The Best Way To Calculate Minimum Forklift Aisle Width

Warehouse forklift in between aisles

You have many considerations when configuring your warehouse and selecting the optimal racking system and forklifts for picking and placing your inventory. Every foot of space is valuable. Cost and safety are always at the forefront of your mind, and efficiency is a key to your business success.

Each of these aspects of your design process comes into play when you’re calculating the forklift aisle width for your vehicles or when you’re considering the purchase of new equipment for the layout you already have.

Calculating Minimum Forklift Aisle Width

The industry standard uses three tangible measurements for calculating aisle width.

1. Basic Right Angle Stacking Width

The Basic Right Angle Stacking Width is the minimum space required for the machine to enter the aisle and turn 90 degrees to enter a pallet on the racks. You can find this number in the specs manual for each model of forklift.

Also referred to as the “Right Angle Stack,” this measurement will vary greatly by the model, size, and style of the lift truck. The traditional sit-down forklift with a standard wide stance and conventional mast is going to require much more space to turn than modern, narrow aisle turret trucks or order pickers.

The Right Angle Stack is the starting point for determining forklift aisle width. Manufacturers take into account the physical dimensions of the forklift — width and length of the machine — and the vehicle’s turning radius. This is the base number in determining how wide your aisles need to be.

2. Load Length

The load length is in addition to the Right Angle Stack. It is not based on the length of the forks. It is dependent on the size of the pallet or load that you are moving. The ubiquitous Grocery Manufacturers Association or “GMA” pallet is the most common in North America; it measures 48 inches.

You can use this measurement as your load length if you are among the many warehouse owners who handle only GMA pallets.

However, you will use the largest load you will be picking or placing to determine your load length calculation. An accurate load length measurement will ensure that your aisles will accommodate every load, regardless of where you are within the warehouse.

3. Clearance

You want to give your operators a little clearance or margin for error when determining forklift aisle width. A typical clearance measurement is 12 inches.

This may seem like a generous amount of space, but allowing for imperfection in operation is an excellent way to protect your operators, racks and machines. The most cost-effective insurance is preventing an accident from happening. Allowing a little extra space to maneuver helps to prevent expensive mishaps and reduces the likelihood of accidents, damage, and injury.

Determining the Best Forklift Aisle Width for Your Warehouse

Now you know the calculations required to determine the minimum aisle width for a given piece of equipment. Next, you need to decide the optimal setup for your particular business. You can either adjust your aisles for the equipment you’ve got, buy new trucks to work efficiently with your current layout, or redesign your warehouse around new vehicles. To determine the right option for your business needs, consider how modern warehouse and forklift design can impact your operations.

Evolution of Forklift Aisle Width

Warehouses were conventionally laid out with 12-foot wide aisles. Traditionally, space was less costly by the square foot; squeezing maximum use out of every inch of the floor space was not the pressing concern that it is now. Spacious aisles accommodated the standard design of forklifts with plenty of room for wide machines and less efficient turning radius abilities.

As warehouse design evolved to compensate for higher costs per square foot, a narrow aisle became popular. Racks added tiers as well. The now 8-foot wide aisles provided access to ever-higher racking requirements. The forklift began to evolve due to this increasing need to maximize warehouse space and minimize forklift aisle width.

The third stage in this shift from old-school layouts to the modern warehouse introduced even narrower aisle widths — some as tight as 6 feet — and innovative new designs in the forklifts themselves.

Modern Forklift Design

The most space-efficient forklifts are the Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) trucks. They can maneuver in the tightest aisles. The physical measurements of narrow aisle truck designs are less than their predecessors, but the revolutionary difference in their space efficiency is due mostly to changes in mast design.

1. Turret Trucks

The mast on a turret truck lift can turn lift forks 90 degrees to pick or place on a rack, eliminating the need for the body of the forklift to turn in the aisle. The forks can also slide horizontally, making it easier for the operator to line up with pallets.

2. Reach Trucks

Reach trucks use a pantograph on the mast, allowing the forks to extend out from the lift. The operator can place or retrieve pallets using only this extendable arm, rather than the forklift itself, so there is no need to accommodate a turn radius in the forklift aisle width.

3. Order Pickers

The design of a narrow aisle order picker includes a platform on the mast that lifts the operator up to the racks, where the inventory can be retrieved without moving the pallets.

Achieving Optimal Performance From Your Warehouse Layout

Understanding the calculations that allow trucks to move freely and safely while placing and picking inventory in a given space is an important first step. The best aisle width and, ultimately, the most effective layout will depend on factors unique to your business, including costs, safety considerations, and your long-term goals.

Redesigning the workspace for narrower forklift aisle width and acquiring more efficient vehicles can be very cost-effective. You can maximize your use of floor space and increase the speed and efficiency of handling inventory. If you are considering new equipment, check out all the models of lift trucks available at Forklift Inventory. We will help you determine the best vehicle for your needs. We offer transparent pricing so you know you’ll get the best deal on new or used equipment.

Now that you better understand your warehouse forklift options, consider which one is the best fit. Compare prices on warehouse forklifts for sale near you with Industrial Forklift Truck. We offer all types of forklifts and only partner with trusted dealers. Request your free, comparative quotes by selecting the forklift equipment you are looking for, enter your location, and we will send you deals from local dealers. 

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