FROM THE ARCHIVES: Lift truck fleet maintenance needs a comprehensive plan

Properly planning a lift truck fleet and implementing a service schedule are critical to optimizing the fleet’s uptime and productivity.

05/14/2012


Properly planning a lift truck fleet and implementing a service schedule are critical to optimizing the fleet’s uptime and productivity. To maximize efficiency and uptime, it is essential to follow a few steps to ensure the long-term health of any lift truck fleet, including planning for scheduled maintenance, considering who will conduct scheduled maintenance and what other resource—such as warranties and fleet management technologies—are available to aid in maintaining the health of the lift truck fleet.

Scheduled maintenance

A quality scheduled maintenance program is essential to the longevity of a lift truck. 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.

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. Repair damaged and uneven flooring to prevent damage to wheels and tires and to prevent trucks from hitting bottom and damaging the undercarriage.
  • 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. 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 battery maintenance. Operating a truck with a damaged battery or a battery with damaged cells can result in erroneous truck fault codes or even impact the reliability of the truck’s electronics.

    Also, be certain that the correct battery charger is being used. If a charger isn’t built to charge a larger battery, that battery will never fully charge, which ultimately will reduce its battery life and result in the need for more frequent charges.
  • Energy efficiency. A lift truck that is not energy efficient can create unnecessary cost and lead to reduced productivity. There are ways to ensure that a lift truck is operating at peak energy efficiency. First, make sure the battery is operating at maximum capacity. When a lift truck battery is operating at low voltage, it makes up for the lost power by drawing more amps from the battery. The result is excessive heat, which can damage electronics.

    Also 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.

Trained technicians

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 correctly and quickly. Many factory-trained technicians have access to software that can remotely identify a problem so a technician can quickly diagnose the problem and find the solution even before arriving at the facility.

An untrained technician may use the wrong parts or unnecessary parts, adding downtime and cost. A technician with proper understanding of the equipment can service the truck quickly and get the truck back up on service, often completing the work on the first visit. Lift trucks typically stay in better condition over the long run when they are regularly maintained by a technician who is certified by the truck’s manufacturer.

If maintenance is being performed by internal resources, those in-house technicians should be trained by factory technicians and continue to receive regular updates to stay on top of the latest products and technologies.

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. 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?
  • 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?

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, 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.

- Jim O’Brien is vice president of integrated customer solutions for The Raymond Corporation, and Al Silar is vice president of operations for Raymond Handling Concepts Corporation.



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