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Back to Basics: In One Door and Out the Other – Using Forklifts Effectively
Proper use of forklifts is one of the key ways to bring efficiency and profitability into a pallet recycling plant.

By Clarence Leising
Date Posted: 5/1/2010

With an organized plan, a pallet company can handle all its materials handling functions efficiently. Forklift drivers need to know what their responsibilities are and are not. Where materials and finished goods are to enter and exit a building, where they are to be placed on the yard and inside a production building – these are the kinds of decisions that need to be made by careful management consideration, not by a forklift driver on the fly.

            Everything starts and ends with the dock or delivery/shipping areas. What comes in the yard and where is it placed while in process or in storage. The yard and buildings need to have designated areas so there isn’t any crossover with everybody driving past each other carrying nothing. The key to efficient use of forklifts is to eliminate empty forks.

            In the pallet recycling plant I helped manage, one forklift driver took care of eight builders and two recon builders, or a total of ten repair and reman benches. He handled delivery of both cores and lumber to the builders and removing finished pallets and scrap. The outside yard lift loaded and unloaded all trailers, handled storage of incoming raw material and outgoing finished products. The outside lift operator should be familiar with your regular customers because staging their products in a close area will benefit his efficiency.

            Forklift driving is an important responsibility. It requires dependable people you can count on being there. Having the right people in the right job is extremely important, particularly on lift trucks. They need to be able to follow instructions and take the responsibility of controlling the flow of raw materials and finished products.

            Lift truck flow and designated responsibilities are critically important. Forklifts need to work designated areas so there isn’t any crossover with forklifts driving past each other earning nothing, wasting both time and fuel. I have repeatedly seen pallet plants that have too many forklifts. It is possible to save $70,000 to $80,000 or more by using only one forklift inside instead of two. The lack of planned responsibilities encourages wasted forklift miles and encourages wasted time through unnecessary and sometimes casual yard conversations.

            Designating specific forklifts to handle different jobs for maximum efficiency is a good way to save money and maintain workflow and production. Organized placement of and movement of production material, pallets, and lumber in relation to production areas, sawing areas, preparation areas, and inventory areas is the very essence of reducing costs and turning orders into profits.

            Running individual machines and different production systems is important to satisfy production needs. But controlling the plant and yard flow through proper coordination of forklift movements is at the heart of running production processes profitably.

            The concept is simple. Like most Back to Basics ideas you have to apply the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle. Be innovative but not complicated. Remember: Plan to minimize empty fork tines.


            Clarence Leising is available for consulting. He is the author or Pallet Head, the first pallet recycling handbook ever written. While it is out of print until we can prepare a revised edition, the original is still available digitally for $24.95 and on CD for $34.95. Contact Clarence at 615/415-6781 for consulting advice. Contact the Pallet Enterprise at 804/550-0323 to order your digital copy of Pallet Head.

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