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5 Forklift Maintenance Tips to Minimise Downtime

When do the forklifts require maintenance? Often, technicians and mechanics perform forklift maintenance tasks when they notice any of the following:

  • Internal and external leaks (forklift is leaking oil)
  • Forks are already damaged (these should be replaced immediately to prevent damaged loads)
  • Unusual sounds (do you hear anything that’s not normal when operating the forklift?)
  • Chain is damaged (probably rusted or worn out)

 

There are other signs that the material handling equipment requires maintenance. But more often, managers and operators take a proactive approach in keeping the machineries in top condition. For example, they set schedules for forklift inspections and maintenance. They also set and adjust the schedules according to usage frequency and type (rugged or average application?).

Benefits of timely maintenance

Instead of waiting for forklifts to break down or show any signs of problem, operators and technicians perform timely maintenance and inspections beforehand. The benefits are enormous including:

  • Longer-lasting forklifts
  • Increased uptime (note that downtimes are expensive)
  • Increased productivity (more tasks accomplished within a given time)
  • Lower expenses for repairs and parts replacements
  • Safer operations (e.g. brakes are working perfectly)
  • Fewer damaged goods (forklift can handle the loads more properly)

 

In other words, timely maintenance results to higher ROI and productivity. It can even result to a safer workplace because forklifts can be manoeuvred more effectively to avoid collisions and other types of accidents.

How to properly maintain forklifts?

We’ve just discussed when to perform inspections and maintenance on forklifts. We’ve also discussed the benefits of doing scheduled and timely maintenance.

In the following paragraphs let’s then talk about how to do the maintenance properly. What are the first steps? How to deal with specific scenarios?

We’ll discuss each of the following tips and provide the intuition behind those practices:

  1. Identify first if the forklift is safe for use
  2. Plan for maintenance according to manufacturer’s operation manual
  3. Hire or train a person (or a team) to perform the maintenance
  4. More frequent maintenance for forklifts used in harsh working environments
  5. Complete documentation of the maintenance procedures (including inspections, repairs and modifications)

1. Identify if the forklift is safe for use

It’s still ideal to take the proactive approach when it comes to ensuring that forklifts are in top condition. However, there are cases when forklifts need to be checked first if they are safe for use before the actual shift begins.

That’s why many drivers first refer to pre-operational checklists. The operators or technicians perform visual checks to inspect the tyres, lights, gauges, mast, attachments, hydraulic hose, cylinders, engines and other parts. Often they also check the LPG tank (or fuel levels), battery, brake fluid and others. This is to make sure that the forklift is ready for a smooth and safe operation.

The checklist could be customised or modified according to the requirements of your warehouse and operations. In many cases it’s convenient to include an audio-visual display so operators can easily use the checklist as reference. It’s also recommended that there are restrictions when it comes to who are authorised to drive the equipment.

If the equipment is found out to be unsafe (or it requires immediate repair and maintenance), the damaged or faulty forklift should then be isolated or tagged as unsafe for use. Technicians should then do a prompt repair or maintenance to reduce downtime. In addition, the problem should be documented to prevent it from being a frequent occurrence in the workplace (more on this later).

2. Plan for maintenance according to manufacturer’s operation manual

Forklifts have varying specifications depending on the brand, capacity and engine type (and also other factors such as its application). That’s why it’s highly recommended that the manufacturer’s operation manual is the primary reference when it comes to maintenance tasks.

The operation manual may include the most recommended schedules and order of tasks to be done. It can also include the most common troubleshooting problems and techniques to make the task easier for mechanics. In addition, these set of advice are ideal for lengthening the service lifespan of the material handling equipment.

For example, gas-powered forklifts always have different requirements than electric-powered ones. Electric forklifts are said to be quieter (and no emissions). However, charging the battery might require additional sets of precautions in contrast to forklifts with internal combustion engines.

The instructions could also differ depending on the frequency of forklift usage (might be already indicated in the manual). The manual might also include recommended conditions when operating the forklift.

Due to the variation of requirements and instructions, technicians and operators might be required to undergo continuous training to keep up. Also, newer models and updated standards might also change as to how to operate, inspect and maintain forklifts.

3. Hire or train a person (or a team) to perform the maintenance

As with driving and operations, inspections and maintenance also require a certain level of expertise for the tasks to become efficient and successful. After all, the equipment’s smooth operations heavily depend on whether its parts are in optimal condition.

That’s why the mechanic or technician should have received adequate training (often a license) before performing any inspection or maintenance task. For instance, only licensed gas fitters should work on certain parts of LPG-powered forklifts. In addition, a qualified tyre fitter should be the one to remove and fit the tyres.

In many cases a team is often required to work on a single forklift. You can have a dedicated in-house team (or hire an outside contractor) to perform the scheduled maintenance. The team should be composed of qualified specialists because there are always safety considerations in place. In addition, you want to make sure that the forklifts are safe to use after the repairs or maintenance.

4. More frequent maintenance for forklifts used in harsh working environments

Severe environmental conditions (e.g. hot & corrosive environments) can damage the forklift’s body and parts. As a consequence, the forklifts would then require more frequent inspections and maintenance. Presence of high concentration of chemicals and high temperatures might damage the battery, cylinders, tyres and other parts. The metallic parts might also undergo corrosion and thereby compromise the forklift’s performance and worker safety.

It’s mostly recommended that the forklift undergo maintenance at least once every 12 months (for every 2,000 hours of use every day in single shifts). However, that might change especially if the forklift is always used in corrosive conditions or the loads being handled are vulnerable to liquid spills. Doubling the number of shifts per day would also require a corresponding increase in the number of inspections.

5. Complete documentation of the maintenance procedures (including inspections, repairs and modifications)

Recordkeeping is crucial in every aspect of warehouse and logistics operations. Aside from “adhering to formal procedures”, recordkeeping also allows for later analysis of faults and possible exploration of opportunities.

For example, operations managers could then find a pattern of the most common forklift issues. They could then formulate policies to minimise those occurrences. In addition, they could also analyse the active usage and downtimes of the forklifts assigned to a particular area or task. The managers could then create a plan to better anticipate and compensate for those downtimes (especially when allocating resources to high-priority loads and tasks).

Detailed recordkeeping and documentation also allow for technicians to review the inspections and maintenance tasks performed on the forklifts. It’s recommended that the records are kept for at least 2 years (or maintenance records should remain until the service lifetime of the forklift ends). This results to a more accurate troubleshooting and possibly identifying other faults (defective or low-quality parts being used for replacement).

Timely forklift maintenance for higher productivity

Forklift maintenance requires an integrated and extensive approach for its successful execution. It sounds like additional work but the returns could be enormous. That’s because timely maintenance results to higher productivity and better safety in the workplace.

Downtimes and accidents are very costly in the logistics industry (e.g. lost productivity and higher repair expenses). More importantly, the safety of both drivers and non-drivers are always at stake during every shift. But with rigorous forklift maintenance procedures in place, these scenarios would be minimised or completely prevented.

To make the task less daunting, here at ShockWatch we have reliable fleet management solutions specifically designed for forklifts and the logistics industry. For example, our EquipManager allows you to set maintenance alerts so your team won’t miss the required maintenance. You can also set a pre-shift safety checklist (with audio-visual display) so the drivers can quickly identify if the forklifts are safe for use.

At ShockWatch we offer more features and capabilities so you can better manage your fleet. You can contact us today for more information.