Forklifts have a more than 100-year history of use in various industries. They play several roles in facilitating material handling and product movement, both within a contained setting and through the broader supply chain.
The idea for the modern forklift dates back to the early 20th century, with the invention of the first powered platform systems. The onset of World War One sped-up development of this technology and, by 1918, the first lift trucks had entered the commercial market. The invention of hydraulics in the 1930s led to more powerful machines, while the adoption of standardized pallet sizes around the same time made mass-production possible.
The onset once again of war led to the need for more powerful equipment, with greater load carrying capacities and higher reach heights. Post-WW2, forklifts played a vital role in the ensuing manufacturing boom, particularly as safety systems improved and manufacturers introduced innovations such as space-saving narrow-aisle models.
Today, the most significant distinction between forklift types is between electric and internal combustion models. Electric models are battery-powered, whereas IC forklifts can run on gas, diesel, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) or compressed natural gas (CNG). Both types have advantages and disadvantages. Electric forklifts are easier to maintain and produce no emissions, making them best for indoor use. However, they require charging between use and often lack the power and durability of IC models.
IC forklifts tend to be more rugged and better suited for outdoor and rough terrain applications. However, they are noisier and more expensive to run and maintain. They also produce emissions that can be hazardous, which precludes their use in indoor areas or confined spaces.
Beyond the broad distinction between electric and IC forklifts, manufacturers and users classify forklifts into seven main classes:
- Class 1 (Electric motor rider trucks): Conventional electric ride-on forklifts equipped with either air cushion or pneumatic tires. Air cushion models are suitable for indoor use only, while pneumatic models are more rugged and can be used in certain outdoor conditions.
- Class 2 (Electric motor narrow aisle trucks): These have a small profile for use in narrow aisle facilities. Warehouses use narrow aisle configurations to save space and increase efficiency. Narrow aisle forklifts are purpose-built for maximum productivity in these environments.
- Class 3 (Electric motor hand trucks): Essentially motorized pallet jacks used primarily for loading and unloading materials or lifting pallets short distances.
- Class 4 (Cushion tire IC forklifts): Including gas, diesel, LPG or CNG-powered units, which have a low clearance and are primarily used indoors.
- Class 5 (Pneumatic tire IC forklifts): Suitable for both indoor and outdoor use.
- Class 6 (Electric motor or IC engine tractors): A type of specialty truck.
- Class 7 (Rough terrain forklift trucks): With heavy-duty tires and components for use in demanding ground conditions.
Learning More About Forklifts
If you’re new to forklifts, one of the best things you can do is invest in training. Forklifts are potentially dangerous devices. Unless you know how to use them safely, the odds of an on-the-job accident are high. NMC can help you and your team get the training necessary to ensure a safe, productive workplace. Understanding the different types of forklifts and their uses is only the first step — call us today to learn more.