Why Consider Electric Forklifts?

by Scott McLeod

Today, electric forklift technology has become so advanced that in most applications the performance of the electric forklift can either match or exceed the performance of the conventional internal combustion forklift truck.

The switch to electric can yield significant cost savings when properly applied and, in addition to saving money, you will likely experience a long list of other related and sometimes intangible benefits that will improve your business.

The acquisition cost of any new electric forklift is known to be higher than a comparable internal combustion truck at time of purchase. However, many people overlook the fact that the battery is really their fuel tank and by purchasing the battery they have in effect acquired all of the fuel for that truck for the next 5 to 7 years ( based on single shift usage ), given the fact that recharging costs are minimal by comparison.

In a nutshell, the saying “pay me now or pay me later” really applies with the electric forklift. What should be taken seriously is that the savings after purchase can be so dramatic that when the total cost of forklift ownership is finally tallied, the total savings to convert to electric will usually amount to thousands of dollars if not tens of thousands of dollars.

Electric forklifts also come with air filled or optional solid style outside pneumatic tires which was unheard of just a few years ago. They are also able to work outside in most types of weather when properly equipped and properly applied.

Electric Forklift Benefits

  • Fuel costs are virtually eliminated…. only battery recharging costs apply which are much less than LPG or diesel fuel costs.
  • Tailpipe emissions are eliminated which can result in improved employee health with less impact on the environment. The need for expensive ventilation equipment or exhaust scrubbers to satisfy WorkSafeBC are also likely eliminated although proper ventilation is required in the area where the battery will be charged.
  • There will be a significant reduction in routine maintenance costs ( ie no tune ups including tune up parts, no engine / transmission oil and filter changes or fluid top ups ). There is less risk of a major component failure due to someone not checking the engine, transmission or radiator fluid levels as they don’t exist with electric forklifts.
  • Electric forklifts typically have longer service intervals which reduce the forklift’s carbon foot print and also the carbon footprint of the service van that is required to be on site from the dealership.
  • Electric forklifts typically last longer before major components fail, ie 8,000 to 12,000 hours for an internal combustion forklift and 15,000 (+) hours for an electric forklift.
  • No waste oil / fluids and filters to dispose of from the engine, transmission and radiator.
  • A significant reduction in expensive major component maintenance cost exposure ( ie eliminated components are the engine, transmission, radiator, starter, water pump, alternator etc. ).
  • A significant reduction in brake wear due to regenerative braking technology. This technology works in such a way where the electric motor of the forklift is used to slow down the truck when the operator backs off on the accelerator to slow down or during a direction change which minimizes the amount of time that the operator needs to use the brake pedal. This feature is often found with separately excited motor technology or the new AC technology that is often found in most newer electric forklifts today. Regenerative braking technology implies that the deceleration process will put energy from the braking process back into the battery resulting in longer battery run times, but in reality, the benefit of this effect is not very significant.
  • Higher productivity… there is no need to come to a complete stop during a directional change as electric forklift technology is designed to accommodate shifting on the go. Electric forklifts usually have faster acceleration because there is no lag time in delivering power to the wheels ( a problem often encountered with internal combustion trucks due to the inefficiencies found in their torque converters ). There are also less foot movements required by the operator to complete a direction change or to slow down.
  • The chassis length ( and sometimes wheelbase ) of an electric forklift is usually smaller than an internal combustion forklift which results in improved operator clearance when turning. Depending on the number of aisles in a given facility, this benefit may or may not contribute to improved storage capacity as it is possible that the aisles could be reduced by a foot or more depending on the truck and the product being handled. At the very least, the risk of product damage due to operators not having enough turning room should be reduced.
  • Capacity ratings at full lifting height are usually higher with an electric forklift due to the fact that electric forklifts usually have a lower center of gravity which results in a more stable truck.
  • There will be a significant reduction in noise from the various truck functions, ie lifting, travelling, using the attachment such as sideshift etc.
  • When compared to an LPG fuelled truck, the electric forklift does not require an LPG tank to be fitted to the back of the counterweight thereby increasing rearward visibility when travelling in reverse. Eliminating the tank also eliminates the exposure to a possible propane fire or explosion should the tank come in contact with something that would compromise it’s structure such as an accident between two forklifts.
  • Using electric forklifts means there is no need for propane (LPG) or diesel fuel storage. Storing these types of fuels on site increases the risk of fire at your facility if they aren’t stored and used properly. Simply having LPG or diesel fuel can sometimes affect insurance rates. Also, these fuels are required to be stored outside and are subject to vandalism and sometimes city, municipal, provincial and environmental regulations.

Electric Forklift Considerations

  • A fully charged battery for an electric forklift will typically last between 4 hours and 12 hours depending on the application, operating temperature, lifting height, ramp work, average weight of the load, size of the battery, efficiency of the electric forklift etc. With a typical charging system, a fully depleted battery will require roughly 8 hours to charge and then another 8 hours to cool down. Within the last 10 years or so, new technology called “FAST CHARGING” is giving users of electric forklifts the ability to opportunity charge a battery during a normal work cycle, ie during coffee and lunch breaks etc, potentially eliminating the need for spare batteries, spare battery stands and a battery changing room with related changing equipment, safety apparatus etc. Fast Charge technology is gaining some momentum in the forklift industry because it helps to keep multi shift users working without the need to change batteries and without the risk of being down due to a depleted battery. These two issues are the main reasons why many companies with fleets of internal combustion forklifts haven’t changed over to electric in the past. Now is the time to take a second look at electric because the conversion could save you thousands of dollars while improving your business in many other areas. A fast charge specialist can help you quickly assess whether you are a candidate for this type of technology.
  • When constant ramp work or frequent pushing / pulling of loads is required, electric forklifts may not necessarily be the best answer, although today they can do this work much better and much more reliably than in the past.
  • If you are considering electric forklifts for the first time, it would be very important to check on the available power in your facility before heading down this path too far. Forklift chargers require a significant amount of amperage during start up and throughout the process of charging your battery. If this capability doesn’t already exist in your building, it may prove to be uneconomical to make the conversion even with the savings and benefits of electric forklifts taken into account, especially if your fleet of forklift trucks is quite large.
  • Someone needs to be responsible for maintaining ( ie watering / cleaning ) and charging the forklift battery per the manufacturers guidelines. The battery is a very expensive part of the truck and neglect in this area can cut the life of the battery in half or less. If you can’t trust that this will be taken care of in your company then the risks may outweigh the benefits. In a sense by installing a battery into the forklift, you have bought your fuel for the next 5 to 7 years in advance ( based on a single shift operation ). A typical forklift battery costs between $4,000 and $7,000 each so it is easy to see why taking care of this asset is quite important.
  • The process of charging a battery results in potentially flammable fumes. During charging the truck should be well ventilated, ideally with the battery cover removed, and the truck should be in an area with high ceilings and not exposed to cigarette smoking or sparks of any kind.
  • Depending on the model and age of the electric forklift, working outside in the rain should be normal practice, however, driving the truck through mud and deep puddles would not be recommended. Internal combustion trucks would be better suited for this type of work.
  • Exposure to corrosive materials, depending on the model of electric forklift, would not be recommended. Again, internal combustion forklifts would be better suited for this type of work.
  • Exposure to cold storage environments such as freezers, are possible with electric forklifts provided they are equipped with the proper options that will help them perform reliably in these cold temperatures. The greatest concern is when an electric truck changes from cold to room temperature frequently as this routine can allow moisture and condensation to build up in the chassis and around the electrical components potentially causing electrical shorts if the truck is not properly protected. Adding a cold storage or freezer package to the truck that meets the application criteria will help minimize this issue. Please keep in mind that batteries will not last as long per battery charge in a cold storage environment. Choosing the right battery type and size is critical in this application. Often the saying “bigger is better” often applies in cold storage applications.

Posted in: New Forklifts, Used Forklifts