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The Advantages of an Electric Forklift

October 09, 2018

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There was a day when the mention of forklifts powered by anything but internal combustion (IC) engines was laughed at. No serious warehouse or storage yard considered using alternate energy sources in place of proven gasoline, diesel or liquid petroleum gas (LPG) fuels that fired their IC forklifts.

Forklifts need power, they thought. Forklifts also need speed, high lift and climbing ability. They need to run all day without downtime and be able to function outside in rough terrain during inclement weather. That was the view of most forklift owners and operators – at least, that was the view until their perceptions were proven wrong.

Over the past decade, electric battery-powered forklifts have taken a strong hold in the lift truck and material handling environment – and for good reasons. The advantages of a forklift powered by electricity now far outweigh the disadvantages. The limitations and drawbacks that once made electric forklifts inefficient and impractical have been put to rest by advancing technologies and proven performance.

Increasingly, a number of industrial companies are switching to electric forklifts, because energy-efficient, environmentally friendly machines can do virtually anything emissions producing IC forklifts do. Electric forklifts are a realistic alternative to liquid-fueled lift trucks and are more economical to operate, equally powerful, easier to maintain, safer, quieter and cleaner.

Forklift Performance

Companies planning to purchase, replace or upgrade their current forklift capabilities must first assess their operational needs and ask some basic questions about the service required from their forklift. That’s the first step in deciding whether the advantages of an electric forklift give a better payback over IC lifts.

  • Do they need an internal combustion engine, or will an electric-powered forklift work better?
  • Are they operating indoors or outside?
  • How many hours per week does the forklift operate?
  • What is the maximum weightlifting capacity required?
  • What height does the forklift have to reach?
  • What is the turning radius within the storage aisles?
  • What materials are being handled?
  • Are perishable items like food and produce exposed to exhaust fumes?
  • What are the acceptable noise and fume levels?
  • What are the operator health and safety expectations?
  • What are the environmental impacts of IC versus electric?
  • What are the fuel storage conditions?
  • What are the maintenance costs and schedules?
  • What is the lifecycle and longevity needed for the forklift?
  • What is the purchase or rental cost of an electric forklift compared to an internal combustion machine?
  • What are the fuel consumption costs going to be?

Electric Forklifts

In every other question, the performance, costs and safety considerations can be met or exceeded by buying or renting an electric forklift. There once was a notable difference in performance between electric forklift and IC truck performance but, nowadays, technology has given electric forklifts a leading edge in the commercial forklift market.

About 30 years ago, electric forklifts didn’t have the power, speed or longevity that ICE trucks provided. That’s changed and no longer true. Where in the 1990s the market was 60 percent ICE powered lifts and 40 percent electric, now the market share has reversed. Today, 60 percent of forklifts are electric and only 40 percent are fossil-fueled.

The reason is simply that technological advancements have made electric forklifts compete and exceed on so many levels. The pros of an electric forklift far outweigh the cons, and one of the top advantages of an electric forklift truck is the operating costs.

Electric Forklift Operating Cost Advantages

Studies prove that electric forklifts are cheaper to operate and maintain compared to IC forklifts. In their lifetime, electric forklifts cost less for fuel, require lower maintenance as they have fewer moving parts, need less fluids to replace like engine oil, coolant and filters, and have considerably fewer lost hours from maintenance downtime and breakdown.

For example, a study in Ohio found the cost to recharge an electric forklift can range from $1.50 to $4.50 per eight-hour shift while the cost of operating a liquid propane gas (LPG) lift runs between $18 to $25 per bottle fill. These rates depend upon location, but it’s clear that energy-consumption costs for an electric forklift are far less.

recharging forklifts

This study went further and gave a yearly competitive calculation based on 5,000-pound lifting capacity electric and LPG machines.

  • Fuel consumed per shift: Electric – 41 kilowatts, LPG – 6 gallons
  • Unit cost of fuel: Electric – $0.010 per CAGE, LPG – $2.50 per gallon
  • Cost per eight-hour shift: Electric – $4.10, LPG – $20
  • Operating shifts per year: Electric – 260, LPG – 260
  • Annual fuel cost: Electric – $1,066, LPG – $5,200

The electric forklift offered $4,134 per year in potential savings over the IC forklift. The LPG lift truck was four times more expensive to run than the electric lift just on fuel costs alone. This is not taking into consideration the lower maintenance budget, greater productivity, extended lifespan and increased performance of the electric forklift. Also, there’s the lack of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions, quieter operating environment and overall safety improvement.

The key to offering these significant electric forklift advantages is the technology behind the electric motors and energy-supplying batteries.

Electric Forklift Motor and Battery Advantages

Technology has replaced the old direct current (DC) electric motors exclusively with modern alternating current (AC) motors. Outdated DC motors were underpowered and were only able to draw power from the available battery voltage. As the battery charge reduced, so did the motor’s power output and the machine got weaker as the shift progressed. Few DC electric forklifts could survive a full day’s duration, especially in heavy applications, and the downtime to recharge was unacceptable.

Forklifts with AC motors maintain their performance as battery voltage reduces. The operator can rely on full power throughout the shift until the voltage is so low the battery requires recharging or swapping out with a fresh one. AC motors are highly energy-efficient and their outstanding performance is boosted by advancements in battery technology.

Electric-powered forklifts use several different types of energy storing and supplying batteries. Forklift batteries are large, weighty and expensive compared to automotive batteries. However, a lot more electric draw is expected to operate a heavy forklift than to start a car.

Most forklift batteries are lead-acid based, where electricity is stored in liquid-filled cells and supplied by cables to the electric motor. Hawker, an American-based battery manufacturer, is the world’s leading brand of lead-acid batteries and stays on the cutting edge of technology to provide highly efficient, low-cost, environmentally friendly and dependable motive power solutions.

Hawker offers WATER LESS, ENERGY-PLUS, ENVIRLINK, POWERLINE and TOP POWER products that provide the advantage of forklift batteries that are cost-effective, safe and virtually maintenance-free. Hawker batteries are also quick to recharge, especially when used with their high-frequency smart chargers.

Quick charging from Hawker batteries allows an electric forklift to be topped up during shift breaks. Spare batteries can also be changed in less time than it takes to refill the bottle or tank on an IC forklift. Greater operating time and far less cost are two of the biggest advantages of today’s electric forklifts. However, cost and efficiency aren’t the only big advantages electric forklifts have to offer. These green machines are easy on the environment as well as on the health and safety of workers.

Electric Forklift Environmental, Health and Safety Advantages

Electric forklifts have zero emissions. That’s as environmentally friendly as it gets. Unlike diesel, gasoline and liquid propane gas internal combustion engines, electric motors have no exhaust. There is no harmful carbon monoxide for operators or nearby workers to breathe and no carbon dioxide greenhouse gasses to warm the climate.

Another Ohio study found that changing from a liquid propane gas forklift to an electric-powered one in a 2,000-hour-per-year operation would prevent approximately 20,000 pounds of annual carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide from being discharged into the atmosphere. This study equated it to the same emissions as a standard automobile would pipe out in seven trips between New York and Los Angeles.

Electric forklifts are ideal machines for interior and warehouse situations. No harmful fumes mean no special and expensive ventilation is required to rid forklift exhaust or heating while overhead doors are open.

IC forklifts produce considerable heat from their fuel combustion, which radiates into the warehouse space or presents hot surfaces on exhaust pipes that can burn or scald a worker. Electric forklifts consume only the energy they require and don’t waste fuel through inefficiency while idling or operating out of tune while raw fuel is poured out the pipe.

There is virtually no noise from an electric forklift except for the tires, the lift and the sound of the safety backup horn or warning beacon. IC forklifts are loud and send varying pitches according to their load changes. These sounds are hazardous to employee’s long-term hearing and are considered a safety distraction.

Modern electric forklifts use their motors as brakes and immediately decelerate and stop when the operator lets off the accelerator. This is a highly desirable safety feature, unlike the old clutch and shift transmissions on IC units. Electric motors completely stop when not in use, while IC forklifts continue to idle and pump environmentally unfriendly poisons into the atmosphere.

Even the batteries on electric forklifts are environmentally friendly. Industrial batteries – such as the large commercial ones used in electric forklifts – weigh hundreds of pounds, with the vast majority of weight being lead. With technology increasing both in battery design and recycling ability, more than 97 percent of all battery lead is recycled. There is little waste discharged into landfills and virtually no pollutants coming from battery-powered forklifts.

Between electricity as a fuel and batteries as the fuel storage container, electric forklifts are truly a leading force in low environmental impact and consumers of renewable resources. This includes waste products from routine forklift maintenance.

Forklift Carbon Monozide

Electric Forklift Maintenance Advantages

Electrically powered forklifts have fewer moving parts than IC machines. Electric motors do not have reciprocating parts like pistons and crankshafts as internal combustion engines. Electric motors simply have a rotor that spins within a stator supported by bearings. There is no crankcase oil to change and dispose of, no radiator coolant to flush and no engine filters to discard. These fluids and filters require regular maintenance that costs money and time as well as their load on nature.

Electric forklifts have fewer periodic maintenance intervals and spend more time in productive operation. Electric motors are highly dependable, partly due to fewer friction parts and partly as the result of advanced electrical technology. A major advantage of electric forklifts is they keep on running and can easily be serviced with a battery maintenance program and regular cleaning.

Forklifts with electric motors don’t require expensive specialty tools or a stockpile of spare parts to maintain. They also don’t require special fuel storage areas for safely holding explosive or flammable fuels like gasoline, propane and diesel. Electric forklifts only require an AC power port to plug into and a small area to host a spare battery that sits on charge.

Electric Forklifts AC Port

Other Electric Forklift Advantages

Beyond the top performance, low operating costs, dependability, low maintenance, health, safety and environmental benefits, electric forklifts have other advantages over IC lift trucks. These include:

  • Lower center of gravity and better stability due to heavy batteries
  • Better rear visibility as the exhaust and fuel tank are gone
  • Weather durability due to sealed motor compartment
  • Smaller turning radius from tighter design
  • Less vibration and operator fatigue
  • Able to perform in high traffic area where noise is a factor
  • Better adapted to smaller lifts, pickers and pallet movers
  • Safe around perishable products
  • Lower cost of ownership and longer lifecycle
  • Cleaner to operate and maintain

Electric forklifts have many advantages over IC machines and already high-technology electrical cells like lithium-ion are replacing older lead-acid batteries. Technology is also moving at breakneck speed with the development of cobotics. This electric forklift operation is mostly robotic and directed by a computer while remote operators perform value-added tasks.

Today, the difficult choice in forklifts is not electric or fossil fuels. The tough choice for most companies is whether to buy or rent an electric forklift. That includes whether to get a new machine or a used forklift. There’s an old rule of thumb that says if a forklift is going to be used more than one-quarter of production time, then it’s better to purchases a new one as the overall return on investment is higher.

Regardless of whether you choose to buy or rent an electric forklift, NMC is your best source in Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota. We handle a wide selection of new and used Cat®, Jungheinrich and Mitsubishi electric lift trucks for reducing your business costs and expanding capabilities.

Let NMC Material Handling be your one-stop source for electric forklifts for sale or rent. Contact NMC today to rent or buy an electric forklift.