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How to Choose the Right Lift Truck
With more options on the market than ever before, selecting the right lift truck requires a careful analysis of your operational needs. Hyster offers a breakdown of various lift truck options and strategies to consider when buying lift equipment.
Date Posted: 12/1/2010
Understanding which lift truck is right for you can save you and your company money. Deciding on financing options, buying new versus used, and how to go about making the best purchase is not always as simple as it may appear. Many buyers are tempted to select a lift truck solely on the basis of its price.
However, by selecting a certain model without consideration to maintenance costs over the lift truck’s life, many companies end up paying more than the initial cost just to maintain uptime. Before you make a lift truck purchase, it is extremely important to consider the best purchasing practices for your application needs.
With so many lift trucks available in the marketplace, it can be very difficult to find the information necessary to assist you in making a wise purchasing decision. How do you determine which truck is right for you and if buying versus leasing, or new versus used, is the best decision?
Classes and Types of Lift Trucks
The Industrial Truck Association has organized lift trucks into five classes:
• Class I: Electric Motor Rider Trucks
• Class II: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks
• Class III: Electric Motor Hand Trucks
• Class IV: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks Cushion Tires
• Class V: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks Pneumatic Tires
A good way to start the decision process is to determine the specific application needs that the lift truck must meet. Being able to understand the differences between electric and internal combustion engine (ICE) lift trucks will ensure that the correct type of lift truck will be chosen to align with your needs.
Electric lift trucks are suitable for indoor use in warehouse applications because they do not emit fumes. Electric trucks boast an ease of maneuverability and can work in smaller aisles and trailers than many ICE lift trucks, allowing for more storage space and greater cost effectiveness for warehouses.
Outdoor lift trucks mostly utilize an ICE which runs on gasoline, diesel or liquid propane (LP). They are also typically equipped with pneumatic tires, which are more suitable to outdoor surfaces than cushion tires. In the past, there was a notable difference between electric and ICE lift truck performance. Electric trucks were not capable of performing as well as the ICE trucks in terms of lifting and travelling. With the improved performance of electric trucks over the past few years, the gap between the two types is narrowing. Both the ICE and electric lift trucks have advantages and disadvantages.
ICE trucks are typically offered in gas, diesel or LP. They are primarily used outdoors due to their emissions and their ability to operate in inclement weather. Propane-powered units can be used indoors, but proper ventilation must be used.
• Typically a lower initial purchase price than a comparable capacity electric truck (20 to 40% lower)
• Quick and easy to refuel – reducing downtime
• No need to recharge batteries
• Can be used outdoors in inclement weather
• Typically higher performance capabilities compared to a similarly equipped electric truck
• Generally available in heavier capacity ranges than electric trucks
Advancements in emissions technology have resulted in lower total emission levels. ICE trucks continue to be popular where load sizes are 8,000 lbs. and above in applications such as ports, lumberyards and heavy steel manufacturing facilities.
• Higher cost-per-hour to operate compared to electric trucks, due to fuel and maintenance costs
• Typically generate more noise than electric trucks
• Fuel-storage requirements
• Lower cost-per-hour to operate than ICE units
• Quiet operation
• No emissions
• Higher initial purchase price (20 to 40 percent higher than ICE trucks)
• Slower acceleration and speeds than ICE units
• Needs a battery-charging station or fast charging infrastructure
• Requires approximately 16 hours to recharge and cool down the battery before use unless you are using fast charging
• Limited load capacity – 12,000 lbs. and below
• Usually cannot be used outdoors for extended periods in inclement weather
There are several general types of electric trucks, each with its own uses, benefits and drawbacks.
Motorized Pallet Trucks: These trucks are also known as walkie, walkie-rider or rider pallet trucks. Operators walk behind the walkie version, which is useful for moving loads in small areas. The rider and walkie-rider versions are useful for moving loads over longer distances while the operator stands on a small platform.
Stackers: Stackers are masted walkie trucks that the operator walks behind. Stackers are used to handle pallet-sized loads that are stacked or put away into low-level rack positions such as those that may be found in storerooms or stock rooms.
Tractors: Tractors are electric rider trucks that pull carts or other conveyances in a production facility or warehouse. They have no forks and are not designed to handle palletized loads.
NA and VNA Trucks: Some truck types have narrow aisle (NA) and very narrow aisle (VNA) features. Typical counterbalanced trucks need at least 11 feet of aisle width for operation. On the other hand, NA trucks can be used in narrow aisles measuring eight feet to 10 feet wide. VNA trucks can operate in very narrow aisles, as narrow as six feet wide. The benefit of NA and VNA trucks is that they make it possible for warehouses to be built with narrower aisles, which results in being able to store more products in a given space (improved cube utilization). NA and VNA loads are usually limited to between 3,000 and 5,000 lbs.
Reach Trucks: Reach trucks are narrow-aisle trucks specifically designed for pallet storage and retrieval. They consist of outriggers and telescoping forks that allow operators to pick up a load and then retract it over the outriggers. These trucks are not well-suited for loading and unloading trucks, or for moving loads quickly over long distances. Like the order selector, reach trucks can be available for lift heights in excess of 30 feet.
Turret Trucks and Rotating-Mast Trucks: Rotating-mast trucks look like standard sit-down lift trucks, but their masts can rotate in one direction to a 90-degree angle, allowing them to work in a narrow aisle. Turret trucks can work in a narrow or very narrow aisle. They are similar to order selectors in that they elevate both the load and operator, but they can rotate their forks 90 degrees in either direction. This allows the operator to handle loads on either side of an aisle without exiting and re-entering the aisle.
Turret trucks are typically wire or rail guided when used in very narrow aisles. Because they are “operator-up” trucks, turret trucks can be used for case and item picking in addition to full pallet handling.
Order Selectors: These narrow aisle and very narrow aisle trucks are also known as order pickers. They are designed for manual handling of racked loads that are smaller than pallet size. They elevate both the load and operator to the required height, which can be in excess of 30 feet. Like the turret trucks, they are usually wire or rail guided when used in very narrow aisles.
Counterbalanced Trucks: This truck is also known as a counterbalanced sit down or rider truck and is available in both ICE and electric. This truck is mostly used in warehouses and has lifting capacities in the 2,500 to 12,000 lb. range. Counterbalanced trucks can lift loads to heights of over 20 feet, depending on the load size, weight and model of truck.
Once you have become familiar with the classes and types of lift trucks available in the market, it is very important to understand your lift truck application needs prior to purchase.
This includes understanding what you are doing with the truck, and what the lift truck needs to do for you. For instance, will the lift truck be used indoors or outdoors? Should you buy an electric or ICE lift truck? If an ICE truck is the preferred choice, then the next consideration should be whether to purchase gas, LP or diesel. Should you buy new or used? These questions are necessary to narrow down what you need from your lift truck and to help the dealer provide the best match for your application needs.
Some factors to consider prior to purchasing are:
• Consider the lift truck’s capacity needs, not just at lower heights but at lift heights as well.
• How will it be used by operators? Are they positioning and wrapping loads? Filling out paperwork or picking up debris? Working in tight spaces?
• Do operators need more visibility?
• If you have owned or currently own lift trucks, are they equipped with the right tools or attachments to get the job done?
Next, look at the estimated uptime hours that the lift truck would need in order to be utilized in your facility’s schedule. For instance, is the lift truck going to be used in a single shift or a double shift? This is addressed more in the New Versus Used section of this article.
If you plan on purchasing a lift truck for a very specific application in which it will receive very little utilization, perhaps being used only one hour per day, then buying a new unit may not be the best option for your situation. In this instance, the return on investment may not be as profitable. It may be more advantageous to your bottom line to consider a lease option or purchasing a used lift truck. Many fleet managers tend to hold onto underutilized lift trucks for longer periods of time than they should and put off purchasing new equipment. This occurs more often than not due to financial concerns. Holding onto these trucks will save money only in the short term, however, with the outstanding long-term picture still being the need to purchase a new lift truck.
New Versus Used
A big decision in the purchasing cycle is whether to buy new or used. In order to make this decision, you need to determine the application needs for the lift truck. Consider the type of equipment required, how many hours per week/year you will use it, and how long you intend to keep it. A higher priced new lift truck typically holds more value over time. A lower priced new lift truck may not have the capability, value or reliability of a used unit of a higher priced model.
There are three aspects of usage that should be considered in order to determine whether to buy new or used: utilization, duty cycle and seasonality. If you expect to use your lift truck four or more hours per day, then buying new is recommended. This is particularly true if it will have a high-duty cycle (moving many loads per hour that are at or near the truck’s capacity). If you expect to use your lift truck for less than four hours per day, or only intermittently, buying a used truck or a lower cost new model (designed for lower-duty cycles) may be the best option. Finally, if you expect to utilize the lift truck only seasonally, then a used lift truck or a rental program may be the best option.
Do you anticipate the lift truck being in nearly constant use and requiring high dependability and uptime, such as in shipping/receiving or feeding/clearing manufacturing lines? If so, then consider a new truck.
Will the lift truck be used occasionally, on an as-needed basis such as in facility maintenance? In this instance, purchasing a used lift truck may be best.
The next consideration is the initial price versus the cost of operation. If you are debating about purchasing a lift truck for a low initial purchase price with the expectation that infrequent maintenance will be required, then a used lift truck may be the way to go. However, if the expectation is a low cost per hour for the application with frequent operational maintenance and preventative maintenance, then purchasing a new lift truck could be the best decision.
A final consideration in purchasing a new versus used lift truck is whether or not you require a warranty. New units come standard with a factory warranty that typically spans 12 to 36 months, with extended warranties available. A used unit may be sold “as is” or with a local limited warranty, which may span 90 days or less. If a warranty is of paramount importance to you and your company, then purchasing a new lift truck may be the best decision.
Hyster Company is a major worldwide lift truck designer and manufacturer offering 130 lift truck models with the widest capacity range in the industry. Hyster boasts a large, experienced dealer network. For more information on buying a lift truck, visit www.hysteramericas.com for a dealer nearest you.