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Routine Forklift Maintenance Has Many Benefits Ranging from Improved Safety to Boosting the Bottom Line
Preventative Maintenance: Routine comprehensive maintenance of your forklifts can pay off in many ways
By Lisa Monroe
Date Posted: 12/1/2014
Routine Forklift Maintenance Has Many Benefits
Ranging from Improved Safety to Boosting the Bottom Line. Routine comprehensive maintenance of your forklifts can pay off in many ways.
Maintaining any equipment is important. After all, you made an investment in it when you purchased it and you want to keep it running smoothly so that your production processes also keep moving. You also want it to last as long as possible to get the biggest return you can on your investment.
Forklifts, like most other equipment, will last longer when you take good care of them and perform regular maintenance. In fact, a recent leveling off in worldwide sales of lift trucks or forklifts in 2012 may be partially due to improved maintenance efforts, according to Jim Moran, chairman of the Industrial Truck Association (ITA), who was quoted in Modern Materials Handling magazine.
“Large fleet owners have modified their replenishment cycles,” he said. “They just aren’t replacing their lift trucks in the same time frame they were. They’ve discovered, probably, that they can get away with that as long as they’re keeping an eye on maintenance costs and utilization.”
Pat DeSutter, director of fleet management at Hyster, an American manufacturing company specializing in forklifts and other materials-handling equipment, and one of the world’s leading forklift manufacturers, also shared his thoughts with the Pallet Enterprise on the impact maintenance can have on forklift longevity and value.
“Proactive maintenance can help to extend the life of a forklift by addressing problems before they cause significant damage, and by reducing incidents through ensuring that the forklift is operating effectively. It can also improve the value of the asset at retirement…,” he said.
Of course, maintaining forklifts doesn’t just make them last longer and reduce downtime, it also makes them safer. Plus maintenance and inspection training, and regular inspections are all safety requirements mandated by OSHA anyway.
“Properly maintained lift trucks and properly trained lift truck operators can help reduce lift truck downtime and accidents, limit lost-time injuries, improve driver efficiency and minimize product damage—evidence that a thorough and effective maintenance program contributes to a company’s productivity and bottom line,” said DeSutter.
“Understanding the usage and application environment are key fleet management considerations, especially from a maintenance standpoint,” he said. “The application may suggest that the lift truck fleet is more susceptible to certain types of maintenance challenges.”
In other words, some industries are harder on forklifts than others, making maintenance even more crucial. Warehouse IQ, an online resource for warehousing, distribution and logistics professionals, reports that the life expectancy of a forklift can be impacted by a number of factors. For example, forklifts that operate in freezers, on docks where they are subject to increased vibrations, or around brine or poultry, have shorter life expectancies. In fact, the latter can cut the forklift’s run life in half.
The pallet and wood products industries can be pretty rough on forklifts as well. “Because of the demanding applications involved, daily checklists and discipline surrounding periodic maintenance procedures are critical in the pallet and wood products industries,” said DeSutter. “Additionally, lift truck damage or abuse can be a common occurrence in these applications. Operation managers should consider investing in telematics to manage impacts, monitor usage for timely periodic maintenance management and enforce operator checklist completion.”
Inspections must be made daily for OSHA compliance, unless the forklift is used around the clock, in which case it must be examined after each shift. And when a problem is found, regulations dictate that it must be reported and fixed immediately by a qualified mechanic.
OSHA language is not specific about exactly what must be inspected on the forklift and also does not require that the inspections be documented in writing. However, many facilities use log lists so that employees can check off the various parts of the forklift that they have inspected to ensure that that they don’t overlook anything. While some preventative maintenance and safety measures may overlap, these lists are generally a great place to incorporate a checklist to identify maintenance issues before they become problems.
“Operator inspections tend to be the most overlooked opportunities to identify lift truck problems before they occur,” said DeSutter. “Inspection checklists themselves, however, do not change behavior. Continual and consistent reinforcement of proper protocol helps to ensure that employees identify maintenance issues before they escalate into significant problems.”
Items to be covered in a preventative maintenance checklist can include: the brakes, clutch, steering, horn, mirrors, and meters, gauges and controls on the inside of the forklift. On the exterior, the checklist might include: lights including warning lights, stop lights, head, tail and directional lights; tires, wheels and lug bolts; hydraulic reservoirs, hydraulic lines, steering mechanism, drive line and universal joints, forks, propane tank, and coupling devices.
Under the hood, check the motor oil, power steering and coolant levels; hoses and belts; fuel line for leaks and the fuel level; and batteries. Some other items you may want to include on the preventative checklist include the exhaust system, engine, fire extinguisher, slow moving triangle, and first aid kit.
The log lists used to track regular forklift inspections before shifts, or similar checklists, can also be used to ensure that employees follow a set maintenance routine so forklifts are serviced properly and at the correct intervals. Some log lists used for daily inspections even include areas to document when service is needed.
There are also numerous computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) programs which can help your business manage equipment maintenance such as ManagerPlus, eMaint and MaintenanceEdge, just to name a few.
“To complement daily efforts and regular inspections, operators should also consider establishing service agreements with qualified organizations that can assist an operation in using technology to manage periodic maintenance efforts,” said DeSutter. “The specific data and feedback, coupled with the service organization’s expertise, can help streamline the operation and improve the total cost of ownership.”
Regardless of the strategy, what really matters is that your business has some kind of routine forklift maintenance plan in place and follows it.
“Most plants deal with fleet maintenance on an as-needed basis rather than having a formal periodic maintenance program,” said DeSutter. “A comprehensive periodic maintenance program is the most effective and efficient way to identify and correct problems while they are still small, reducing the likelihood of more costly repairs downstream.”
“Recognizing that parts and service-related costs contribute significantly to total cost of ownership, a periodic maintenance program should be a main component of a full-spectrum fleet management program. Proper fleet management must include proper maintenance in order to minimize downtime and reduce safety risks. Maintenance also ensures that the right amount of equipment is up and running, and in the right place at the right time to help optimize plant performance.”
Since the exact maintenance schedule may vary somewhat by manufacturer and model, it’s important to reference the owner’s manuals that came with your forklifts for specific requirements. While you want to service your forklift as needed so that it will last longer, over-maintenance can be counter-productive by unnecessarily wasting time, resources, and money .
While you should follow your manufacturer’s recommendations, the below are some basic tips for maintaining your forklift, whether it’s electric or has an internal combustion engine that runs on gas, LPG or diesel.
• Regularly grease all fittings and moving joints.
• Check the motor oil, and fluids, such as transmission fluid and hydraulic fluid, daily if you use the forklift on a daily basis. You can check weekly or monthly if your forklift is only used occasionally.
• Also check the tires often. For tires that have air, make sure the pressure is correct. For solid rubber tires, check for cuts, gashes or other damage that may cause the lift to be unstable.
• Regularly inspect the controls, and pay close attention to warning lights and gauges when the machine is in operation.
Warehouse IQ gives the following guideline to use when trying to decide whether it’s more expensive to keep fixing your old forklift or to purchase a new one: When the annual costs of maintenance and repair reach more than 8% of the forklift’s purchase price, it’s time to think about shopping for a new one.