Other Voices: A look under the hood for lift truck savings

Instead of ignoring a forklift fleet and its associated costs, asking the right questions can lead to substantial savings.

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Editor’s Note: The following column by Norm Saenz, managing director at St. Onge Co., and Steve Sepmoree, senior consultant at St. Onge Co., is part of Modern’s Other Voices column. The series features ideas, opinions and insights from end users, analysts, systems integraters and OEMs. Click on the link to learn about submitting a column for consideration.

The latest industry survey information, suggests that the majority of warehouses in today’s industry are manual operations. This results in the workforce accounting for the biggest operational cost, but forklift related maintenance costs come in a close second or third. Battery management is a large portion of these costs, given that the cost of new batteries is in the $3,000 to $7,000 price range.

However, managers often stay clear of savings related to forklifts since they are a necessary means to moving product and the use of historical information can be time consuming to gather and manage. How do you keep-up with your personal car maintenance? It’s not always on the top of your mind to get a quarterly oil change and regular tune-up. Now imagine a fleet of 20 or more lift trucks driving through a warehouse with multiple drivers.

Forklift vendors are well aware of the challenge to maintain forklifts, and are providing more ways to answer technical questions related to batteries, including battery-mounted technologies for monitoring a battery’s charge, discharge, water levels, and temperatures. There is also a growing usage of forklift Fleet Optimization Systems (FOS), which provides the basic status of batteries, and includes forklift maintenance, impact and usage information that impacts ongoing costs.

Before managers avoid the potential savings associated with lift trucks, they should seek the answers to these questions:

1. Do I have too many or not enough forklifts?
2. How many hours are being put on the forklifts per shift? In a day?
3. Do I have the right mix of forklifts with the right capacities and functionality required?
4. How much am I spending on forklift maintenance?
5. Are operators properly managing forklift batteries?
6. How and when am I charging my forklift batteries?
7. At what point do I start replacing forklifts due to growing maintenance expense?
8. Should I change out my older forklifts due to high maintenance costs and/or reliability issues?
9. Is my vehicle checklist being filled out to ensure compliance with OSHA regulations?
10. Have the credentials of the operators using the forklifts expired?
11. Are there accidents that take place that are not reported?
12. Are damaged trucks and rack uprights becoming more frequent?
13. Are operators lifting loads beyond the capacity of their assigned trucks?

Don’t forget about forklifts when searching for cost savings within your warehouse. They are often one of the largest capital requirements for new warehouse projects. Between batteries, rack repairs and general maintenance they can quickly become one of the top operational costs within a manual warehouse.

Norm Saenz, Jr., is managing director of St. Onge Company, a York, Pa.-based consulting firm specializing in planning, engineering and implementations related to improving warehousing, manufacturing and logistics operations. Norm has 22 years of experience formulating strategies in several industries and involving material handling equipment, space/layout planning, labor modeling and related technologies/systems. Norm is located in Dallas and can be reached at (817) 919-1753 or by email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


About the Author

Josh Bond, Senior Editor
Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.

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The View from the New “Single Window”
The single window, officially known as the "International Trade Data System," operates via the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency's Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) platform, and serves as a single point of contact for all trade filings.
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