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Types Of Forklifts – Everything You Need To Know

by Jordan Harris
Types Of Forklifts

Designed to lift and move a ton of materials, a forklift is among the most valuable machines one can invest in to convey heavy materials on site. But like everything else, there are different styles and types of forklifts. As a result, it can be somewhat hard to tell which one may be suitable for a certain environment.

Whether you’re looking for a forklift that can carefully lift heavy machines or objects, or one that can place items or materials high on top of the shelves, this guide will give you some thoughtful insight into some of the most common types of forklifts and their uses.

Popular Types Of Forklifts

1) Counterbalance Forklifts

Also called a counterbalance forklift truck, a counterbalance forklift operates much like a crane. The name originates from the forks at the front and the weight at the back to counterbalance the load. This balancing method allows the machine to lift and move heavy weights compared to when the weight was absent.

Electrical-powered counterbalance forklifts can be put up with a lighter counterweight at the back because their battery offers stability to the vehicle and supplies power. Counterbalance forklifts don’t have outrigger arms to allow the truck the ability to move to the precise racking location.

Because of their additional measure, counterbalance forklifts are often used for heavy purposes. They have cabs fitted for stand-up or sit-down operation and are usually used in warehouses and loading docks.

2) Three-Wheel Counterbalance Forklifts

These forklifts resemble the regular four-wheel counterbalance forklifts. The only difference is that they have three wheels. This gives this machine the advantage of enhanced navigational control, including the ability to easily access storage spaces and narrow aisles, as well as move in tight circles.

These counterbalance forklifts are ideal for both outside and inside use as well as load racking. The tight counterbalance and maneuverability collectively ensure the vehicle operates optimum productivity.

3) Warehouse Forklifts

The warehouse forklift is the most standard type of forklift that most people tend to resonate with. These machines resemble a yellow golf cart and are equipped with twin forks at the front. As the name suggests, they are mainly used in warehouses where large goods or raw materials are stored. They are perfect for unloading and loading pallets as well as transporting and off-loading items from delivery trucks.

Most warehouse forklifts can hoist goods of at least 5,000 lbs. However, larger heavyweight models can lift to 25,000 lbs. The most common forklifts include the Komatsu 20 BX50 Hyster and the Toyota 3-Wheel Electric Forklift.

4) Side Loader Forklifts

A side loader forklift is also one of the most common types of forklifts used in warehouses. Their forks are attached to the sides, so the driver stands in a sideways compartment as the side loader unloads and loads cargo on its side. Because they operate sideways, these machines are suitable for use in narrow aisles or for lifting cargo that isn’t as straightforward as a pallet.

The machines can convey long sheets of pipes, wood, or other stretched materials without blocking entranceways or corners. As a result, they are often used in lumber yards to move wood off the wall storage. Hyundai, Toyota, Yale, and Raymond Corporation are some of the top brand manufacturers of side loaders.

5) Rough Terrain Forklift

Sometimes, a standard forklift may not suit outdoor work, rough or challenging terrain. The tires may not be designed with specific slopes into consideration. They’re often designed to fit in a warehouse and work fairly flat surfaces. In such a scenario, it would be best to utilize a rough terrain forklift.

These forklifts come with unique features suited for an outdoor environment. They are equipped with pneumatic, oversized tires that are inflatable with thicker threads for significant balance and stability on uneven surfaces. Their engines are also way more powerful than their indoor counterparts. This enables the forklift to attain higher speed, enhanced traction, and better maneuverability for conveying bulky cargo over mud, ground, and even ice and snow.

If that weren’t enough, you could also expect these machines to have a calibrated counterbalance at the back to prevent it from toppling over. Most rough terrain forklifts can shift cargo between 6,000 to 8,000 lbs.

6) Industrial Forklift

When a colossal consignment needs to be hauled, you’ll want a robust and reliable truck/machinery to do so. And industrial forklifts are well suited for the job. These trucks combine a telehandler’s practicality with the reliability and mobility of a standard forklift. Essentially, they are extremely powerful and perfect for enormous payloads.

An average industrial forklift has a maximum capacity of approximately 15 tons. This makes it perfect for industrial surroundings where such weights are usual. Although it can hardly reach tricky places like the telehandler, the industrial forklift can reach higher places than you can expect to form such a forklift. It’s ideally used on specialized tasks since warehouses won’t have much use for a powerful lifting truck.

7) Telehandler Forklift

Also called the telescopic handler, this forklift features a boom and an extendable arm instead of a standard mast that is a characteristic of other reach or counterbalance forklifts. They’re also fitted with practical attachments such as a lift table, bucket, and pallet fork at the rear. This enables them to attain a maximum height of 57ft and lift between 5,500 to 10,000 lbs of weight.

Telehandler forklifts are perfect for unloading consignment in weird angles and tight spaces. Due to this aptitude, they are usually used in the agricultural industry and the construction industry. They have also replaced rough terrain forklifts in these fields because they offer more versatility and flexibility.

Another significant advantage these forklifts have is that they can access either side of a delivery truck with only one side; this enhances work efficiency. However, due to their complex design and significant size, they can somewhat be unreliable and much costly than the counterbalance forklifts.

8) Walkie Stacker

Although walkie stackers aren’t exactly forklifts, they are close enough to qualify. They appear somewhat strange, but they are also convenient in warehouse settings. Sometimes you may need the accessibility of a pallet jack beside the energy of a small forklift. And what better way to achieve that than with the walkie stacker?

You can quickly and securely transport cargo from one warehouse section to the other. They have a more straightforward design compared to most forklifts. Because of their small size, they don’t have a cab for the driver to sit in. Instead, you operate behind the stacker and move cargo as if it were an advanced pallet jack.

Just like a pallet jack, these devices have less power behind them and are pretty slow. However, they possess sufficient compactness and maneuverability to be extremely useful in most constricted spaces in the warehouse. You can also lift some substantial weight to the third shelf of most warehouses.

9) Pallet Jack

Also known as pump trucks, pallet jacks are small-sized types of forklifts that are designed to carry loads in tight corners. They have a tiny footprint that allows them to fit into close quarters.

Pallet jacks are often used in warehouses, retailers, and grocery stores and can lift 5,500 lbs. With simple controls, just about anyone can use them to move heavy pallets easily.

10) Order Picker Forklift

Also known as cherry pickers, an order picker forklift is a sub-category of a power pallet and can attain maximum heights of 32 ft. These machines allow operators to pick one or two items from the racks instead of bringing down entire loads and pallets. This makes them a favorable choice for customer order stores and warehouses.

11) Reach Forklifts

These are types of forklifts are used in warehouses and fulfillment centers mainly for indoor work. Their unique ability to extend their forks beyond the compartment allows them to reach the shelves and store material in racks in such a manner that standard forklifts cannot. They also feature excellent maneuverability and can operate in confined settings.

Reach forklifts have stabilized legs at the front, which take the impact of the weight and steady the load. They don’t need a counterweight because they have an electric-powered battery and stabilizing legs.

These types of forklifts are ideal for warehouse operations but are not usually used outdoors. Due to their low ground clearance level, they can’t work on uneven surfaces. Besides, their electrical system may become out of order if jarred frequently.

Some reach forklifts contain a tilting cab mechanism that makes it easier for the operator to oversee the work. Others include an open overhead guard for maximum visibility. Occasionally, these trucks also have featured cameras on their fork carriage attached to an LCD screen in the cab. This enables the operator to navigate and rack cargo seamlessly. The system can either be wireless or wired, although wired systems are thought to be better than wireless due to lack of signal interference.

Reach forklifts come in three main types. Namely:

  • Saddle trucks
  • Stand-up trucks
  • Double-deep trucks

Saddle Trucks

Saddle trucks have forks as well as the ability to slide beneath the grip edges of the consignment for more secure delivery. They are perfect for putting several loads on a bay, which you ought to access on different sides.

Stand-Up Trucks

These are the most widespread reach forklifts. They can typically lift one load per bay. Twin forks located at the front can effortlessly slide under a palletized freight and convey it to the top rack.

Double Deep Trucks

These trucks somewhat resemble stand-up trucks. The only difference is that double deep trucks have longer forks so that they can lift several palletized loads per bay. These long forks can go up to the back of the bay.

Classification Of Forklifts – Types Of Forklifts

There are several different classes of forklifts ranging from category 1 to 7. These classifications are based on the forklifts’ usage, fuel type, and features. And knowing them can help you decide on which one to acquire, whether you choose to rent, lease, or buy your next forklift.

Class I: Electric Motor Rider Trucks

Electric motor rider trucks are designed for indoor settings where air quality is a concern. They are ideal for loading and offloading, handling pallets, tractor-trailers, and various other applications in retail, food storage, and general warehousing. The battery also counterbalances these forklifts, and one classic advantage they possess is that they don’t produce any toxic emissions and are very quiet.

There are versatile trucks in this class, ranging from 3,000 to 40,000 pounds, all with electrical systems between 24 volts and 80 volts. They are highly flexible and can navigate the back of a tractor-trailer to grab pallets. Other models feature superior maneuverability and can easily fit into tight places.

Class II: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle

These forklifts are ideal for companies that opt for narrow aisle operation. This means they can access ore racking spaces without expanding the current warehouse. Due to their compact size, most units are stand-up models, though other sit-down versions do exist in the market.

These forklifts comprise order pickers, which have a platform to lower or raise the operator or reach forklifts that can reach up to load pallets. Other side loaders also fall under this classification. They can support up to 5,000 lbs. of weight.

Class III: Electric Motor Hand Truck

Class III forklifts include hand-controlled forklifts. This means the operator controls the lift in front of the truck using a steering tilter. Every control is mounted above the tiller, so the operator moves sideways to steer the truck.

Class III forklifts are battery-powered, and smaller size units use industrial batteries. These forklifts are ideal for tiny storage facilities and have a maximum capacity weight of 8,000 lbs. The most popular types that fall in this category include counterbalance and walkies.

Class IV: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks With Cushion Tires

Just by the name, one can sum up what they can get from this category. These are internal combustion forklifts with cushion tires and are powered by gasoline, diesel, compressed natural gas, or LP gas. This category of sit-down forklifts is meant for indoor use. Their compact cushion tires offer smooth indoor or ride surfaces. And because they are not air-filled, they’re puncture-proof.

Class IV forklifts are used vastly for warehousing, retail, distribution, and automotive applications. They are better for moving pallets of commodities from the loading dock to the storage area. Their weight capacity ranges between 3,000 and 15,500 lbs, although other powerful specialized models can accommodate up to 80,000 lbs of weight.

Class V: Internal Combustion Engine – Pneumatic Tires

Class V forklifts are designed for outdoor work, although they can also be used indoors in massive warehouses. They are similar to Class IV, only that Class V forklifts have pneumatic tires. Because of their array of capabilities coupled with the pneumatic tires, they are an ideal choice for all types of warehouses.

For more jagged open-air applications, these trucks are fitted with pneumatic tires to lessen the risk of getting punctured while performing the task. Also, their combustion engines can be powered by compressed natural gas, LP gas, and diesel. They can support loads of between 3,000 lbs to 55,000 lbs.

Class VI: Electric And Internal Combustion Engine Tractors

If perhaps you’ve been at the airport, you’ve definitely come across this category of forklifts. Also known as tuggers, class VI forklifts are used to pull along instead of lifting luggage. Models are versatile and can be powered either by internal combustion or electric engines.

Class VII: Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks

Class VII forklifts come with massive flotation tires for outdoor use on rigid surfaces. They are usually used at construction sites to convey and lift materials to specific locations. You’ll also find them at lumberyards and auto recyclers.

These forklifts are powered by diesel and come equipped with different types of masts. Occasionally, they have a telescoping mast for enhanced reach. Operating them, however, requires highly trained personnel.

Choosing The Right Forklift For The Job – Types Of Forklifts

When choosing a forklift, selecting one that perfectly fits your needs can be quite a hassle. But with diverse uses, it’s vital to find the right type of forklift for the job.

1) Lift Height And Loading Capacity, Based On The Types Of Forklifts

How high do you want to lift your cargo? If you’re constantly required to move goods to or from very high points, you’ll want a forklift that can meet those height requirements—considering the maximum load capacity required. Any time the mast is upstretched, particularly if it contains a load, it’s essential to be aware of the amount of weight that can safely be carried and the optimum speed the equipment must move to avert tipping.

Most common forklift capacities include:

  • 3,000 lbs or less
  • 3,000–6,500 lbs
  • 6,500–8,000 lbs
  • 8,000 – 12,000 lbs
  • 12,000–17,500 lbs
  • 17,500+ lbs

2) Fuel Type For Varying Types Of Forklifts

Forklifts operate on two fuel options: Electric and internal combustion.

Electric-Type Forklifts

Electric forklifts are powered by substantial lead-acid batteries and typically provide sufficient power for a single standard eight-hour shift or nearly six hours of constant use. The biggest plus of this system is that it gives out zero emissions and it’s highly efficient in terms of fuel.

These models also have a higher upfront cost, unlike the internal combustion models- essentially 20% to 40% more. Depending on the efficacy of your charger and the cost of electricity in your area, a typical industrial battery would be recharged for around $3 per charge.

Internal Combustion-Type Forklifts (IC)

IC engines operate on various fuels, including diesel fuel, gasoline, compressed natural gas (CNG), or liquid propane gas (LPG). The main advantage of an internal combustion forklift is its ability to operate in any setting and be refueled on the spot. On average, you can pay about $25 to $35 to fill a 33-lb propane tank and $30 to fill a seven-gallon diesel tank.

3) Tire Selection Based On Your Types Of Forklifts

There are different tires types available for forklifts that will significantly be determined by your operating location. This entails outdoor or indoor settings, rough terrain, or paved surfaces.

The most common types of tires are solid, pneumatic, or cushion tires designed from different materials.

Solid tires are made for outdoor operation and heavy-duty lifting. This is because of their solid design, which makes the tires durable. They hardly puncture, go flat, or pop. They are often used in recycling centers, lumber yards, construction zones, and similar environments with nails, metal shards, and other possible damaging elements. This undeniably also makes them costly than pneumatic tires.

A pneumatic tire operated on a diesel or gasoline lift truck works similarly to a standard truck or car. Pneumatic tires are broader and longer than cushion tires and are designed from rubber and filled with compressed air. These tires work well outdoors on unpaved terrain, gravel, or asphalt. But just like a bike or car tire, they can be punctured.

Cushion tires are made of solid rubber. They feature a small chassis positioned lower to the ground. This gets them ahead in terms of maneuverability by allowing a small turn radius. Unfortunately, these tires are limited to indoor use because of their low ground clearance.

4) To Rent Or Buy Your Preferred Types Of Forklifts?

The duration of need and the fund you have ought to be the deciding factors when renting or buying a forklift. If you’re carrying heavy items when putting up a new business or simply doing a temporary construction project, renting the equipment is the best choice. On the other hand, purchasing a forklift is a crucial investment. Especially if it’s a necessity for the daily functioning of your operation, it will ultimately pay for itself.

Just keep in mind that if you buy one, you’ll still have to consider the recurrent costs of regular maintenance, fuel/power, and other associated expenses down the road.

Facts about Forklift Types and Classifications

  • Forklifts are versatile vehicles for builders used for lifting heavy loads in warehouses or construction sites.
  • There are several types of forklifts, including the warehouse forklift, side loader, counterbalance forklift, telehandler, heavy-duty forklift, rough terrain forklift, pallet jack, walkie stacker, and order picker.
  • The warehouse forklift is the most common and recognizable type and is used for loading and unloading pallets in facilities with many items in inventory.
  • Counterbalance forklifts are popular and have no extending arms, making them suitable for situations requiring direct movement to the load.
  • The telehandler combines a crane and forklift with a boom and extendable arm for reaching into tight spaces and odd angles.
  • The heavy-duty forklift combines the functionalities of a warehouse forklift with a telehandler and is ideal for transporting heavy loads in industrial applications.
  • Rough terrain forklifts are designed for outdoor job sites with uneven surfaces and have sturdy pneumatic tires that are oversized and threaded for better balance and stability.
  • Pallet jacks are specialized forklifts with a small footprint, allowing them to fit into tight spaces and lift small loads in tight quarters.
  • Walkie stackers lack power, maneuverability, and speed but reach greater heights than traditional pallet jacks.
  • Forklifts are organized into seven classifications based on their fuel option and use, and operators must be aware of necessary forklift safety practices for each classification and be certified to operate them.

Conclusion – Types Of Forklifts

Many types of forklifts nowadays vary in different aspects, from their tire composition and fuel type to their height and lift capacity. It’s essential to note such factors when selecting a forklift for your job. If you’ve never operated a forklift before, you’ll want to go through the operating tips first.

With their profound ability to hoist and convey cargo of various sizes, forklifts play a significant role on any job site.

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