A forklift (also called lift truck, fork truck, fork hoist, and forklift truck) is a powered industrial truck used to lift and move materials over short distances. The forklift was developed in the early 20th century by various companies, including Clark, which made transmissions, and Yale & Towne Manufacturing, which made hoists. Since World War II, the use and development of the forklift truck have greatly expanded worldwide. Forklifts have become an indispensable piece of equipment in manufacturing and warehousing. In 2013, the top 20 manufacturers worldwide posted sales of $30.4 billion, with 944,405 machines sold.
The middle nineteenth century through the early 20th century saw the developments that led to today's modern forklifts. The forerunners of the modern forklift were manually powered hoists that were used to lift loads. In 1906, the Pennsylvania Railroad introduced battery powered platform trucks for moving luggage at their Altoona, Pennsylvania train station. World War I saw the development of different types of material handling equipment in the United Kingdom by Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies of Ipswich. This was in part due to the labor shortages caused by the war. In 1917, Clark in the United States began developing and using powered tractor and powered lift tractors in their factories. In 1919, the Towmotor Company, and Yale & Towne Manufacturing in 1920, entered the lift truck market in the United States. Continuing development and expanded use of the forklift continued through the 1920s and 1930s. The introduction of hydraulic power and the development of the first electric power forklifts, along with the use of standardized pallets in the late 1930s, helped to increase the popularity of forklift trucks.
The start of World War II, like World War I before, spurred the use of forklift trucks in the war effort. Following the war, more efficient methods for storing products in warehouses were being implemented. Warehouses needed more maneuverable forklift trucks that could reach greater heights and new forklift models were made that filled this need. For example, in 1954, a British company named Lansing Bagnall, now part of KION Group, developed what was claimed to be the first narrow aisle electric reach truck. The development changed the design of warehouses leading to narrower aisles and higher load stacking that increased storage capability. During the 1950s and 1960s, operator safety became a concern due to the increasing lifting heights and capacities. Safety features such as load back rests and operator cages, called overhead guards, began to be added to forklifts produced in this era. In the late 1980s, ergonomic design began to be incorporated in new forklift designs to improve operator comfort, reduce injuries and increase productivity. During the 1990s, exhaust emissions from forklift operations began to be addressed which led to emission standards being implemented for forklift manufacturers in various countries. The introduction of AC power forklifts, along with fuel cell technology, are also refinements in continuing forklift development.
Forklifts are rated for loads at a specified maximum weight and a specified forward center of gravity. This information is located on a nameplate provided by the manufacturer, and loads must not exceed these specifications. In many jurisdictions, it is illegal to alter or remove the nameplate without the permission of the forklift manufacturer.
An important aspect of forklift operation is that it must have rear-wheel steering. While this increases maneuverability in tight cornering situations, it differs from a driver’s traditional experience with other wheeled vehicles. While steering, as there is no caster action, it is unnecessary to apply steering force to maintain a constant rate of turn.
Another critical characteristic of the forklift is its instability. The forklift and load must be considered a unit with a continually varying center of gravity with every movement of the load. A forklift must never negotiate a turn at speed with a raised load, where centrifugal and gravitational forces may combine to cause a disastrous tip-over accident. The forklift is designed with a load limit for the forks which is decreased with fork elevation and undercutting of the load (i.e., when a load does not butt against the fork "L"). A loading plate for loading reference is usually located on the forklift. A forklift should not be used as a personnel lift without the fitting of specific safety equipment, such as a "cherry picker" or "cage".
Forklifts are a critical element of warehouses and distribution centers. It’s imperative that these structures be designed to accommodate their efficient and safe movement. In the case of Drive-In/Drive-Thru Racking, a forklift needs to travel inside a storage bay that is multiple pallet positions deep to place or retrieve a pallet. Often, forklift drivers are guided into the bay through guide rails on the floor and the pallet is placed on cantilevered arms or rails. These maneuvers require well-trained operators. Since every pallet requires the truck to enter the storage structure, damage is more common than with other types of storage. In designing a drive-in system, dimensions of the fork truck, including overall width and mast width, must be carefully considered.
Forklift hydraulics are controlled either with levers directly manipulating the hydraulic valves or by electrically controlled actuators, using smaller "finger" levers for control. The latter allows forklift designers more freedom in ergonomic design.
Forklift trucks are available in many variations and load capacities. In a typical warehouse setting most forklifts have load capacities between one and five tons. Larger machines, up to 50 tons lift capacity, are used for lifting heavier loads, including loaded shipping containers.
In addition to a control to raise and lower the forks (also known as blades or tines), the operator can tilt the mast to compensate for a load's tendency to angle the blades toward the ground and risk slipping off the forks. Tilt also provides a limited ability to operate on non-level ground. Skilled forklift operators annually compete in obstacle and timed challenges at regional forklift rodeos.
The following is a list, in no particular order, of the more common lift truck types:
At the other end of the spectrum from the counterbalanced forklift trucks are more 'high end' specialty trucks:
These are, unlike most lift trucks, front wheel steer, and are a hybrid VNA (very narrow aisle) truck designed to be both able to offload trailers and place the load in narrow aisle racking. Increasingly these trucks are able to compete in terms of pallet storage density, lift heights and pallet throughput with guided very narrow aisle trucks, while also being capable of loading trucks, which VNA units are incapable of doing.
These are rail- or wire-guided and available with lift heights up to 40 feet non-top-tied and 98 feet top-tied. Two forms are available: 'man-down' and 'man-riser', where the operator elevates with the load for increased visibility or for multilevel 'break bulk' order picking. This type of truck, unlike articulated narrow aisle trucks, requires a high standard of floor flatness.
Omnidirectional technology (such as Mecanum wheels) can allow a forklift truck to move forward, diagonally and laterally, or in any direction on a surface. Omnidirectional wheel system is able to rotate the truck 360 degrees in its own footprint or strafe sideways without turning the truck cabin. One example is the Airtrax Sidewinder. This forklift truck has also made an appearance in the TV series called 'Mythbusters'.
In North America, some internal combustion powered industrial vehicles carry Underwriters Laboratories ratings that are part of UL 558. Industrial trucks that are considered "safety" carry the designations GS (Gasoline Safety) for gasoline powered, DS (Diesel Safety) for diesel powered, LPS (Liquid Propane Safety) for liquified propane or GS/LPS for a dual fuel gasoline/liquified propane powered truck.
UL 558 is a two-stage Safety Standard. The basic standard, which is G, D, LP, and G/LP is what Underwriter's Laboratories considers the bare minimum required for a lift truck. This is a voluntary standard, and there is no requirement in North America at least by any Government Agency for manufacturers to meet this standard.
The slightly more stringent GS, DS, LPS, and GP/LPS, or Safety standard does provide some minimal protection, however it is extremely minimal. In the past Underwriter's Laboratory offered specialty EX and DX safety certifications. If you require higher levels of protection you must contact your local Underwriter's Laboratory Office and check ask them what the correct safety standard is for your workplace.
These are for operation in potentially explosive atmospheres found in chemical, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, food and drink, logistics or other industries handling flammable material. Commonly referred to as Pyroban trucks in Europe, they must meet the requirements of the ATEX 94/9/EC Directive if used in Zone 1, 2, 21 or 22 areas and be maintained accordingly.
In order to decrease work wages, reduce operational cost and improve productivity, automated forklifts have also been developed.  Automated forklifts are also called forked automated guided vehicles and are already available from a growing number of suppliers.
A typical counterbalanced forklift contains the following components:
Below is a list of common forklift attachments:
Any attachment on a forklift will reduce its nominal load rating, which is computed with a stock fork carriage and forks. The actual load rating may be significantly lower.
It is possible to replace an existing attachment or add one to a lift that doesn't already have one. Considerations include forklift type, capacity, carriage type, and number of hydraulic functions (that power the attachment features). As mentioned in the preceding section, replacing or adding an attachment may reduce (down-rate) the safe lifting capacity of the forklift truck (See also General operations, below).
Forklift attachment manufacturers offer on-line calculators to estimate the safe lifting capacity when using a particular attachment. However, only the forklift truck manufacturer can give accurate lifting capacities. Before installing any attachment you should contact your local authorized dealer of your forklift brand and ask them to begin re-rating your lift according to the attachment you want to install. Once re-rated the forklift should have a new factory authorized specification plate, to replace the original plate, installed showing the new rating for the lift.
In the context of attachment, a hydraulic function consists of a valve on the forklift with a lever near the operator that provides two passages of pressurized hydraulic oil to power the attachment features. Sometimes an attachment has more features than your forklift has hydraulic functions and one or more need to be added. There are many ways of adding hydraulic functions (also known as adding a valve). The forklift manufacturer makes valves and hose routing accessories, but the parts and labor to install can be prohibitively expensive. Other ways include adding a solenoid valve in conjunction with a hose or cable reel that diverts oil flow from an existing function. However, hose and cable reels can block the operator's view and are problematic, easily damaged. The Ditto Valve kit uses a solenoid valve and special HydWire hoses, in which the wire reinforcing braid doubles as an electrical conduit. These hoses replace those already on the forklift, nesting in the original reeving, keeping it safe from damage and out of the operators field of vision.
There are many national as well as continental associations related to the industrial truck industry. Some of the major organizations are listed as:
There are many significant contacts among these organizations and they have established joint statistical and engineering programs. One program is the World Industrial Trucks Statistics (WITS) which is published every month to the association memberships. The statistics are separated by area (continent), country and class of machine. While the statistics are generic and do not count production from most of the smaller manufacturers, the information is significant for its depth. These contacts have brought to a common definition of a Class System to which all the major manufacturers adhere.
Forklift safety is subject to a variety of standards worldwide. The most important standard is the ANSI B56—of which stewardship has now been passed from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to the Industrial Truck Standards Development Foundation after multi-year negotiations. ITSDF is a non-profit organization whose only purpose is the promulgation and modernization of the B56 standard.
Other forklift safety standards have been implemented in the United States by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and in the United Kingdom by the Health and Safety Executive.
In many countries, forklift truck operators must be trained and certified to operate forklift trucks. Certification may be required for each individual class of lift that an operator would use.
Forklift training has many names, such as forklift licensing or forklift certification. Whichever term is used, training must adhere to federal or national standards.
Health care providers should not recommend that workers who drive or use heavy equipment such as forklifts treat chronic or acute pain with opioids. Workplaces which manage workers who perform safety-sensitive operations should assign workers to less sensitive duties for so long as those workers are treated by their physician with opioids.
In the United States, workplace forklift training is governed federally by OSHA the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In 1999, OSHA updated its 29 CFR 1910.178 regulations governing "Powered Industrial Trucks" (the term OSHA uses to include forklifts among other types of industrial vehicles.) A major component of these regulations deals with forklift operator training. The standard requires employers to develop and implement a training program based on the general principles of safe truck operation, the types of vehicle(s) being used in the workplace, the hazards of the workplace created by the use of the vehicle(s), and the general safety requirements of the OSHA standard. OSHA believes that trained operators must know how to do the job properly and do it safely as demonstrated by workplace evaluation. Formal (lecture, video, etc.) and practical (demonstration and practical exercises) training must be provided. Employers must also certify that each operator has received the training and evaluate each operator at least once every three years. Prior to operating the truck in the workplace, the employer must evaluate the operator's performance and determine the operator to be competent to operate a powered industrial truck safely. Refresher training is needed whenever an operator demonstrates a deficiency in the safe operation of the truck.
In the UK, the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations state that operators of forklift trucks must be adequately trained, the general standards of that training and good operating practice are found in the HSE Code of Practice 117 (Third edition) issued in 2013. Third party organisations have developed de facto 'best practice' standards for forklift training, commonly referred to in the UK as a 'forklift licence', these are no longer recognised as proof of training as defined in the COP 117 (third edition) and as such training is not a legal requirement as is commonly believed. Organised training however helps to demonstrate that an employer has taken steps to ensure its 'duty of care' in the unfortunate event of an accident.
In the UK, forklift training is carried out by a number of different voluntary standard training organisations, They can be directly recognised by the HSE who have formed a new organisation known as "Accrediting Body Association Work place transport 2012". In all cases qualified forklift instructors must be registered with at least one of the voluntary training organisations. Although RTITB operators are registered on a database which has to be a 3 yearly basis, the amount of time determined between refresher courses is subject to the H&S Executive, Insurance companies or company policies. The H&S Executive (HSG136 Workplace Transport Safety) does recommend re-training/testing every 3 to 5 years.
Forklift instructors throughout the UK tend to operate either as small independent training companies or as a part of a larger training provider. Training is delivered in one of two ways; on-site (sometimes referred to as in-house training) where training is delivered to a clients' premises making use of their own equipment, or off-site (public courses) at a training centre. Training centres offer the opportunity for the unemployed with little or no forklift operating experience to achieve a certificate of competence and increase their employment opportunities. Training certification standards at schools tends to follow closely the standard required by their individual Training Standards Accrediting Body to which they are affiliated. It is not unusual for a Training school to be registered with one or more body at any one time.
The British Industrial Truck Association (BITA) categorises the different forklift truck types into groups and assigned a unique identifier to each classification. Known as the ‘BITA List’ it has become accepted as a standard in the UK. Forklift training certificates display the appropriate BITA classification to clearly identify the confines of the certification.
Prior to 2011 all States and Territories of Australia independently regulated occupational health and safety in that state, including forklift licensing.
Whilst the Occupational Health and Safety laws of the different states were based on similar underlying principles there were differences between the various jurisdictions in the detail and application of those Occupational Health and Safety laws.
In 2008 the Inter-Governmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety was formed between the Commonwealth of Australia and the six states and two territories of Australia to formalize cooperation between these jurisdictions on the harmonization of Occupational Health and Safety legislation.
As a result, the national Model Work Health and Safety Act (WHS) was enacted following a review into work health and safety laws across Australia, which review included significant public consultation. This act was finalized in June 2011.
This act formed a framework for the individual jurisdictions to enact supporting legislation, as the individual jurisdictions are tasked with managing State and Territory Occupational Health and Safety laws, including the issue of licences coming under the legislation.
Each individual state and territory issue licences in their own jurisdiction, including what is known as "high risk work licences" for high risk work. Forklift licences are classed as "high risk work licences".
To obtain a forklift licence in any State or Territory an applicant must undertake a training course with an approved training organisation and then, on completion of the course, apply to the appropriate State or Territory for a forklift licence. The unit of competence is known as the National High Risk Licence Unit of Competence TLILIC2001 – Licence to Operate a Forklift Truck, or in the case of an LO licence Unit of Competence TLILIC2002 – Licence to Operate an Order Picking Forklift Truck. There is a fee attached which varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Forklift licences issued in one jurisdiction are recognized in all. Licence cancellation in one jurisdiction is also recognized in all.
A number of solutions can be found on the market today to reduce occupational hazards caused by forklifts.
These are proximity sensors that detect objects and pedestrians from a few centimeters to several meters. The sensor makes the difference between a person and an object and alerts the driver without useless alarms. Based on stereovision, an algorithm analyses in real time if a person is on a blind zone of the forklift.
Ultrasonic sensors are proximity sensors that detect objects at distances ranging from a few centimeters to several meters. The sensor beeps and measures the time it takes for the signal to return. It does not discriminate between people and objects. Any obstacle located behind the truck will be detected. Normally, this type of sensor is used only for detection in rear areas.
These are solutions that alert forklift drivers of the people found in its vicinity. Pedestrians must carry a radio frequency device (electronic tags) which, emit a signal when a truck detects them, alerting the driver of the potential risk of accident. It detects both in the front and at the back and it differentiates between people and the usual obstacles found in warehouses. For this reason, the driver is only alerted when there is a pedestrian near the truck. There are different solutions on the market:
Every year Modern Materials publishes a Top 20 Global Ranking of Forklift Manufacturers by sales in dollars. A modified copy of the report is below in a sortable table.
|Rank||Company Name||2013 Rank||2014 Revenue||North American Brands||World Headquarters||Country|
|1||Toyota Industries||1||$7,712,000,000||Toyota, BT, Raymond||Aichi||Japan|
|2||KION Group||2||$5,314,000,000||VOLTAS, Linde, STILL, OM, Baoli||Wiesbaden||Germany|
|3||Jungheinrich Lift Truck Corp.||3||$3,033,000,000||Jungheinrich||Hamburg||Germany|
|4||Hyster-Yale Material Handling||4||$2,767,000,000||Hyster, Yale||Cleveland, Ohio||USA|
|5||Crown Equipment Corporation||5||$2,500,000,000||Crown, Hamech||New Bremen, Ohio||USA|
|6||Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America Inc.||6||$2,159,000,000||Mitsubishi, CAT||Sagamihara||Japan|
|7||UniCarriers Americas Corporation||7||$1,533,000,000||Nissan, Barrett, Atlet, TCM, UniCarriers||Tokyo||Japan|
|8||Anhui Forklift Group||8||$1,123,000,000||Heli||Hefei, Anhui||China|
|9||Zhejiang Hangcha Engineering Machinery Co.||9||$971,000,000||HC||Hangzhou||China|
|10||Komatsu Utility Co.||10||$900,000,000||Komatsu, Tusk||Tokyo||Japan|
|11||Clark Material Handling Company||11||$741,000,000||Clark||Seoul||South Korea|
|12||Doosan Infracore||12||$683,000,000||Doosan||Seoul||South Korea|
|13||Hyundai Heavy Industries||13||$477,000,000||Hyundai||Ulsan||South Korea|
|14||Lonking Forklift Company, Ltd||14||$190,000,000||Lonking||Shanghai||China|
|19||Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing||19||$76,000,000||Not available in N.A.||Mumbai||India|
These lifts usually have solid rubber tires, and are common in factories and warehouses. If equipped with pneumatic tires, this kind of lift can be used out of doors.
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