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How lift truck fleet managers can improve efficiencies and reduce costs

With a few simple prescriptions, lift truck fleet managers can plan for the unplanned, reduce costs, and ramp up productivity and safety measures.
By Josh Bond, Contributing Editor
May 01, 2012

Recognize and change wasteful processes
Even the best service provider is sometimes limited by the demands of the customer. Adams offers an example: “Say a truck is oozing fluid. It becomes a fire drill. The technician is trying to explain what’s needed to repair the truck and what the costs will be, but the customer is saying ‘just get the truck back up and running.’ When you get the invoice later and you don’t like what you see, it’s a little too late. Was it really essential to fix that truck right then and there?”

This example shows how the practice of pre-authorization for repairs can help a customer save money. Before the technician begins the work, a quick exchange of information could save thousands. Most technicians carry laptops that give them a pretty good idea of the total cost of a repair, says Adams. Similarly, managers can call up the lift truck’s history and see that the same repair has been performed four times in the past year, or that the repair is still under warranty, and make an informed decision.

A service provider and customer can also work together to determine appropriate intervals for planned maintenance (PM). With an eye toward predictable budgets, many customers schedule PMs based on the calendar. In actuality, it might make more sense to schedule PMs based on hours of use, says Adams.

“If utilization goes up and the service provider is still servicing on calendar intervals, you will have break-downs,” says Adams.

“Or if utilization goes down you’ll have PMs done more frequently than necessary.”

Whether by calendar or hours of use, tracking and reporting technology can enable a customer to communicate real-time with the service provider and can ensure the PM schedule is appropriate. As Gaskell puts it: “The productive volume of the warehouse is tied to the usage of equipment, so it makes sense for maintenance costs to be tied to usage as well.”

But even the best service provider can only do so much, so it falls to each operator and fleet manager to ensure day-to-day care is as efficient as possible. “A planned maintenance program improves productivity and helps make for a safer workplace, which is often overlooked,” says McKean. “If you have no program in place, what you’re really saying is you’re not taking care of your operators.”


In fact, OSHA requires that operators perform a daily lift truck inspection checklist, says Adams. But what happens when they find something? “Most customers do a decent job of completing the checklist,” he says, “but there’s often not a well-defined process for what to do if something fails inspection.”

Say the horn doesn’t work. Is that serious enough to lockout the truck? Does the operator make that call? The manager? The maintenance manager?

“Or say the seat belt is frayed, but it works,” says Adams. “Instead of dispatching a service technician for the seat belt, you can notify your provider to bring a replacement during the next planned service visit.”

Plan, plan, plan
Some companies make decisions in the name of planning that in fact limit their options. For instance, the decision to cut the capital expense budget for lift trucks at the beginning of the year might sound like responsible planning. The customer has placed a reasonable upper limit on expenses, right? Not necessarily.

“The number one bad habit is not planning in your capital expense budget,” says Brian Markison, senior manager for national accounts at Nissan Forklift. “The only time people talk about forklifts is when there’s a problem. It’s never up-front, and it’s the first thing to get cut from the capital expense budget. Later in the year, you end up putting $5,000 into a forklift that might have been worth $1,500 beforehand, all because you didn’t plan for its retirement.”

Markison recommends classifying a fleet into new, intermediate, and aging forklifts. Customers can then plan for equipment retirement, and will know exactly where to find the oldest and most costly trucks. Additional savings can come by setting cost-of-repair thresholds at each classification and holding to them, he says.

As new equipment is purchased, customers should note any advances in lift truck technology that will allow them to reduce maintenance costs over the long term. According to Frank Devlin, marketing manager of advanced technologies for Raymond, some new lift trucks have a 500-hour PM service interval, as much as double the standard interval. Look for more durable and reliable components, says Devlin, and ask about forklifts with extended run-times that can reduce the number of battery swaps and the associated maintenance costs.

Be aware of the “curve”
When customers build an awareness of what is happening in their facility, what’s happening in other facilities, and what options are available to them, they have set out on Polk’s maintenance awareness curve.

To create a maintenance program that anticipates and optimizes costs associated with the unplanned, customers will need to challenge assumptions and implement disciplined processes. Fortunately, there are resources available to make the transition justifiable and smooth.

“The tools to let customers know what they are spending have improved drastically over the last five years,” says Gaskell. “They don’t have any excuse not to know exactly what’s going on with their fleet.”

click here to download the PDF article
click here to download PDF article


About the Author

Josh Bond
Contributing Editor

Josh Bond is a contributing editor to Modern. In addition to working on Modern’s annual Casebook and being a member of the Show Daily team, Josh covers lift trucks for the magazine.

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