The economic growth and increased spending on infrastructural and construction activities is playing a huge part in providing the necessary boost to the Material Handling Equipment (MHE) sector. Of this MHE sector that deals with equipment that help in movement, storage, control and protection of materials, goods and products throughout the process of manufacturing, distribution, consumption or disposal; forklifts is an important part. Since the last few years, the Indian forklift market is growing at a scorching pace in terms of value as well as volume. They are now designed to be more reliable, efficient and service-friendly.

Typically, a forklift (also called a lift truck, fork truck, forklift truck or tow-motor) is a powered industrial truck which is used to lift and transport materials at the jobsite. Forklifts result in more safety at the jobsite and make the task of transporting various heavy materials quick and easy. Forklift trucks are available in many variations and load capacities. Different attachments increase the functionality of the forklifts.

Key types of forklifts

There are mainly three forklift types which include electric, gas/LPG and diesel powered forklifts. Here are the benefits and drawbacks of using each type of forklift at the jobsite...

Electric forklifts

Those forklifts driven by electricity via batteries are known as electric forklifts. They are generally used for indoor operations.

A. Benefits:

1) These kinds of forklifts are environment-friendly.

2) They don’t produce any smoke, harmful emissions and noise.

3) Since they are compact, they can easily work in tight spaces.

4) In addition to supplying power, the batteries in the equipment act as counterweights, thus, increasing the manoeuvrability of the equipment.

5) Batteries also make it easier for the operator to operate them as against the engine-driven machines.

6) They are simple and easy to drive because they only have an accelerator and a brake pedal. They don’t have a clutch pedal and the operator does not have to ‘rev’ the engine for fast lift or hill starting.

7) They are cheaper to run as there are minimal costs involved in recharging and topping up the battery.

8) Since, they have less moving parts, they are cheaper to service.

B. Drawbacks:

1) The initial purchasing cost of the electric forklift is higher because of the battery and charger.

2) They need a proper area where they can be charged.

3) When they are charging, they cannot be used, so this results in down time.

4) They need a better floor surface to work on because the higher point loadings on the axles and wheels can let them sink in shale or hard standing.

5) Power cuts pose a major trouble for battery charging of electric forklift trucks.

6) They cannot be used outside in wet weathers as the damp atmosphere can cause problem to the wiring and electronic components.

7) Their maintenance is not so easy due to the battery and the maintenance cost is generally high.

Diesel forklifts

These types of forklifts are generally used outdoors.

A. Benefits:

1) They can work with ease on nearly all slopes and landscapes.

2) They are more fuel-efficient that LPG/gas powered forklifts.

3) They have a longer engine life and don’t show signs of wear easily.

4) They have better acceleration and lift speeds as compared to the electric forklifts.

5) They can be used all throughout the day after filling the fuel tank which just takes few minutes. Hence, there is no downtime associated with this type of forklift.

6) They are less priced than the electric forklift.

7) Their maintenance cost is less than the LPG forklift.

B. Drawbacks:

1) They are costlier than the LPG forklifts.

2) Their maintenance cost is higher than an electric forklift.

3) They are a bit noisier.

4) They emit large amount of smoke and are unfit to be used indoors.

5) They are bigger and bulkier in size and hence, require more space to operate in and for storage.

Gas forklifts

They are also called as propane or LPG forklifts and can be used both indoors and outside.

A. Benefits:

1) They can operate for the whole day indoors and outdoors as they don’t need to be charged as against the electric forklifts.

2) They have a high power ratio as against the other two variants.

3) They are superior in terms of performance as against the other two variants.

4) They possess faster lifting speeds.

5) Their rate of acceleration and travel speed is higher than the other two variants due to better power to weight ratios and more responsive engines.

6) They are compact and more manoeuvrable than the diesel forklifts due to the solid cushion tyres and compact chassis compared with larger diameter tyres and increased clearances around the wheel arches of diesel forklifts.

7) They don’t produce loud noise and vibration at the driver’s seat and controls when compared to the diesel forklift.

8) They emit less fumes.

9) Their parts are easily available at competitive prices in the market.

10) They are the cheapest of all the three variants.

B. Drawbacks:

1) Their maintenance and fuel cost is the highest when compared with the other two variants.

2) The operators of this forklift require a higher level of skill to operate it.

3) They are not as comfortable as the electric forklift.

4) They can run out of gas without notice and this can highly affect the work. There is generally no way to gauge the gas level. Pressure switches indicating that the gas is finishing, gives the warning just few seconds before.

5) They are more prone to leaks from the engines.

In nutshell

Whether it’s an electric, gas/LPG or diesel powered forklift, each one of them is capable of moving large and heavy materials in a timely and safe fashion. However, they have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the need, budget, application, run-time requirement, number of shifts and environment where they need to be operated, you should choose the type of forklift that suits your specifications the best.