October 2006 | How-To | Ten Tips

Optimizing Your Forklift Fleet

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Purchasing a new forklift can be expensive, but that's just a fraction of what it costs to operate it efficiently—or inefficiently. Getting the most bang for your forklift buck means understanding the products you move and establishing baseline costs as a start. Here are 10 tips for optimizing your forklift fleet, from Joseph Lafergola, manager, Raymond Corporation, Greene, N.Y.

1. Establish a cost baseline for your existing fleet, including both true and hidden costs. A lift truck's actual purchase price is typically 20 percent of the overall cost of ownership; the other 80 percent provides for maintenance and operator salaries. Establishing a true cost baseline involves fleet assessment, parts consignment, and maintenance scheduling. Because of the stringent capital appropriations process in place at most companies, and a lack of both data and knowledge of a fleet's cost, it's hard to establish the true return on investment and justify forklift replacements. To handle breakdowns, for example, a facility might keep excess or standby equipment on hand, or rely on short-term rentals from local dealers. These are the hidden costs.

2. Measure desired output by pallets or cases moved. Optimize your lift truck fleet to the material flow—define what you're moving, how much, and how fast. This will drive optimum warehouse and rack layout. Another good way to measure a fleet management program's ROI is to pinpoint the number of pallets you need to move. This way you can determine a lift truck's cost per pallet move, rather than cost per operating hour.

3. Validate your local dealer's capability to provide the most effective solutions. Work with a local dealer who is solutions-focused, rather than truck-focused. The most astute dealers offer warehouse design capabilities, can simulate product movement, and can recommend optimum layout with the right number of trucks. They can also determine a fleet's baseline cost, including both true and hidden costs, and provide quantified cost analysis.

4. Sign a full-maintenance contract with your local dealer. With a comprehensive fixed-price maintenance contract, the local dealer performs all maintenance for a set monthly fee, allowing you to focus on your core competency, rather than worry about the cost of lift truck repairs. Developing that relationship with your local dealer also gives you a better understanding of the service it provides.

5. Consider a parts program through your local dealer. Parts availability is key to maintaining uptime, so an effective parts distribution network facilitated through a lift truck manufacturer and its local dealer is essential to keep your fleet running. Some dealers can provide parts for multiple brands and types of trucks.

6. Employ new technologies to improve productivity and reduce maintenance costs. Lift trucks with AC motors, for example, increase productivity because they run longer on a single charge, and operators don't have to stop the truck as often to change a battery. In a three-shift operation, you can statistically eliminate one battery change on an AC truck, and eliminate the need for multiple batteries, which cost about $3,000 each. An AC truck's control, precision, and increased acceleration/deceleration performance can enhance operator productivity and confidence. A truck is also less likely to fail due to motor overheating or brushes. Because AC motors have no brushes, carbon buildup is eliminated, creating a cleaner warehouse or distribution center environment.

7. Implement comprehensive fleet management software. Information is the key to managing an effective lift truck fleet, and a comprehensive fleet management program is the best option for tracking costs. Invest in fleet management software that ties together all your company locations and provides headquarters quantifiable data regarding fleet operating costs. A lift truck manufacturer can also analyze that data to determine the locations with the highest costs. The manufacturer and its dealers can then recommend solutions to reduce costs at those locations.

8. Investigate well-designed and up-to-date operator training programs. You can find these programs through a local dealer. If done properly and as part of a broad safety program, lift truck operator training increases productivity. Operators who know how to use equipment properly also make fewer mistakes and are more likely to take care of equipment, extending operational life.

9. Employ accessories to increase productivity. Lift truck accessories increase operator confidence and sometimes prevent truck damage. As warehouse racking continues to be built higher, a camera and monitor system on the lift truck allows operators to ascertain exactly where they are placing pallets. A simple, bolt-on pallet guard can prevent pallet damage, which could result in thousands of dollars of lost product and downtime due to clean up.

10. Request a product demonstration that lasts long enough for the operator to become comfortable with the lift truck. Studies show that increasing an operator's comfort level on a lift truck improves productivity. Features such as an open-view mast, multi-function control handle, and padded floor mat contribute to operator comfort and productivity. Regardless of truck type, make sure an operator can run the truck long enough during a demonstration to understand its features and realize the benefits.

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