MRO Magazine

Ride Strong: Lift-truck productivity relies on solid maintenance programs


February 17, 2012
By PEM Magazine

The purchase of material handling equipment represents a significant investment for any organization. With this investment comes the responsibility to maintain the equipment in conjunction with the manufacturer’s recommendations, health and safety guidelines, and legislative requirements. Keeping the equipment ready to work is vital to maintaining product movement and flow within a facility.

In particular, lift truck maintenance can be a critical component in maximizing the productivity and throughput of a warehouse or distribution center. Whether a facility manager chooses to employ in-house technicians or outsource maintenance to a third party, basic lift truck maintenance requirements must be taken into consideration.

Scheduled maintenance
Each lift truck in a fleet should be assessed individually to determine the proper scheduled maintenance intervals for that particular truck. The frequency for maintenance should be scheduled in conjunction with the manufacturer’s recommendations and by taking into account the following factors:

  • Annual utilization,
  • Operating environment, and
  • Age and condition.

The frequency of scheduled maintenance should be adjusted as these conditions change. In addition, service history and utilization reporting can be tracked through fleet management programs, which are more robust today through technological advancements. For example, with today’s fleet management technology, maintenance schedules can be triggered automatically through monitoring of the deadman hours on a lift truck. When a lift truck reaches a certain number of deadman hours, the system can trigger an email to the facility manager from the vehicle management system (VMS) to notify him or her that SM is due. The VMS uses the warehouse’s internal wireless infrastructure to pass data from the system to a central server. Usage data and emails are transmitted to notify key personnel regarding the status and health of their equipment.


Lift truck inspection
Another key area where a good VMS can bring benefits is the preoperator checklist. Having comprehensive checklists ensures all required components are inspected, tested, adjusted and lubricated prior to a lift truck’s operation. Any items requiring repair or replacement should be duly noted for follow-up.

By electronically completing the inspection checklist, operators not only fulfill the records requirement but also save time. Electronic filing eliminates the need for paper and storage, makes document retrieval easier and alerts key personnel if a truck needs repairs. Key or critical questions on the list can even “lock out” a truck, preventing its use if an unsafe condition is revealed.

Many locales have legislative requirements for annual inspections that must be carried out on each unit. Facility managers must ensure their facility conforms to these requirements and maintains on-site records as proof of compliance.

Service technicians
The competency of service technicians is important in providing thorough inspections and completing accurate repairs. In general, the manufacturers of material handling equipment recommend using factory-trained technicians. In many cases, local, provincial, territorial and federal requirements for licensing or certification set the minimum standard for the competence of maintenance technicians. An untrained technician may use the wrong parts or unnecessary parts, adding downtime and cost. A technician with proper understanding of the equipment can service the truck more quickly, often completing the work on the first visit and getting the truck back into operation.

There are many considerations when choosing whether to employ third-party maintenance technicians or use in-house staff. In-house staff must be considered when planning salary and benefits. In addition, conducting maintenance with in-house technicians may require the need for a distinct internal cost center to accurately track equipment service records and equipment costing, which also may require administrative support.

Third party, factory-trained technicians can help streamline maintenance record-keeping. In addition, third-party technicians focus solely on maintaining material handling equipment, which means they are able to focus on scheduled maintenance needs, including lift truck battery maintenance, so in-house staff can focus on other aspects of the business. Plus, third-party technicians are kept up to date on the latest equipment technologies and how to properly service them.

Conducting maintenance with in-house technicians may require space and time dedicated to parts inventory. Third-party technicians can cover the responsibility of ensuring proper parts inventory and bring parts with them when they arrive for service calls.

Maximizing productivity
Conducting regular scheduled maintenance and thorough daily inspections of lift trucks can help ensure a healthy, productive fleet. In addition, working with qualified, highly trained service technicians can streamline maintenance and enable facility managers to focus on other aspects of running their businesses. By ensuring a comprehensive lift truck maintenance program is in place, facility managers are taking a huge step toward maximizing their warehouse or distribution center’s material handling productivity.

Mike Car is the national director of customer sustainment with G.N. Johnston Equipment Co. Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont., and Joe LaFergola is manager of business and information solutions with the Raymond Corp. For more information, visit