Lift Truck Tips: Don’t get left out in the cold

The right preventative measures can ensure safe, productive and efficient forklift operation in even the harshest freezers.

By ·

Of all the costs associated with operating a cold storage facility, lift trucks are among the slipperiest to pin down. A cold warehouse’s capacity, throughput and cooling expenses can be quantified, but that environment’s impact on lift trucks, batteries and productivity are more nebulous. To help identify some of the opportunities and dodge the pitfalls of cold storage applications, Modern spoke with Crown Equipment’s Jim Gaskell, director of global technology and business development.

First, Gaskell says, it’s important to buy a forklift made at the factory for cold conditions. Special considerations should be made at the point of assembly for components including control cabling, switches, hoses, greases and even paint. “Never let someone convince you they can retrofit a truck for the cold,” Gaskell says, “it doesn’t work out well.”

The right tires are important for the icy or slippery conditions, and the oil blend should reflect the application, whether a 50/50 freezer oil blend or 100% freezer oil in a blast freezer, for example. Nearby equipment like strip curtains between temperature zones should also be inspected for potential catch points that can damage equipment, the curtains and energy efficiency.

The physics of lead-acid batteries create dramatically different performance in cold and ambient environments, and it’s critical maintenance and charging practices are adjusted accordingly. When a battery drops to 0 degrees—even if fully charged—it has already lost 20% of its available capacity, Gaskell says. Some customers equip cold storage lift trucks with the biggest battery possible, but when it comes time to charge, Gaskell says low temperatures will cause battery chargers to detect an artificially low reading of volts per cell. This can confuse the charger into beginning the charge at a later point in the charge profile. Some chargers have settings for cold profiles, but battery-mounted modules are capable of communicating temperature to the charger so it can account for the inflated voltage readings.

The penalties for over-discharging are more severe in cold environments as well. As it discharges, the specific gravity of a battery cell gets closer to water. If not charged in time, it could freeze and permanently damage the battery. Lithium-ion batteries are susceptible to many of the same temperature-related impacts as lead-acid, and in some cases the effects are even more pronounced.

Gaskell cautions customers to select equipment with enough compartment space for an operator to bundle up and still be comfortable and safe. Similar considerations should be made for interaction with controls and touchscreens while wearing heavy gloves. He notes an increased trend toward narrow aisle cold storage for pallet-in, pallet-out applications. Narrow aisles lend themselves to turret trucks that can have heated operator compartments.

“If the goal is to keep the operator in the freezer,” Gaskell says, “then with a heated cab they can wear a T-shirt and stay in there as long as the truck holds a charge.”

Whether bundled or heated, an operator alone in a freezer is rarely subject to much oversight, Gaskell says. “There are not a lot of people running around in there with clipboards, so there tends to be a lot of abuse,” he says. “Maintenance becomes more important in the freezer than in dry warehouses, where there is a big difference in the level of supervision.”

View Cold Storage Products and Accessories

TKO VertiCool cold storage door
Door resists hurricane strength wind pressure.



Flexi narrow aisle forklift
Forklift’s mast picks from both sides.



Legacy Arctic Battery
Battery stands up to freezer use.



ME industrial forklift line
Forklifts suitable for cold storage use.



Freezer Aire Curtain
Reduce frost buildup at freezer openings.



Three-Wheel Stand-Up Lift Truck
Navigate cold storage with lift truck.




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.

Subscribe to Logistics Management Magazine!

Subscribe today. It's FREE!
Get timely insider information that you can use to better manage your entire logistics operation.
Start your FREE subscription today!

Article Topics

All Topics
Latest Whitepaper
Making the Case for Comprehensive Aftermarket Lift Truck Services
Service After the Sale: Looking Beyond Acquisition Costs
Download Today!
From the January 2019 Logistics Management Magazine Issue
Seaports on West, East, and Gulf coasts are all poised to compete on one major imperative: investment in transformational technologies.
2019 Rate Outlook: Pressure Builds
Lift Trucks join the connected enterprise
View More From this Issue
Subscribe to Our Email Newsletter
Sign up today to receive our FREE, weekly email newsletter!
Latest Webcast
2019 Rate Outlook: Will this be the year rates skyrocket?
Join Logistics Management's Patrick Burnson as he hosts a panel of fuel, trade and logistics experts who share their insights on rate patterns across all major transport modes to help shippers prepare their freight transportation budget for the coming year.
Register Today!
EDITORS' PICKS
2019 Rate Outlook: Pressure Builds
In 2019, the world economy will enter a third straight year of broad-based growth, but many...
2019 Transportation Management Systems (TMS) Market Update: Keeping pace with the times
The transportation management systems market is growing right along with the number of challenges...

The Logistics News that Shaped 2018
Every year at this time, group news editor Jeff Berman combs through the mountain of news that was...
Land O’Lakes lock in Texas-based capacity
Faced with the challenge of securing capacity in specific lanes, the iconic company broke with...