Forklift maintenance to minimise cost and maximise uptime

Gian Schiava -
Your Focus
- 10 Mar 2016 ( #760 )
4 min read
Gian Schiava is a writer with Eureka magazine, where this article first appeared.
Maintenance makes sense
Maintenance makes sense
An incredible number of measures can be taken to improve the efficiency of a forklift fleet. The ultimate goals are often maximum uptime and reduced costs - hence the constant juggling between these contradictions.

For clarity's sake, we have decided to divide the measures into those taken by the company itself and those taken by an external fleet management service; often provided by the forklift supplier.

Do-it-yourself
Let us first look at what the average warehouse manager (or the manager of all vehicles on the premises) can do himself. Since many fleet management contracts cover the list below, we are looking at companies which at least partially own their forklifts or buy them at the end of a leasing period. Managers have to make sure to protect the goods, but at the same time they are responsible for warehouse activity as a whole.
Besides being the fleet manager, they are also an HR manager, coach, designer of the warehouse flows, storage specialist, liaison person for IT-related issues, to name but a few of their roles. Ultimately they are responsible for the performance of the warehouse and for budget control - not to mention the countless reports to upper management and time-consuming meetings. That leaves little time to take care of the forklift fleet, but here are some immediate options:
All vehicles age, and it is no different for forklifts. To help avoid costly repairs and damaged loads, it is important to carry out daily or pre-shift inspections.

Workplace conditions
Naturally, the warehouse or the premises where the trucks operate needs to be tidy and in good order. For example, poor floor condition is one of the largest causes of avoidable damage expense. Driving over debris such as wood, plastic wrap, twine and banding can cause radiator or axle damage, and if blown into the engine compartment it can destroy the cooling system and potentially cause engine failure or a fire.

Driver training
Next, drivers need to receive training. It is important to teach them that speed is not equal to productivity. Drivers must be trained in pre-operational inspection, load-handling techniques, fuelling, battery charging and much more. And it should certainly not stop at initial training, as from time to time truck drivers need follow-up training to refresh their minds. By doing so, truck abuse can be minimised.

Regular inspections
All vehicles age, and it is no different for forklifts. To help avoid costly repairs and damaged loads, it is important to carry out daily or pre-shift inspections. The areas which require most attention are the forks, mast, chains and tilt cylinders. Most suppliers can provide comprehensive checklists.

Battery management
Today the mix of forklifts in a fleet tends to be predominantly battery powered. If the fleet is large enough, a separate battery charging room is needed. In earlier issues of eureka we have explained how these 'nursery' rooms need to be equipped and how proper battery management can extend battery life.

In-house maintenance (and parts availability)
Large companies with many vehicles (not just materials handling devices) may decide to employ engineers for the regular maintenance. One of the advantages is that the engineers tend to know the machines very well and contribute to decisions on replacement, thus avoiding a situation where repair costs go through the roof. The main difficulty is in keeping the right stock level of spare parts and controlling these costs, bearing in mind that most suppliers tend to charge more for last-minute emergency deliveries.

What do the professionals bring to the game?
We have now seen what companies can do themselves to keep cost down - and that is a lot! Our list is by no means comprehensive, as there are many more possibilities. However, it is always an uphill battle to beat what the professional forklift supplier can bring to the game. Let's take a look at some examples.

Preventative maintenance
The warehouse manager can expect a customised plan for on-site, scheduled maintenance services, including fluid level and lubricant checks as well as regular equipment inspections - all at a pre-determined cost. Operations will be evaluated and suppliers will take into consideration how many hours the forklifts run, the type of environments they are running in and a range of other factors.

Total maintenance and repair
Preventative maintenance can be developed further into a more comprehensive maintenance and repair support plan. In most cases this means all designated repairs are covered by one fixed monthly rate, which relieves the fleet managers of the task of chasing data for their monthly reports.
A proper analysis provides the fleet manager with actionable data to improve the usage of the fleet.

Data capture and analysis
Modern software is often used to see what is going on. This can include data registration of truck movements, registered charging time, uptime, fuelling data and much more. A proper analysis provides the fleet manager with actionable data to improve the usage of the fleet.

Fleet analysis: retain, retire, replace or relocate
The ideal solution is probably where preventative maintenance becomes part of a complete process of financing and managing a fleet. The warehouse manager receives monthly reports on maintenance and repair costs, along with recommendations on fleet size and mix, and information on security and damage issues. Training is provided where necessary to improve the behaviour of truck drivers.
In practice, by outsourcing the fleet management the warehouse manager can achieve better control over his costs, whilst freeing up time for his other managerial tasks. In this way, balancing costs and uptime no longer seems incompatible.
Also Read:
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Let's start at the very beginning Your Focus - 24 Mar 2016 (#762) Safety checks require more than just ticking boxes, according to Wayne Chornohus.
Forklift attachments - right tools, wrong skills?
Stuart Taylor
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Forklift attachments - right tools, wrong skills? Your Focus - 25 Feb 2016 (#758) Attachments have extended the uses of forklifts, but Stuart Taylor warns that care is needed when using them.
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Blog articles provide perspectives and opinions and therefore may contain inaccurate or incomplete information. Forkliftaction Media accepts no responsibility for errors or omissions. If you feel that significant facts are overlooked, or have a different viewpoint on a topic addressed, we invite you to open a conversation in our Discussion Forums.

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Inside The News
One of the biggest forklift manufacturers in the world, Crown Equipment Corporation, has been crippled by a malicious cyber attack... Continue reading
Prologis UK announces warehouse leasing model Wellingborough West, United Kingdom

Are you recruiting? Find your ideal candidate among a diverse range of materials handling professionals:

Forkliftaction's JOB MARKET

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One of the biggest forklift manufacturers in the world, Crown Equipment Corporation, has been crippled by a malicious cyber attack... Continue reading
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