The Benefits of Pallet Flow Racks

Any warehouse or distribution centre with limited floor space that needs high density storage or automatic rotation of inventory on a first-in, first-out (FIFO) basis can benefit by implementing pallet flow storage racks.

However, achieving the full performance capabilities of this type of rack system requires careful planning and implementation. When this is done properly, pallet flow systems can be the warehouse manager’s best friend; without it, the system may underperform expectations.

Simply defined, this type of racking system is designed so that when the pallet in front is removed by a forklift, the pallets behind gently “flow” forward to replace it. Inclined tracks, rollers, and brakes – with an assist from gravity – are used to accomplish this task.

New inventory is then loaded at the back end of the rack, facilitating FIFO product rotation, which is particularly valuable for items with expiration dates.

In this type of “dynamic” racking approach, goods can be stored 3, 10, even 20 pallets deep and on multiple levels. This eliminates the need for wide aisles between every row of traditional “static” rack required for forklift access and maneuverability.

By storing more palletized goods in less space, facility managers can dramatically increase the amount of inventory in a specific warehouse footprint or, on the flip side, reduce the amount of space required for new warehouse construction.

“Compared to traditional fixed racking, a high density pallet flow system can essentially cut the required square footage for a warehouse in half,” says Ryan Wachsmuth, Dynamic Storage Sales Manager at Steel King Industries (www.steelking.com), a designer and manufacturer of warehouse material handling, storage and safety products with a national dealer network. “The savings can be significant in terms of reduced property and building costs.”

There are substantial logistical benefits to using a dynamic rack system as well.

Pallet flow rack can drastically reduce the labor required to pick pallets, because a forklift is only needed for initial loading of the pallets as well as final unloading. With static racks, forklifts must travel further down aisles and often must spend time rearranging inventory to access the correct items.

When a large number of pallets with a single product SKU are routinely loaded into trucks, locating the pallet flow rack near the loading dock can also minimize the distance that forklifts travel to as little as 20 feet each way, which speeds material handling.

Even pallets with varied SKUs that are being shipped to the same location can be located near each other to further speed truck loading.

Designing to Meet Specific Requirements

Although the concept of a pallet flow rack may seem straightforward, installing a system that optimally meets a specific warehouse’s requirements takes some planning and collaboration with the vendor.

“Many people think you can take pallet flow rack off the shelf and ship it out the door,” says Wachsmuth. “But, it must be designed to accommodate your specific requirements: pallet types, pallet weights, forklift capacity, facility layout and any other restrictions.”

According to Wachsmuth, some racking distributors are willing to supply a price quote without fully understanding the requirements of the application.

“Not every vendor asks questions to find out what the user needs,” says Wachsmuth.

The process ideally begins by understanding the facility’s dimensions, obstructions, types of inventory and forklifts, as well as truck loading and shipping requirements.

“It is vital to build the flow rack to take advantage of your warehouse’s full height, width, depth, and floor plan,” says Wachsmuth. “Obstructions like low ceilings or the location of sprinklers, building columns, doors, lights, and vents must be built around.”

It is also important to consider the brand, lift height, and weight capacity of the forklifts used at the facility. In general, a forklift’s lift and push/pull capabilities diminish the higher it raises a pallet.

“A forklift can cost as much as $100,000,” says Wachsmuth. “So you want to be sure your new pallet flow racks work with the ones you have, or you could have to acquire new forklifts.”

In terms of tailoring a pallet flow system to an application, it is necessary to plan for efficient flow storage, loading/unloading, and transport.

“Forklift travel distance can be minimized with proper pallet flow planning,” says Wachsmuth. “You don’t have to travel hundreds of feet to pick a pallet. If you install it the pallet flow rack in the ideal location, you may only have to travel twenty feet to pick a pallet. When you return, the next pallet is waiting. This minimizes labor as well as speeds loading and unloading.”

Similar planning should be applied to storage depth. Just because the system can be designed 20 pallets deep, doesn’t mean it should be. Instead, it should be designed and grouped to simplify loading/unloading, as well as optimal product rotation.

Even some aspects that might seem like smaller details, such as the type of pallet, are important because they affect how pallets “flow” in the system.

“There are too many types of pallets with different dimensions today and it could affect the type, and cost, of the pallet flow rack required,” says Wachsmuth. “So, it’s not enough to design on the assumption that a standard 40” or 48” pallet will be used. If the actual pallet has different dimensions, it could increase costs significantly.”

With all the aspects that must be considered to get the best results from your flow rack, Wachsmuth adds that it can be helpful to work with a vendor that provides one point of contact for planning, coordination, answering questions, troubleshooting, and resolving any issues. This is far simpler than interacting with a separate pallet flow manufacturer, rack manufacturer, as well as dealer and installer.

“Given sufficient planning and coordination, pallet flow rack can be one of the most space efficient and cost effective forms of material handling for warehouses and distributors,” concludes Wachsmuth.

Source: Steel King

When Online Forklift Training Makes Sense and When It Doesn’t

Wikimedia Commons: Practical training: Senior Airman Marie Zieman, 403rd Civil Engineers Squadron emergency management specialist, guides Tech. Sgt. Emile Babin through a series of forklift operations during October 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Ryan Labadens)

Online or e-learning for forklift training can be beneficial for the classroom portion of the instruction delivery. Here are pros and cons to consider.

According to OSHA requirements, a forklift operator must be at least 18 years old, as well as trained and certified in order to drive a forklift without the direct supervision of a qualified trainer. In addition, lift trucks can only be operated when authorized by your employer.

Forklift operators must be trained in forklift operation, general safety and equipment management procedures. Typically, employers arrange mandatory training for their employees either in their own facility, at a training provider location or online. Individuals interested in obtaining a forklift operator job may undertake training from a training provider on their own to improve their chance of being hired for a forklift operator position. 

It is important to note that OSHA makes the rules but it neither provides training nor certifies operators. Also, it does not approve or accredit training programs. There are many online forklift operator training programs available from which to choose.  When selecting a training option, one important question to ask is “When Does Online Forklift Training Make Sense?”

When Online Forklift Training Makes Sense

  1. When you are just talking about the classroom portion of the instruction. OSHA forklift training requirements include formal (classroom) instructions, practical training and finally the evaluation of operator’s performance. So, clearly, the second and third requirements can’t be fulfilled by an online course.  Formal instructions, however, can be effectively delivered through e-learning.
  2. When you can’t afford to spare a qualified operator to provide the training. When volume spikes or unplanned absenteeism get entered into the equation, all too often the scheduled trainees can report to work for training but be left without a trainer. Online instruction eliminates this risk of lost training hours. 
  3. When there is uncertainty as to when the time will be available to do the training. On demand e-learning courses can be undertaken as time permits. Training can be undertaken anytime.
  4. When the qualified operator who performs your practical training and evaluation isn’t comfortable providing classroom instruction. Some operators make excellent practical trainers but aren’t cut out for the formal instruction aspect.
  5. When there are available computer stations to accommodate trainees. Obviously, without terminals and an adequate Internet connection, e-learning is a poor idea.

When Online Forklift Training Does Not Make Sense

There are a number of situations, however, where online training might not be the best solution. These include:

  1. When your intent is to provide practical hands-on training and evaluation of operator performance. Online instruction is only permitted for formal instructions.
  2. When you believe it is more beneficial to have your practical trainer spend the additional time with trainees to get to know them better before they get aboard a forklift during the practical portion of training.
  3. When you are looking for opportunities for employee growth and development. Organizing and delivering the classroom forklift training content can provide a useful teaching and mentoring experience for the trainer.
  4. When you are looking for every opportunity to instill the company’s values. If the trainees are new hires, it can be worthwhile to have the formal training done by a trusted employee rather than an online service.
  5. When you are at risk of IT problems such as slow internet connection.
  6. When you cannot justify the expenditure on computer stations to allow online learning, or when the online training cannot be run without risk of interruptions while it is session due to the location of the computer stations.

Conclusion

Online forklift training can be a good option to cover the classroom requirements for forklift operation. Online courses from reputable providers are designed to be thorough and engaging. They may be visually appealing, and interactive. They provide the opportunity for the trainee to work at his or her own pace, and of course, the results of training are recorded to aid in your training recordkeeping. To reiterate, however, practical, hands-on training and evaluation of operator performance must take place in the operating environment and include instruction on dealing with site specific risks that would be beyond the scope of an online course.

Forklift Battery Handling And Maintenance Best Practices

Forklift batteries cost $1,500 to $5,000 a piece. So, not giving importance to the proper maintenance might result in great financial loss or higher operating expenses in your business. Nearly all lead-acid forklift batteries provide approximately 2,000 charge cycles. This means a battery normally lasts around 5 years. But to have the maximum service life of a forklift battery, you need to take proper care of it. Without proper maintenance, your forklift battery may not even last 5 years. You can expect to use a battery longer than 5 years if you strictly follow the forklift battery handling and maintenance best practices.

Following are some useful battery maintenance and handling best practices and tips that you should follow:

1. Charge the Battery the Proper Way

People tend to charge forklift batteries whenever they feel convenient, known as “opportunity charging.” But this is a poor practice as forklift batteries should be charged only to certain degrees and at certain times. You should charge the battery until it is full every time it dips below 30 percent charge. It is important to note that both undercharging and overcharging a forklift battery can considerably lessen its life span. The best way to charge is having a fixed charge cycle and not interrupting the cycle. Never charge a forklift battery twice a day as it can cut its service life in half.

2. Regularly Equalize the Batteries

You must regularly equalize wet or flooded cell batteries. When the battery acid gets more concentrated at the bottom of the battery, the equalizing process reverses the chemical stratification. Acid and water stratification make it harder for the battery to hold a charge. Proper equalizing eliminates sulfate crystals from the plates of the battery and rebalances the electrolyte concentration. Equalizing is possible only when a battery charger has an equalizing setting. While maintenance specifications can vary from battery to battery, most batteries require equalizing almost every 5 to 10 charging cycles. Make sure you check the specifications before initiating the equalization process.

3. Frequently Check Fluid Levels

To work properly, forklift batteries require the perfect amount of water. Every 5 charge cycles, open up the battery to check the fluid levels. Check 2 to 3 battery cells and make sure that there is sufficient fluid to cover up the plastic element of the battery. In case if you are not sure checking only 2-3 cells, check all the cells and be sure about the fluid level. If you find that there is not sufficient fluid, you need to add water.

4. Maintain Correct Water Levels

Roughly every 10 charge cycles, you need to check the water level and add water to maintain right water level. Just top off the fluid in the battery and add sufficient water to cover the plastic element protector of the battery.

Just like not adding water when needed is harmful, adding extra water can be equally harmful. It is important to note that maintenance-free batteries are required to be topped off. Make sure you top off the battery only when it is fully charged. Adding water before charging the battery is a common mistake. Between 5 and 7 on the pH scale is the recommended limits for impurities. Remember, putting impure water into the battery can lead to damage of the battery.

5. Keep Forklift Batteries at a Safe Temperature

The temperature not exceeding 45℃ (113℉) is regarded as safe temperature to keep forklift batteries. For optimal cooking, try to ensure enough air circulation in and around the battery compartment. Charging a battery in extreme heat or cold can damage the battery and its service life. If you want to be 100% sure about the perfect temperature to keep and charge the battery, contact the manufacturer because the temperature can vary from battery to battery and model to model.

6. Have A Separate Battery Room

Having a designated area for charging the forklift battery is an OSHA-recommended best practice. Keep the room well ventilated. Make sure there is no open flame or smoking near batteries.

7. Move the Batteries the Right Away

As forklift batteries are quite heavy, do not allow a single person to move a forklift battery. Use special equipment such as walkie pallet jack equipped with a transfer carriage to move the battery.

8. Clean The Battery

At least once a month clean the battery with battery cleaner or warm water. Not cleaning the battery can cause faster self-discharge, voltage tracking, tray corrosion and even affect the electronics within the forklift. Some manufacturers waive the warranty if they find forklift batteries unclear.

9. Never Forget Worker Safety

It is recommended that the workers wear steel toe work boots to ensure their safety while handling a forklift battery. Having necessary arrangements for eye and hand washing nearby too are recommended to avoid health risks of the workers. Workers must wear chemical-resistant gears as well. Lead-acid battery cells contain a large volume of sulfuric acid, which can be the reason for serious chemical burns on human skin.

10. Miscellaneous

Never keep any metal objects on batteries as batteries are electrically live all the time. Metal objects can catch electricity and cause accidents. Always allow the battery enough time to cool before recharge or discharge. Never add acid or any other solutions to the battery. And never allow unauthorized representatives to service the battery. To prevent arcs and sparks, always turn off the charger before disconnecting the battery.

In a Class of Their Own: an Overview of Lift Truck Classification


A review of the 7 forklift classifications.

Class 4 forklift internal combustion

Wikimedia Commons

 

forklift history,history of lift truck

By 1927, forklifts had evolved to include back tilt. Source: Palletizer Magazine.

These days, forklift trucks are integral to material handling in manufacturing plants, distribution centers, and other operations. The first ever lift trucks were developed in the early 1900s. In fact, early models didn’t have forks at all. They had a single lift plate. As such, the earliest skids did not have a center stringer to accommodate the early lift truck. But forklifts have improved significantly over the years. Those in use today have evolved tremendously from those early beginnings.

Modern day forklifts have many different power options including electrical battery, liquid propane gas (LPG), compressed natural gas (CNG), gasoline, and diesel. There are many different types of lift trucks suited to different lift operations. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  classifies lift trucks into 7 different types based on their power options and purpose of uses. Following are those 7 different classes of lift trucks:

Class I- Electric Motor Rider Trucks

Used in versatile applications, electric motor rider trucks are equipped with either pneumatic tires or cushions. The pneumatic-tired lift trucks are good fits for use in dry outdoor applications. On the other hand, the cushion-tired motor rider trucks are made for indoor use on smooth surfaces.

Powered by electric batteries, these lift trucks use transistor motor controllers to move and hoist functions. Air quality factors are important considerations when choosing an electric motor rider truck for indoor use. These lift vehicles are mostly used in storage facilities and loading docks.

Most of these lift trucks are counterbalanced rider type. Three Wheel Electric Trucks also fall under this category.

Class II – Narrow Aisle Electric Motor Trucks

Class 2 forklift

Wikipedia Commons

Made for use in narrow aisle operations, narrow aisle trucks allow operators to maximize their use of storage space. Because they can operate efficiently in narrow passageways, storage racks can be set closer together than they could be in a conventional facility, providing greater storage capacity. Reach type outriggers, order pickers, side loaders and turret trucks are examples of narrow aisle electric motor trucks.

Class III – Hand-Rider or Electric Motor Hand Trucks

These are comparatively smaller capacity lift trucks that run on industrial electric batteries. As the name suggests, this kind of truck is hand controlled. The lift controls of the truck are mounted on top of the tiller and the operator moves the tiller side to side to navigate the truck. They are frequently used for palletized loads both in low and high lift operations.  

Class IV – Cushion Tired Internal Combustion Engine Trucks

Used indoors on smooth dry surfaces, these lift trucks are used for transporting palletized loads. These forklifts are commonly used in storage and load areas. As cushion-tired lift trucks are lower to the ground than pneumatic-tired lift trucks, cushion tired internal combustion engine trucks are used mainly in low clearance applications.  

Class V- Pneumatic Tired Internal Combustion Engine Trucks

Most commonly used in warehouses, these lift trucks are used both indoors and outdoors for many different types of applications ranging from a single unit load to a 40-foot container. These lift trucks are available for use with compressed natural gas, diesel, gasoline and LPG as well.

Class VI- Internal Combustion and Electric Engine Combo Tractors

Very versatile in operations, these lift trucks have options to power using both internal combustion and electric engines. For indoor use, electric power is preferred. For outdoor use, the powerful internal combustion engine is used.

Class VII- Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks

These are quite large lift trucks with huge floatation type tires. These trucks are capable of working on difficult outdoor surfaces. They are quite frequently used in large construction sites for lifting building materials. Auto recyclers and lumber years too frequently use rough terrain forklift trucks.

 

Should I Buy New Or Used Forklifts?


When deciding to buy either a new or used forklift, there are several factors to weigh.

Wikipedia Commons. Photo by Patsy Lynch/FEMA

Forklifts are expensive machines, so do your homework before you make a buying decision. Given an unlimited budget, everyone would like to have a shiny, new forklift with the latest technology, but for a lot of operations, the decision of whether to go with new or used mobile equipment is a difficult one. There is no easy and straightforward answer to the question of whether to buy new or procure a used unit. Take the time to assess the pros and cons of both options before you make a final decision.

The Cost Difference between New and Used Forklifts

Unfortunately, budgets are often constrained, and people look for ways to cut the cost. Going for a used forklift can offer significant price savings may turn out to be an ill-advised move if you end up paying too much for maintenance and a machine that is only going to have a short remaining service life. Let’s have a look at the price difference:

An electric warehouse forklift with standard capacity like 5000 pounds will cost you $15K-$25K. You need to spend another $2k to $5k for a battery and its charger. A brand new internal combustion (IC) forklift with similar capacity can cost as much as $30k. A high-end forklift that can handle even 35,000 pounds at a time can cost more than $100k.  

On the other hand, a used but well refurbished used electric forklift with 3000-pound capacity will cost $5k-$10k. A similar capacity IC forklift will cost $10k-$15k. So, going for a used forklift, you can expect to have 30% to 50% cost savings. But cost saving should not be the only factor when deciding whether to buy new or used forklifts.

Pros And Cons Of Buying A New Forklift

Pros

  • Buying a new forklift allows you to have the newest and latest model in the market.
  • You pay the listed price with no need for bargaining.
  • A new forklift should last longer and handle long hours at an efficient pace under proper maintenance.
  • Higher overhead.
  • All the parts of the forklift will be brand new contrary to used forklifts.  
  • You get precisely what you want.
  • You get a 12-36 months warranty.

Cons

  • Very expensive.
  • Financing, purchasing can involve lengthy paperwork

Pros And Cons Of Buying A Used Forklift

Pros

  • Huge cost saving (30%-50% less than brand new forklifts).
  • Quicker purchasing process.
  • Quicker delivery.

Cons

  • You normally don’t get a forklift as per your desired specifications and forgo some features.
  • You don’t get the newest model in the market.
  • The price valuation of the used forklift is important. If you do it wrong, you might lose big in the bargaining.
  • Less overhead.
  • Won’t work as efficiently as a new one.
  • Higher maintenance cost.
  • No or very limited warranty.

When To Buy Used Forklifts

According to experts, buying a used forklift is a good idea if the required daily use of the forklift is less than 4 hours. If you plan on using a forklift for more than 4 hours a day, it might not perform well for long enough. Still, the used forklift needs to be in good condition. It requires exceptional valuation and negotiation skills to buy a used forklift. Again, there remains the risk of buying from an uncertified seller. Buying a forklift from an individual is always risky. So, consider finding a certified dealer before you proceed. Availability of used and refurbished forklifts is another important consideration.

When To Buy New Forklifts

As mentioned before, when the required daily use of the forklift is more than 4 hours, you consider a new forklift. The 12-36 month warranty is a very important advantage that is money well spent for such heavy use.