A forklift truck is a major capital investment, which is why keeping an eye on its condition, particularly the mast and lifting chains, can help avoid unexpected repair bills.
Regular servicing is of course necessary. The process usually starts with a thorough visual inspection set against a predetermined schedule specific to the forklift. Many areas of the truck will receive lubrication, with or without minor adjustments, according to the service checklist. This list will typically include replacing filters and fluids, along with the inspection (depending on operating hours) of systems such as the mast, lifting chains, steering, brakes, controls, wheels, hydraulics and load handling attachments. Where necessary, the service engineer will perform functionality tests and diagnostic checks. It is then possible to plan and perform any subsequent remedial work in conjunction with the customer.
To help minimise any potential remedial work required at the annual service, operators can undertake a number of best-practise housekeeping measures.
“All operators should check their lift truck in accordance with the operator’s handbook and document any findings,” says Jon Divers, customer services director at forklift manufacturer Jungheinrich (pictured, right). “Any defects identified that could affect safe operation must be reported to a supervisor. It is also good practice to maintain a high level of cleanliness. Minimising the potential for dust and dirt to penetrate electrical components can prolong their operating life. In addition, avoid leaving shrink wrap on the facility floor, as it often leads to a very expensive repair if allowed to enter the forklift.”
When it comes to the mast/lift assembly, Divers says the OEM is the best option for checks and maintenance (and this one has nationwide service support).
“The lifting operation of the truck, along with its associated components, is an important feature that requires regular maintenance in accordance with manufacturer guidelines,” he states. “Jungheinrich uses specific tools when inspecting the lifting components, such as a lift chain wear gauge, which measures the percentage of stretch over a given area. If the stretch exceeds 2%, chain replacement is advisable. We also use gauges that measure fork wear and signs of overloading.”
Beyond the price tag, total cost of ownership (TCO) should be a major factor in any forklift purchase decision. As maintenance is a big part of TCO, the choice of forklift fuel/energy is therefore important.
“It is true to say that an electric forklift embraces a higher initial outlay than diesel or gas counterparts, however, it benefits from lower maintenance costs, as there are fewer moving parts and hence less service items involved,” explains Divers.
“When investing in a forklift truck, the purchase price is often the decisive factor,” says Sabine Barde, head of corporate communications at forklift OEM Clark Europe. “However, anyone looking solely at a supposedly favourable purchase price without taking into account the costs incurred during use is ill-advised. This is because the costs for consumables, wear parts, maintenance and disposal can turn into a cost trap over the forklift’s service life.”
READ THE MANUAL
Barde is keen to point out the importance of the operator manual. She says: “The operator should read the forklift manual carefully, as it includes a specific section on daily and pre-maintenance checks, thus allowing preventive measures that might avoid faster wear or damage to components. A daily inspection task for the driver also includes checking the battery. Lead-acid batteries, in particular, lose life without correctly monitoring the battery fluid level. However, new technologies like lithium batteries do not require daily checks.”
For electric forklifts, the potential for easy and quick battery removal is an advantage for the technician, providing access to all service parts, thus minimising truck downtime.
“As for the mast, it’s a good idea to regularly check all mast hoses for leaks, as well as the date of hose manufacture,” says Barde. “If they are too old, replacement is advisable. With regard to the lifting chains, we use tools such as a chain gauge to check for stretch.”
To make daily visual checks foolproof, Barde says that Clark forklift users can install a fleet management system that ensures the truck cannot enter operation until all prescribed checks are complete. Any factors of this nature should of course filter into the TCO equation, as they could prevent costly damage.
There is clearly little doubting the importance of service and maintenance, as Ross Farquhar, strategic planning manager at Rushlift – a wholly-owned subsidiary of Doosan Industrial Vehicle UK – points out: “Above all else, it’s a matter of ensuring that a forklift truck is safe, fit-for-purpose and reliable.”
According to the HSE, a thorough examination of industrial lift trucks (see box) is required under health and safety law: LOLER 1998, covering lifting equipment, and PUWER 1998, which deals with all other safety-related items like brakes, steering and tyres.
“A lift truck should have a thorough examination at least once a year,” reports Farquhar. “The thorough examination report confirms that the equipment is safe to use, and identifies any remedial work that is required to keep the forklift in good order. In the unfortunate event of an accident or incident, the thorough examination document will be one of the first things requested by any internal or HSE investigation.”
Rushlift, which has service centres located strategically across the UK and over 130 qualified field engineers on the road at any one time, stresses the importance of choosing the right service provider.
“There are dangers associated with performing maintenance in house, as you are probably not going to have a dedicated, fully-trained forklift truck engineer, and there are risks from not using the right parts, which can lead to warranty issues,” says Farquhar.
“That said, we offer important engineering design features which help keep maintenance to a minimum. For instance, a unique standard feature on Doosan counterbalance forklifts is their oil-cooled disc brake system. As completely sealed units, the system is protected against water, dust, dirt, shrink wrap and metal banding, which cuts out the high maintenance requirements of traditional brakes.”
BOX: WHAT IS A THOROUGH EXAMINATION?
According to the HSE, a thorough examination is a systematic and detailed examination of the industrial lift truck by a competent person to detect any defects that are, or might become, dangerous. A competent person: should have enough appropriate practical and theoretical knowledge and experience of the industrial lift truck; should not be the same person who performs routine maintenance (as he or she would be responsible for assessing his or her own work); should be sufficiently independent and impartial to make objective decisions; and may be employed by a separate company, or selected by an employer from internal staff members.
The competent person will determine the scope of the thorough examination and he or she may use a number of sources to help do this, such as industry guidance. HSE’s 2002 contract research report, ‘Thorough examination and inspection of particular items of lifting equipment‘ (CRR429), available via www.is.gd/ariyov, may also be a useful reference tool.