Lift truck maintenance goals
Maximum uptime, minimal costs
Proper planning and implementation of a lift truck fleet service program is critical to optimizing the fleet’s uptime and productivity. To maximize the effectiveness of the program and efficiency of the equipment, it is essential to include a few maintenance components to ensure the long-term health of any lift truck fleet.
The size of the fleet will dictate which program components are implemented, but most programs would include the basics, which are critical. Larger fleets would benefit from “beyond the basics” components that include more management resources.
1. Technician training
Every lift truck manufacturer recommends that service be performed by a factory-trained technician, and for good reason: Only technicians who are well-trained on a piece of equipment will know how to repair it effectively and efficiently.
Factory-trained technicians—both manufacturer representatives and internal resources to the customer—have access to software and technical resources such as technical bulletins that can identify a problem for quick diagnosis and repair. An untrained technician might use the wrong parts or unnecessary parts, adding downtime and cost.
Trained technicians are more motivated and take pride in their work, resulting in equipment that runs and lasts longer.
2. Scheduled maintenance and other preventive measures
A quality scheduled maintenance component is essential to the longevity of a lift truck and success of a maintenance program. This can include changing fluids and filters, and ensuring proper lubrication. It is important to schedule maintenance based on hours of usage and level of activity.
For example, a lift truck operating in light-duty applications may need maintenance every 500 hours of operation, while a lift truck in heavier-duty applications (such as a refrigerated environment) may require maintenance every 250 hours of operation. As part of regular maintenance practices, several other factors also should be considered:
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 when choosing a tire. A properly chosen tire may not be the least expensive one, but it will be the most cost-effective in the long term because it will last longer.
A simple way to prevent damage to tires, wheels, and bearings is to keep floor conditions clean. Pallet pieces, debris, and shrink wrap can get caught in lift truck wheels, causing damage and downtime. Prevent damage to wheels, tires, and undercarriages by repairing broken and uneven flooring.
Batteries and chargers. An unmaintained or incorrectly sized battery can lead to additional maintenance. Ensure that each lift truck has the correct battery, and charge it only when necessary. Today’s technology will indicate when the 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, so lift trucks with better energy efficiency increase the expected life of their batteries.
Opportunity charging can lower battery life, so it is best to follow a recommended charging schedule. To comply with battery warranty requirements, it may be necessary to keep detailed reports on the interval of charges, temperature, watering, and equalization to validate maintenance.
Operating a truck with a damaged battery or a battery with damaged cells can result in erroneous truck fault codes or even affect the reliability of the truck’s electronics. For companies with sustainability goals, efficient lift trucks reduce carbon dioxide emissions by reducing the amount of electrical generation per unit of work.
Also, be certain that the correct battery charger is being used. If a charger isn’t built for a larger battery, that battery will never fully charge, which ultimately will shorten its life and necessitate more frequent charges.
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. 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. The result is excessive heat, which can damage electronics.
Second, make sure parts are properly fitted and lubricated to prevent unnecessary resistance, which can draw extra energy from the battery. A fleet management program can help evaluate energy efficiency by comparing battery draw and work performed. Holding everything else constant, a more efficient truck will run longer before needing its battery changed and/or recharged, resulting in lower electrical costs and less labor dedicated to changing.
Recognizing that certain current model lift trucks average 20% better energy efficiency than their predecessors, this is a significant point of comparison.
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. A big consideration when choosing a warranty is whether a company will use an in-house technician or an external factory-trained technician. To make that decision, here are questions to consider:
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 manufacture 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 waiting for service, what is the value of that lost time?
Are extra lift trucks necessary as backup for those that are out for service? What is the related cost?
4. 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 being used and how many hours each truck operates. This information can be used to maximize fleet productivity and reduce costs.
For example, this data can help determine if a lift truck is being used for the wrong job. Data may show that a reach truck is being used primarily for long horizontal transport, putting unnecessary wear on that truck. In that instance, a company can allocate a more appropriate lift truck in its place and use the reach truck for vertical applications, for which it was designed.
Fleet management also can help managers determine whether lift trucks are being used efficiently. If some trucks are in operation most of the day and others are sitting idle, it may be time to reduce the number of trucks or reallocate trucks for other applications.
Another way that fleet management can reduce long-term costs is by enabling the evaluation of 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.
Tony Fedele is vice president of operations for Abel Womack, Inc., a Raymond sales and service center.