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How to choose the right pallet truck

Choosing the right pallet truck for your operation takes careful consideration.
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A pallet jack, also known as a pallet truck, pump truck, or jigger is a tool used to lift and move pallets. The front wheels are mounted inside the end of the forks, and as the hydraulic jack is raised, the forks are separated vertically from the front wheels, forcing the load upward until it clears the floor.

By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
October 04, 2010

Mark Twain once referred to golf as a good walk spoiled. The phrase could just as easily be applied to using the wrong pallet truck, or walkie, as they’re often known. The right walkie can make short work for the operator moving a pallet around the dock in a distribution center or across a parking lot out in the field. Choosing the wrong machine can make that job as frustrating as a bad round of golf.

Just what is a walkie? “In its most basic element, a walkie is the simplest motorized vehicle for moving pallets,” says Sue Rice, product manager of pallet trucks and stackers for The Raymond Corp. (800-235-7200). “The only other alternative is a manually operated pallet jack.”

The name came about because the operator walks behind or beside the walkie instead of riding on it. Pallet trucks, the class that includes walkies, are designed to handle one or two pallets, and loads of up to 8,000 pounds. They are also among the most common and flexible motorized pallet moving devices available, says Rice. In the distribution center, a walkie is typically used to load or unload trucks, or to move pallets a short distance on the dock. Out in the field, they’re used by delivery drivers to unload pallets and move them across a parking lot. A grocer or big box retailer might use a walkie to move pallets from the stock room to the floor.

It sounds simple, but as Rice points out, there are a number of considerations that go into choosing the right pallet truck for your application. Three of the most important include:

What is the operating environment? A walkie used on the dock may need a spring-loaded caster for better stability going over the dock plate. A walkie destined for a freezer may need a cold storage environment package. If your walkie will be used outside or in a food plant where the equipment is washed down with caustic chemicals, you may look for an under-carriage with stainless steel or nickel-plated pins.

How many hours a day will it operate? The two most common battery packs on walkies are wet cell batteries and gel batteries. A wet cell is less expensive than a gel, but a gel pack doesn’t require maintenance, like watering. A high-use operation may require a heavy-duty battery to get through a shift without a battery swap or charge. That’s a bigger upfront investment, but the battery may provide a longer life than alternative batteries.

Is it maneuverable? When it comes to moving pallets on a dock, most walkies will do the trick. If you’re loading and unloading a truck and making a 90-degree turn to cube out a trailer, you need a walkie capable of tight radius turns so the operator doesn’t have to inch the pallet out. “A walkie capable of a true 180-degree pinwheel turn —that is a turn with one, smooth motion—is going to result in a more productive operator and less pallet and product damage,” says Rice.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.


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