What Forklift Capacity Do You Need for Your Business?

If you are a warehouse manager or a business owner looking for a new or used forklift, you may wonder what type of forklift and what forklift capacity you need to get the job done right. To help you to select a forklift that will fit your facility's needs you should have a few things in mind.

Looking at How Forklifts Work

There are many types of forklifts, and one of the main considerations when buying one is to know what forklift capacity you need. Knowing how a forklift works can help you know what capacity to choose.

The physics of a forklift consists of weight and a counterweight; the weight in this case is the load-bearing mechanism on the forklift, which is called the carriage. The counterweight is a metal weight situated in the back of the vehicle. They both are balanced on a fulcrum point, which is the front axle. They must be balanced because if one is heavier than the other, the forklift will tip over.

Understanding the Physics of Forklift Capacity

Let’s define a few terms before we dig into forklift capacity:

  • Load center: OSHA defines this as the horizontal distance between the vertical face of the fork to the load’s center of gravity. The Industrial Truck Standards Development Foundation commonly establishes the load center at 24 inches for most forklifts.
  • Center of gravity: This is an imaginary point where the entire weight of an object is concentrated. When working with a forklift, there are two centers of gravity: the forklift’s center of gravity and the load’s center of gravity. When the truck raises the load, both centers of gravity combine. This combined center of gravity is important because it determines the stability of the forklift as a whole.
  • Load moment: This term is the result of a formula multiplying the object’s weight by the object's distance from the point where the fork and the counterweight are balanced on the axle.
  • Forklift capacity: This refers to the maximum weight a forklift can safely raise at a specified load center. The forklift can lift to its maximum capacity only when the load is on center. The more distant the center of gravity of the load is from the rear of the forks and the more uneven the weight distribution of the load, the lower the forklift's lifting capacity will be.

Calculating Forklift Capacity

Now that we know what the maximum weight, load center, load moment, and centers of gravity are, it’s easier to figure out forklift capacity. The amount of weight a forklift can lift safely, without tipping over, can be determined by calculating the maximum load moment and ensuring it is less than the forklift moment.

You calculate the forklift moment by simply multiplying the maximum weight capacity of the forklift by its center of gravity measurement. Any change in the load center, such as when adding an attachment, must be factored in.

Knowing this is important because forklift capacity ratings can be deceptive. If the rated capacity listed on a forklift's data plate is 8,000 lbs. it doesn’t mean the truck can lift anything up to 8,000 lbs. How a load is balanced and distributed makes a big difference, and uneven loads may not be able to be safely lifted even if they are under this weight.

Measuring the weight and dimensions of your typical loads and determining their load centers can help you have a good idea of what capacity rating you should look for when purchasing a forklift. Always take the maximum load weight you will be lifting into consideration to ensure you have adequate power to do any job needed.

Classifying Forklifts

Many other factors influence the forklift capacity, such as the size, fuel type, motor, and even the type of tires it uses. The Occupational Health and Safety Administrator breaks down forklifts into seven classifications. They are as follows:

  • Class I: Electric Motor Rider Trucks
  • Class II: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks
  • Class II: Electric Motor Hand Trucks or Hand/Rider Trucks
  • Class IV: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks (Solid/Cushion Tires)
  • Class V: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks (Pneumatic Tires)
  • Class VI: Electric and Combustion Engine Tractors
  • Class VII: Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks

It’s important to familiarize yourself with these classifications, as each has different uses, forklift capacity, and characteristics. This can help you make a better choice when you purchase a machine.

Different machines have different ways of lifting loads, and they also have distinct capacities. Some machines can only lift loads up to 9 feet in the air, while others can lift loads more than 50 feet! Some are more adequate for warehouse work, and some, like all-terrain forklifts, are made for construction and other nonconventional applications.

Finding the Perfect Forklift

Before purchasing a forklift for your business, ask yourself the following questions to help determine what forklift capacity you should look for:

  • What types of loads will the forklift be handling?
  • What is the average weight of your loads?
  • What is the heaviest load you will be working with?
  • What are your average load dimensions?
  • How high do you need to lift each load?

You are now armed with the knowledge that will help you decide on the best forklift for your business. Understanding how they work, what types there are, and how forklift capacity ratings work is a great start.

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