Give Your Warehouse a Lift: Spec’ing Fork Trucks Can Be Critical

by Katy de Vries

TORONTO, Ont. – More trucking companies are moving towards providing more well rounded services, adding warehousing capabilities to their list of options. As a result, proper spec’ing of forklift trucks to serve those warehousing facilities is fast becoming a key management decision.

Which features make for a smart fork lift truck investment? Which technology trends are worth following? And what are the best financing strategies? To get insights into these crucial questions we picked the brains of warehouse managers with four major carriers: Ted Ross, warehouse supervisor with Totalline Transport, Peter Beaulieu, director of warehousing for Muir’s Cartage, Paul Anderson, warehouse operations manager for Kriska Transport and Amo Harnarine, director of warehousing for J.D. Smith and Sons.

Kriska Transportation, headquartered in Prescott, Ont., has had a few years to perfect its fork lift truck spec’ing strategies. It has been offering warehousing since 1997, working hand-in-hand with its cross-docking operations.

“When a building became available and Kriska decided to buy it to use as a Kriska warehouse, some of our customers were looking for some space to house material, so we decided to start this sideline to the transportation end of the business,” recalls Anderson.

Anderson suggests the biggest thing when spec’ing a forklift truck is to make sure it can handle what you want it to.

“For us, a side shift would be mandatory, but we don’t have an awful lot of heavy material, but if you do, it would be important that the lift can handle the weights you require it to lift,” said Anderson.

Another trick, said Anderson, is to take a look at the customer base and the type of customers the company expects to attract and the customer’s products.

This will dictate what type of lift truck you will need to purchase or lease.

The equipment used in the warehouse depends on the type of warehousing offered and the amount of space available but must be appropriate for each individual situation.

Muir’s customer base had been pushing the carrier to provide storage so a little over a year ago Muir’s began its warehousing component, explained Beaulieu.

“Another thing we have done to contribute to the value-added operation is invested in packaging equipment because a customer needed someone to repackage product from rail cars and store it.”

At Muir’s, there are two types of operations: a third-party warehouse business and a cross dock operation for the cartage business.

“The cross dock would probably have about 50 forklift trucks and they are compact, low mast trucks because their job is to load and unload trailers so they don’t exceed the height of two pallets, but in the warehouse, we have triple stage, high mast fork trucks because they are required to store products on shelves up to 24 feet high,” said Beaulieu.

One thing that can easily get overlooked, but is a very important part of the truck, is the seat, according to Anderson.

“It is something that you might not think about, but realistically, these operators are sitting on these machines for many hours each day and they need to be able to sit comfortably and ergonomically correct. It isn’t something that helps you lift, but it contributes to something that is just as or more important than that – the health of the operator,” he said.

Some companies decide to establish brand allegiance, while others choose the machine best suited for each particular job in the warehouse.

Muir’s decided to form a partnership and focus on one brand and one supplier because it gives them buying power or leasing power and a closer relationship with the supplier, said Beaulieu.

Amo Harnarine, director of warehousing for J.D. Smith and Sons said it’s important to his company to stick with one brand of forklift truck.

The carrier often shares equipment across its five locations during busy seasons and it is critical that operators be able to use any machine comfortably.

However, both Kriska and Totalline say they have a little bit of everything in their fleets.

Generally speaking the life of a lift truck depends greatly on its usage.

“You can pretty well deem what you want the replacement cycle to be for your lift truck depending on how many hours you use it, however, the standard is somewhere around seven years,” said Harnarine.

Totalline’s Ross likens the life cycle of a forklift truck to that of a car.

“Just like a car, if you commute and travel up and down the highway a lot, you will put more mileage on the car which means you will need a new one sooner than someone who doesn’t drive a great deal. Fork trucks work the same way, and for us, we run our operation 24/7 so the fork trucks get a lot of hours put into them,” he said.

Because this equipment is key to the function of a warehouse and also because it gets used a lot, leasing has become a more attractive option for warehouse managers.

“I have been with this company for 29 years and we have always purchased our trucks, but this year is the first year we have been looking at the leasing option and I think that is what we will do. It helps in the preparation of budgets with fixed costs and it also looks after maintenance costs,” Harnarine said.

Technological developments are guiding forklift trucks operations as well.

A wider application of AC (alternating current) technology and cleaner emissions from IC (internal combustion) engine trucks are adding yet another choice to the bill when spec’ing a fork truck.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of truck, said Beaulieu.

An electric truck is cleaner, but requires charging and battery changes, which could mean some down time. Propane trucks do produce exhaust fumes and dust but they can run 24/7, which is why Muir’s chooses to run with propane trucks, he added.

Another important consideration is to ensure there are carbon monoxide detectors in the warehouse when working with propane trucks, and to make sure it is well ventilated, even in the winter months, said Ross.

“We have just heard word of a new propane that manufacturers are promoting that burns cleaner and is odourless, so we are looking into that for our trucks, but it is still in its developmental stages at this point.”

While every warehouse works differently, the four warehouse managers Truck News spoke to all agreed that training and safety are the critical components to running a successful operation.

“I can’t stress training enough,” Harnarine said. “Our designated trainer works with the operators over and over again in terms of the policies and operations and we also have regular safety meetings that everybody is involved with. It is our obligation to our employees to continue to train them.”

Although the warehouse environment lends itself to the possibility of damaging equipment or even worse, injury-causing accidents, training can compensate for that in a big way.

All operators must be certified and licensed to operate forklift trucks and most companies have their own certification that an operator must obtain after being hired on by the company.

“Operators not only have to be trained and certified, they have to be very familiar with their surroundings and the equipment they are using. They have to be aware of the restrictions on the machine too,” Anderson said.

Discipline is a big factor in how the forklift truck operators operate these machines.

“It comes down to training and company policy but also the company’s attitude towards safety and discipline. If you insist on good housekeeping, for example, it sets an attitude of caring for a customer’s product and the safety of the employees and this attitude will flow through to how people operate their equipment,” said Beaulieu.

Harnarine agreed. He said his company’s approach to safety plays a big role in the outcome of their warehouse operations.

“Since I began my career as a fork truck operator, I have some insight as to what sorts of things are important out on the floor and so I like to try to make it as convenient for the operators as possible with the simple things. I ensure t
here are pens and paper on the trucks and I make sure the trucks are maintained regularly. We make sure there are all the bells and whistles that reflect safety on the trucks,” he said. “Another thing we do is hold fork truck rodeos regularly, because it is a fun way for employees to take pride in their job and their company and it also can improve driving skills.”

He said taking care of employees is the number one priority.

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