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Ensuring you have the right tool for the job improves the quality of your work as well as saving you time and money. For example, you wouldn't try to paint a house using a single 2' paint brush. But, you also wouldn't try to paint a door frame using a paint roller. In the same way, there are a lot of material handlers out there but, for some jobs, what you need is a forklift.
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What to Look for in a Forklift
You have myriad choices in forklifts, with variations in load capacity, lift height, and more. Choosing the right machine requires understanding both your needs and unit's capabilities.
- Load capacity may be the most important spec for you to consider. Smaller lifts typically have a 3,500- to 5,000-pound capacity, but heavy-duty models can handle up to 100,000 pounds. Of course, if your typical load weighs in on the low end, you don't need to pay extra for a heavy-duty model.
- Indoor or outdoor use designations typically rely on the lift's power and whether it has tires designed for uneven terrain (outdoor) or hard, even ground (indoor).
- Length and width determine how your lift maneuvers through aisles and doorways. When you need to access shelves on both sides of an aisle but don't have room for turning, look for a side-loading, turret forklift.
- Lift height is just as important as load capacity, particularly in storage facilities such as warehouses. When you need to access high shelves, look for a reach forklift.
- Monitoring systems are typically found on higher-end models. They relay information to the operator, particularly the weight of items being carried to ensure you don't exceed load capacity.
- Tire styles are either pneumatic or cushion. Pneumatic tires may be solid or filled with air and are designed for operation on uneven terrain. Cushion tires have a smooth rubber construction that makes them ideal for use on concrete or asphalt.
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What to Look for in a Brand
The chances are high you'll find multiple forklifts that meet both budget and capability requirements. When that happens, you need to dig a little deeper to build a more complete picture of the brand and what they offer. Answer the following questions:
- Have they received any industry awards? This includes recognition from government organizations, vendors, and relevant publications.
- Are their customer support windows open when you are? The ideal is live, 24/7 availability, either through phone support or or online chat. At the very least, they need operating hours that match yours.
- Do they have good reviews? You should be able to find ample reviews online, but you can also talk to industry peers about their equipment. What did they like? What were their problems? Which units were easy to service?
- Does the sale include training? Training operators on new equipment helps ensure warranty coverage in the event of issues (and the most common complaint for heavy equipment manufacturers is that the warranty wasn't honored).
- Is there a maintenance agreement? The best way to extend the life of your equipment and protect your investment is regular, preventive maintenance.
The Top-Rated Forklift Brands
Following is a baker's dozen of top-rated forklift brands. These 13 manufacturers are industry favorites, earning high marks for quality and support.
Best Forklift Brand
- Caterpillar is a name that is synonymous with heavy equipment. The manufacturer built its reputation by designing and producing an extensive variety of reliable machines. Their forklifts range from 2,500-pound to 100,000-pound models in both fuel- and electric-powered options.
- CLARK manufacturers a full line of materials handling equipment, including electric forklifts, heavy-duty lift trucks, and pallet lifts. Even after over 100 years in the industry, they're still a leader in innovation.
- Crown Equipment Corporation entered the field in 1956 and has designed, manufactured, and distributed forklifts and other materials handlers ever since. The company not only manufactures its forklifts, it builds 85 percent of the units' components, including drive units and motors.
- Yale manufactures and distributes its forklifts globally. The company is known as a one-stop shop for all things forklift since, in addition to manufacturing and distributing lifts, the company also offers parts and servicing.
- Toyota has been in the industry for over five decades, distributing and manufacturing forklifts from its Indiana headquarters.
- Raymond has nearly a century in the industry, designing and building forklifts for warehouses and distribution centers. The company is famous for its knowledgeable, dedicated sales and support teams.
- Big Joe has set the standard for electric forklifts since the 1950s. The company built its name by creating rugged, operator-friendly pallet trucks, order pickers, and walkie stackers.
- Hyster has manufactured and distributed forklifts for industries around the world since the 1920s.
- Komatsu has nearly a century of experience in manufacturing and distributing a wide variety of heavy equipment, including machines for construction, mining, and materials handling.
- Nissan Forklift has produced high-performance, high-quality materials handling equipment for over 50 years. Their product line includes both fuel- and electric-powered forklifts, order selectors, pallet stackers and trucks, and reach trucks.
- Linde Material Handling has headquarters in Germany but distributes its extensive catalog of forklifts and other materials handling equipment throughout the world.
- Mitsubishi is one of the most respected names in forklift and heavy equipment manufacturing. The company is famous for producing reliable products at an affordable price.
- Jungheinrich produces a broad range of forklifts with load capacities between 2,000 and 19,800 pounds. The German manufacturer distributes its energy-efficient, technologically advanced machines through its American partner, Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America Inc.
Types of Forklifts
Although they all perform the same basic function - moving items from one location to another - there are numerous types of forklifts.
The type you most likely picture when you hear the word forklift is called a counterbalance forklift. They come in three classes. All lifts with an electric motor are in Class I while those will an internal combustion engine are split into two separate categories based on tire type. Those with cushion tires are in Class IV and models with pneumatic tires are Class V.
Other forklift types include:
- Hand pallet trucks: These simple units feature manual operation via pneumatic pump (although some offer a power lift). Most are categorized as Class III.
- Reach trucks: The main goal of these lifts is reaching high spaces, not lifting or carrying heavy loads. These units may be categorized as Class I, II, or IV.
- Rough terrain forklifts: As the name implies, these are designed for work on uneven ground thanks to larger tires. They're ideal on construction and agricultural sites and are categorized as Class VII.
- Turret trucks: Also known as very narrow aisle (VNA) trucks, these feature a mast that rotates 180 degrees to allow the operator to access both sides of an aisle without turning the vehicle. Most turret trucks are categorized as Class II.
Author: Angela Escobar