MRO Lift Trucks: Use the right tool for the job

By implementing periodic maintenance programs, telematics and Web-based fleet management services, lift truck managers can monitor fleet performance, increase productivity and reduce expenses.

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No matter how small or large their fleets are, lift truck managers are constantly challenged to monitor the performance of their equipment, track maintenance costs and find new methods to eliminate waste and increase uptime and throughput.

Optimizing the layer of tools can improve your operations from old-fashioned, paper-based, pre-shift inspection forms to the most innovative telematics technology available. Because lift trucks impact productivity throughout a warehouse or distribution center, decisions informed by these tools have a direct impact. One misstep and a fleet manager might end up spending money when they should be earning it instead.

To ease their efforts as they strive to reduce costs and improve productivity, managers should consider three key lift truck maintenance best practices: disciplined periodic maintenance programs; telematics solutions; and Web-based fleet management services. As fleet managers prepare to initiate these practices, lift truck suppliers can help them make sense of their options and find the right tools for the job.

Maintenance programs and agreements
As managers will attest, lift truck operations can be complicated at times, as a seemingly endless number of moving parts are involved. Even if everything appears to be functioning properly, inefficiency in just one component of the process or piece of equipment can dramatically affect uptime and throughput.

“Since an estimated 6% (or less) of companies are currently able to accurately identify their lift truck operating expenses, including repairs, the implementation of a proper maintenance program is vital,” says Steven LaFevers, director of aftermarket solutions for Yale Materials Handling Corp.

Yet, more often than not, most companies choose to only respond to lift truck maintenance issues when they arise, rather than implementing formal, periodic maintenance programs in advance and addressing problems before they result in bigger losses.

“As a result of periodic maintenance programs, operations can ensure that each lift truck in a fleet receives timely, thorough inspections, which not only helps ensure greater uptime and productivity, but also improves operator confidence,” says Jay Costello, director of training for Hyster.
Whether companies choose to outsource the process to third parties or inspect for inefficiencies themselves, properly trained technicians have to understand what needs to be repaired and when. Preventative maintenance will improve utilization as well as increase the longevity of the equipment. Ideally, each lift truck will be maintained for its maximum usable life—and no longer.

LaFevers believes lift truck managers should consider outsourcing maintenance agreements, whether their companies have one truck or a fleet of trucks, so they can spend more time focusing on their core competencies, rather than lift truck maintenance and management.

“Outsourced maintenance agreements not only help minimize downtime, but the monitoring of maintenance expenses and productivity per vehicle also helps companies plan their operating costs and simplify their fleet budgets,” LaFevers adds. “They can provide companies a fixed cost per hour for each truck in a fleet. Additionally, lift truck performance can be benchmarked to other trucks in the fleet as a productivity guideline.”

Telematics: Real-time, actionable business intelligence
Although they have been used for decades, the inaccuracies and inefficiencies of paper-based, pre-shift inspection forms can be significant. This is often due to human error, whether the forms are not filled out properly or the operator associates a form with the wrong truck. To ensure thorough and timely maintenance records, some companies are seeking alternatives.

“Managers and supervisors are taking a more asset management-based approach to their lift trucks,” Costello says. “They want an accurate picture of how equipment is performing and where changes need to be made to improve outcomes.”

Electronic checklists using telematics solutions offer lift truck managers an alternative to paper-based, pre-shift inspection forms with real-time, actionable business intelligence. The forms are foundational to optimizing per-lift truck usage, labor and maintenance costs.

Rather than reconciling stacks of paper forms and acting on them after the fact, managers are directed toward the most important issues they should address at any given time. Over time, patterns emerge that reveal low-hanging fruit and allow supervisors to manage by exception.

“As they identify where their needs are, focus their efforts around the issues that need to be improved and then monitor improvement over time, operators will not only save money, but also increase the safety of their facilities,” says Jewell Brown, national manager of fleet management and telematics at Toyota Material Handling U.S.A.

In the meantime, telematics solutions also manage operator compliance and access while allowing managers to monitor the tools and equipment that operators use. Some solutions also feature an idle shutdown, which prevents unattended equipment from running.

“By controlling operator access, supervisors can verify that pre-shift checklists have been completed and operators are properly prepared to begin operation,” Costello adds. “At the same time, periodic maintenance, fault codes and impacts can all be tracked, making incidents easier to review.”

Fleet and operator management increases uptime
As they analyze the data acquired from telematics, fleet managers should also consider connecting lift trucks to a Web-based fleet and operator management system that includes a maintenance module. According to Jim Gaskell, director of global technology business development for Crown Equipment, Web-based applications and portals offers a simple yet efficient platform for maintenance tracking.

“The system also provides visibility into total maintenance costs for individual trucks and entire fleets over multiple locations,” says Gaskell. “This visibility into maintenance spend is key to gaining control over costs and identifying opportunities to improve fleet performance.”

Lift truck managers and supervisors can also use the system to centralize service management capabilities so that they can compare and benchmark service costs per vehicle. Up-to-date, objective information provides visibility into the performance of operators and service providers, and supports future management decisions.

“For example, vehicle replacement decisions can be made using actual service costs with the confidence that service is being performed to the same standards and at the same cost per procedure for all trucks in the fleet,” Gaskell adds. “Operating hours for individual trucks, as well as the total fleet, can be analyzed to help guide decisions on fleet size and resource allocation.”

Of equal importance, service efficiency can also be improved as a result of the system, as technician hours are reviewed and compared with historical data to ensure that service times are consistently accurate. The system may also track warranty repairs, ensuring lift truck managers enjoy the full leverage of warranties.

By being proactive, managers can ensure that planned maintenance (PM) is executed in a consistent and disciplined manner across the entire fleet to optimize uptime.

“Uptime is the most important element for managers, as it is the basis for the claim of lowest cost of ownership,” says Josh Landreman, senior manager of product support for UniCarriers Americas. “Equipment quality at any given moment is one aspect of uptime, but maintenance is one of the backbones of long-term uptime.”

According to Gaskell, maintenance is one of two components to a comprehensive fleet and operator management program. The maintenance component collects and consolidates information from lift truck service events, which is then used to manage costs, regulate processes and prolong the trucks’ usage. The operations component of the program involves the collection of data about the activity of the lift trucks themselves.

“By collecting data on forklifts while they are in use, processes, including the collection of compliance information, can be automated to improve operational efficiency and consistency,” Gaskell explains.

As they analyze telematics data, lift truck managers will likely notice the following two measurable productivity gains, Gaskell says.

1. Reduction of battery change bottlenecks.
At times, operators and trucks may have to sit idly as they wait to change batteries, due to bottlenecks at battery changing stations. With a properly implemented fleet and operator management program, batteries can be tracked across multiple trucks so they can be changed at intervals that either reduce or eliminate bottlenecks.
“For facilities where battery rooms are often clogged, orchestrating battery changes can result in measurable improvements in operator productivity and truck utilization, not to mention improvements in battery performance and longevity,” Gaskell says.

2. Identification of operator performance. Through operator log-ins, fleet and operator management systems also measure productivity metrics like average travel and lift times and actual travel and lift times, so that operators’ performances can be properly identified and benchmarked.
“With this information, management can encourage behaviors and practices exhibited by the best operators, while also providing additional support and training for operators who are underperforming,” Gaskell adds. “As with any continuous improvement process, information is the key to identifying and eliminating waste and inefficiency. Through fleet and operator management systems, relevant fleet information can be used to not only reduce costs, but also improve operator and truck productivity long-term.”

Companies mentioned in this article
• Crown Equipment
• Hyster Company
• Toyota Material Handling U.S.A.
• UniCarriers Americas
• Yale Materials Handling Corporation

About the Author

Chris Lewis
Chris Lewis is the owner of Innovative Written Solutions, a content development and editorial services company based in Troy, Mich. In addition to developing content for Modern Materials Handing, he has also written for a wide variety of companies, ranging from Golf Channel to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, as well as industries like engineering, higher education and workforce solutions. He can be reached at [email protected] or

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