Tips for Lift Truck Maintenance: Maximizing Uptime and Minimizing Costs

Planning and implementing a proper lift truck fleet service program is critical to optimizing the fleet’s uptime and productivity. To make the most of the program and the equipment, be sure to include a few maintenance components to ensure the long-term health of any lift truck fleet.

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Planning and implementing a proper lift truck fleet service program is critical to optimizing the fleet’s uptime and productivity. To make the most of the program and the equipment, be sure to include a few maintenance components to ensure the long-term health of any lift truck fleet. While fleet size and specific customer requirements will dictate which maintenance components you implement, it’s crucial that programs include the basics. Larger fleets benefit from “beyond the basics” components that include a more analytical approach and often require more management resources.

The Basic Components

Technician Training

Every lift truck manufacturer recommends service by a factory-trained technician, and for good reason: only trained technicians will know how to repair specific equipment effectively and efficiently. Factory-trained technicians can identify the potential issues and rectify the problem promptly, saving downtime and repair expenses. In addition, factory-trained technicians — both manufacturer representatives and internal resources to the customer — have access to software and technical resources, such as technical bulletins, that provide direction and insight only available through these resources. Untrained technicians might use incorrect or unnecessary parts, adding downtime and cost. Often, trained technicians are more motivated and take pride and ownership in their work, resulting in equipment that runs and lasts longer.

Scheduled Maintenance and Other Preventive Measures

A scheduled maintenance program is essential to the longevity of a lift truck. First and foremost, a maintenance program should include changing fluids and filters, ensuring proper lubrication and scheduled equipment cleanings. The program also should include checks to ensure all aspects of the equipment are within original equipment manufacturer (OEM) specifications. As an example, do not overlook checks for measuring the fork thickness or chain stretch with a gauge. These checks ensure that the component will not fail unexpectedly and increase uptime.

It also is important to schedule maintenance based on hours of usage and level of activity. For example, a lift truck operating in light-duty applications might need maintenance every 500 hours of operation, while a lift truck in heavier-duty applications, such as a refrigerated environment, might require maintenance every 250 hours of operation. The type of equipment also should contribute to the frequency of maintenance performed.

As part of regular maintenance practices, consider several other factors:

· Tires and Floors. There are many different compounds for lift truck tires, and each is designed for a different application. Consider load weights, floor types and travel distances, and, in some applications, the traction requirements when choosing a tire. A proper tire might not be the least expensive option but will be the most cost-effective in the long term because it will last longer and contribute to better uptime.

Tires usually fail because of damage. A simple way to prevent damage to tires, wheels and bearings is to keep floors clean. Pallet pieces, debris and shrink wrap can get caught in lift truck wheels, causing damage and resulting in downtime. Prevent damage to wheels, tires and undercarriages by repairing broken and uneven flooring. If you have wet floors, do what you can to minimize the water accumulation.

· Batteries and Chargser. Batteries require more attention when they are unmaintained or the wrong size. Ensure each lift truck has the correct battery, and charge it only when necessary. Today’s technology indicates when a battery needs to be charged. Batteries have a fixed number of cycles in their useful life, usually 1,500 to 2,000. Every battery recharge counts as one cycle, even if it doesn’t run a full cycle. Energy-efficient lift trucks increase expected battery life because they reduce the number of charges. Additionally, opportunity charging (during convenient downtime) can lower battery life. It is best to follow a recommended charging schedule. Batteries commonly suffer reduced performance and failure for lack of watering. A systematic approach to charging and watering will pay huge dividends in longer run times and equipment uptime. 

Equipment operating in freezer applications will face challenges because colder temperatures reduce battery efficiencies. Operating a lift truck with a damaged battery can result in erroneous truck fault codes or even affect the truck’s electronics. Truck failures caused by bad batteries usually are the most costly and difficult problems to diagnose.

Also, be certain to use the correct battery charger. If a charger isn’t built for a larger battery, that battery will never fully charge, which ultimately will shorten its lifespan and necessitate more frequent charges. This might sound simple, but this, too, is a common problem found in today’s operations.

· Energy Efficiency. A lift truck that is not energy efficient can create unnecessary cost and reduce productivity. There are ways to ensure a lift truck is operating at peak energy efficiency.

     o   First, make sure the battery is operating at maximum capacity. When a battery is operating at low voltage, the lift truck makes up for the lost power by drawing more amps from the battery. This creates excessive heat, which can damage electronics.

    o   Second, make sure parts are properly fitted and lubricated to prevent unnecessary resistance, which can draw extra energy from the battery. If you operate in a freezer environment, remember that the temperature makes it harder for the truck to perform its functions. For instance, the oil will be thicker and harder to pump.

A fleet management program can help evaluate energy efficiency by comparing battery draw and work performed. A more efficient truck will run longer before needing its battery changed or recharged, resulting in lower electrical costs, less labor dedicated to changing and — equally important — a longer useful life. Instead of the usual five years of useful life from a battery, operators might be able to extend it to six years — a 20 percent gain in the asset.  

Warranties

A lift truck dealer can help tailor a warranty package that is appropriate for a particular company’s application and level of service needed beyond the standard offering. When choosing a warranty, companies have an important consideration regarding whether to use an in-house technician or an external factory-trained technician. To make that decision, consider the following:

· Do in-house technicians have the time and knowledge to handle scheduled maintenance for all lift trucks in the fleet? Warranties require scheduled maintenance be performed according to manufacturer guidelines.

· Who can most quickly respond to a service call, obtain parts and conduct unplanned maintenance to minimize the trucks’ downtime?

· If lift trucks are inoperable and awaiting service, what is the value of that lost time?

· Are extra lift trucks necessary as backup for those out of service? What is the related cost?

· How much time can management dedicate to lift truck maintenance activities? Do you want to be in the lift trucks business?

Single-Source Parts Programs

Getting the right part when you need it is as critical to a well-managed maintenance program as having well-trained technicians. Work with a lift truck provider that can provide parts for your fleet.  If your fleet has multiple manufacturers, partner with a provider that can supply all brands.

There are many advantages to single-sourcing your parts, one of which is the ability to simplify the administrative process and minimize the expenses. The provider will be able to better track part warranties, provide usage reports to pinpoint cost savings opportunities and suggest better products for your specific operation.

Fleet Management

Work with a lift truck provider to design a tailored fleet management program. By collecting and analyzing real-time lift truck data, companies can see how their lift trucks are used and how many hours each truck operates. This information can be used to maximize fleet productivity, reduce costs and determine whether workers are using a lift truck for the wrong job. For example, data might show that workers are using a reach truck primarily for long horizontal transport, putting unnecessary wear on that truck. In that case, a company can put a more appropriate lift truck in its place and use the reach truck for the vertical applications for which it was designed.

Fleet management also can help managers determine whether lift trucks are used efficiently. If some trucks are in operation most of the day and others are sitting idle, it might be time to reduce the number of trucks or reallocate trucks for other applications.

Fleet managers also can reduce long-term costs by evaluating ongoing maintenance expenses for each truck. Once an older lift truck has maintenance costs that exceed its usefulness, it becomes more cost-effective to invest in a new lift truck.

A well-maintained lift truck will provide reliable, long-lasting productivity at a low operating cost. Ongoing scheduled maintenance by trained technicians and real-time data analysis of the fleet will keep lift trucks working hard to contribute to the company’s bottom line.  

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