far more likely to mishandle heavy loads, or to misjudge stopping distances and safe turning speeds.
  2. Establish a safe speed limit in your workplace. Reckless speeding shortens reaction time; even an experienced operator can get too comfortable. Place signs around operating areas, and ensure that operators stick to the speed limit.
  3. Keep the safety of pedestrians in mind at all times. Clearly mark out walkways for them to use with floor tape and/or safety barriers. Forklifts should be equipped with both audio (alarms and horns) and visual (flashing lights) warning signals to alert pedestrians to nearby forklifts. On their part, pedestrians working near forklifts should wear high-visibility clothing in order to stand out to drivers.
  4. Maintain your forklift, and make repairs through a reputable maintenance company. Due to the weight of the forklift and the loads it handles, a mechanical failure at the wrong moment can be catastrophic. Having your forklift properly repaired reduces the potential risk of accidents, and your insurance company may not cover you if you’re not adequately maintaining your equipment. Go through a safety inspection checklist at the beginning of each shift to make sure that the machine is in safe working condition.

Remember, be responsible. Training workers, understanding loads and the capacity of your forklift, and being careful does take time and money, but disregarding these practices could ultimately be more costly if an accident were to occur.

When do you need to replace your forklift?

At a certain point in a forklift’s life, it’s more expensive to keep using it than it is to replace it. Not only will maintenance costs continue to mount, but there is also the hidden cost of its decreasing productivity, resulting in a loss of income as time goes on.

Total cost of a forklift VS Age of forklift

A line graph depicting the economic lifespan of a forklift. The ownership costs start at a high point and go down over time, while maintenance costs start low and rise over time. The end of the machine's economic life is indicated at the point where the two lines meet, when the forklift's maintenance costs start to outweigh its profits.

Fig. 1: Maintenance costs as well as reduced productivity will start to outweigh your forklift’s profits as it ages. Source: Rastgar Materials Handling

A forklift’s economic lifespan mainly depends on the kind of use it’s seen – harsh environments, heavy use, and a lack of regular maintenance will wear a machine down over time.

Maintenance is fairly self-explanatory—only fixing problems as they arise will allow smaller problems to be ignored and escalate over time.

The average forklift’s economic lifespan tends to range between 12,000 and 14,000 operating hours, or 2,000 hours annually. A well-maintained machine that sees less than 2,000 a year will last roughly 7 years before it needs replacing. In excess of 2,000 gives you closer to 6 years.

A forklift that works in a harsh environment or with less than regular maintenance can lose as much as 2,000 operating hours of its maximum lifespan, leaving a sparingly used forklift with 6 years of use, and an heavily used one with only 5.

As the purpose of a forklift is, essentially, to maximize profit, one has to weigh its profits (hours of use) against the ownership and maintenance costs. If a forklift was to operate as new, with little to no maintenance costs, the profits would pay back the ownership costs easily over time. It’s only with the accumulation of maintenance costs over time that the forklift starts to operate at a loss. It’s up to you to calculate when your machine has reached the end of its economic lifespan, before its expenses outweigh its profits.

How has your job shop changed since you first got a forklift? What do you wish you’d known before getting one? What safety precautions do you have in place to prevent accidents?

Bruce Thomas,

Executive (Product), Tempus Tools

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