Lift Truck Tips: As temperatures fall, so can core competencies

Fleet owners can minimize damage and boost productivity by ensuring both operators and their equipment stay at optimal temperatures.

By ·

In every business, things change—and that includes the temperature. When lift trucks are made to transition from ambient temperatures to sub-zero environments, condensation and the expansion or contraction of structural elements can quickly cause serious damage. Selecting equipment suited to the working environment is a good first step, but ideal conditions rarely remain that way. By carefully considering a cold storage lift truck’s usage, battery cycle and needed modifications, fleet owners can prevent needless damage and ensure consistent productivity.

“Any time you talk about lift trucks, whatever the temperature and environment, the focus should be on the application first,” says Bill Pfleger, president of Yale Distribution, who emphasizes a focus on the throughput requirements. “Then you can talk about what equipment is needed to optimize the application.”

It is not enough to note the reduction in battery performance associated with operation in cold environments. According to Pfleger, a customer must understand battery power, how it will be refreshed, and how the truck performs throughout the battery cycle. Issues around ergonomics and operator comfort are more pronounced in cold storage, but some users evaluate equipment in a vacuum.

“An operator might be comfortable enough in the lift truck’s cabin while wearing plainclothes, but it’s a different story when they don a freezer suit,” says Pfleger. “Don’t just demo a lift truck on the dealer’s showroom floor. Consider how it will work in the real world.”

When evaluating new equipment for cold storage, customers are often overly price sensitive and do not consider the need for additional heating elements to ensure operator comfort and proper function of controllers. “A customer might want to shortcut certain recommendations. You might save hundreds now on heaters, but you’ll pay later when operator productivity goes down,” says Pfleger.

And, you must be aware of going back and forth between ambient and freezer environments, he says. Some applications use fans to blow condensation off the truck to ease the transition. The optimal setup is a lift truck leaving the freezer temperature of, say, 20 below, and “warming up” in a cold room that’s just below freezing. The battery room might be located in the cold room. If it becomes necessary to use a dedicated freezer truck in an ambient environment, the cold room is a good intermediary to prevent frost from immediately building.

Customers should be prepared for different maintenance programs for lift trucks that spend full time or part time in the freezer. Maintenance cycles tend to be shorter for these lift trucks as fluids, oils and greases break down differently.

“Make sure the equipment is appropriate to the application and that the provider has a good understanding of how you intend to use the equipment,” says Pfleger. “People will call and say, ‘I need a sub-zero truck. Send a quote.’ In that scenario, you’ve got a chance of getting it right, but you’ve got a better chance of getting it wrong, so it’s critical to understand all facets of the application and use.”

About the Author

Josh Bond, Contributing 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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