“Forklift” is a broad term that covers almost two dozen different designs. For this guide we are focusing on counterbalance forklift parts.
In many operations, a counterbalance forklift is usually the most common piece of support equipment in use. They are the workhorses of many operations and are called upon to work in a variety of environments including temperature extremes, harsh weather, difficult terrain and an extraordinary amount of weight and pressure due to the loads they carry.
Purchasing a forklift can be a significant business expense with prices ranging from £12,000 to £120,000. Such a wide range in cost is due to factors such as size, lift capacity, indoor vs outdoor application, accessories, and other considerations.
With so much operational success riding on forklifts, keeping them serviced and in proper running condition is paramount for any company. And due to the type of work they do and the environments in which they operate, owners and maintenance staff must understand the construction and parts on a forklift to keep them in service.
| The Major Parts of a Forklift
Forklifts come with one of two power sources, either electric or internal combustion (IC):
Electric: Battery operated forklifts utilize one large battery to power the truck. This battery is located under the driver seat or in the rear of the lift, depending on the type and size lift purchased. Batteries can range from 12V to 96V and may be available in custom voltages as well. Depending on the battery size, the number of cells within the battery may vary.
Battery operated lifts must be regularly charged and maintained and water levels in the battery must be kept at the correct level and topped off with distilled water when necessary. When replacing a battery, it is important to buy the right size for the capacity and type of lift used. All batteries have a battery identification code which identifies the style, number of cells and plates, cell arrangement, and cell Amp/hr.
Full guide on the parts of a forklift battery.
Electric forklifts are often used in enclosed spaces, such as warehouses or manufacturing plants. As they have far fewer moving components than an IC truck, the maintenance and running costs are less.
Internal combustion: Many lifts use internal combustion engines to power the truck. These engines will either be diesel or bottled gas such as propane. For diesel lifts, the tank is located within the chassis like the location on automobiles. For gas powered lifts, tanks are usually located in the rear of the lift behind the driver seat.
In electric and IC trucks the battery or engine is housed in the compartment under the driver’s seat. For propane trucks a gas bottle is mounted on the outside at the rear of the truck.
The mast is the vertical against the load end of the chassis that provides a path for the rollers and so the lift can raise and lower the forks as needed. It also contains the pulleys, lift chains, and hydraulic hoses that extend and retract on the pulley system as the load is lifted or lowered. Masts will usually last for the life of the truck although the hoses, connectors, pulleys and lift chain may wear over time and require replacement.
There are several factors that must be taken into consideration when selecting a lift mast:
- Facility Ceiling Height
- Racking Height
- Dock or Staging Height
- Max Load Weight
Most masts have a degree of “free lift”, meaning a small amount of vertical movement with forks before the mast engages. There are four types of masts. The single stage has no free lift. This has the lowest lift height maximum. All remaining mast types, duplex, triplex and quad, have free lift. The type of mast selected will depend on the height of the facility or lift required. The additional stages extend telescopically to reach higher levels.
There are many types of forklift forks, and each type will have a variety of options for lengths, widths, depths and capacities.
Read our full guide on forklift forks.
Forklifts have several different types of lamps depending on application. One of the most common is a lamp attached to the overhead guard. This lamp is a directional light source controlled by the operator. Like a spotlight, it is useful in providing spot lighting in truck ends, containers and other spaces where loads are being placed or removed.
Larger trucks and trucks that operate outside or at night may have a formal set of headlights like those of an automobile. And all trucks have red and yellow tail lights to indicate breaking, backup, and turning. Depending on model and size, some may come with a yellow or red revolving safety light or a strobe light on the top of the truck.
Warning Signals and Alarms
Forklift safety is extremely important as there are still tens of thousands of injuries per year using lifts within the workplace. To aid in safe operation, many forklifts have alarms and signals when the truck is in use. Types of alarms include:
Backup Alarm – Automatically engages when the lift is moving in reverse to warn workers and pedestrians nearby.
Max Height Alarm – This alarm warns the operator that the lifted load exceeds the maximum rated weight for the lift.
Low Power – It is critical to maintain power throughout the lift cycle. Low power indicators such as an electric charge indicator or a fuel gauge may give off an audible sound when fuel or power is too low.
Horn – Many alarms and signals included on forklifts are automatically engaged. The horn, however, is controlled by the operator. This allows for an additional warning signal useful in noisy environments and blind corners.
The lift cylinder powers the vertical movement of the load on the mast. This is usually a single acting cylinder and the sizing is determined by the mast size and number of stages. Depending on amount of use and load size, lift cylinders may need replacing over the life of the truck.
Tilt cylinders control the forward and backward tilt of the load forks. They help provide proper positioning for the load relative the surface the load is placed upon. This is useful if the surface has a slight rise or if the truck is at a different angle relative to “level” due to terrain. It is also key in releasing pressure on a pallet to allow the fork to reverse without moving the pallet with it. Tilt cylinders are also subject to wear depending on amount of use and load size over time.
Some trucks have swing cylinders. These cylinders allow the load to swing left or right up to 90° depending on application. They may be part of a scissor extension that pushes the load forward away from the mast to allow the swing cylinders to engage.
The Forklift Carriage includes the load backrest and the forks:
The backrest is connected to the mast and keeps the load from shifting off the truck, to the side or toward the operator.
The forks, also called tines, are the carrying apparatus for loads, drums, pallets and other load types. Forks come in a large variety of shapes and sizes. Depending on the model, fork types may be interchangeable. Common fork types include
- Rotational Forks
- Drum Handling
Because of the heavy loads lifted with a forklift, they must be properly counterbalanced. The counterbalance weight is proportional to the max load weight and offsets the load carried by the forks. In internal combustion lifts, the counterbalance is a deadweight that is in the rear of the truck. For electric lifts, the battery often serves as the counterweight.
Load and environment will determine the type of tires to use. For indoor, industrial and warehouse environments, cushion tires are most often used. For outdoor use, pneumatic tires are more common. Read our full guide on forklift tires.
On a forklift you have drive wheels and steering wheels. Unlike an automobile the steering wheels are at the rear and drive wheels at the front.
The steering wheels are positioned at the rear to provide tight turning circle, providing the required maneuverability within a warehouse or yard. There will be either 2 wheels for steering in the centre, or as is more common 1 on each rear corner.
Forklift brakes are comprised of brake shoes and a brake drum. They are engaged via a foot pedal or a handbrake. Many modern electric forklifts have regenerative braking, this uses the electric motor to slow the forklift, with the energy generated used to put charge back into the battery.
Cabs may be open or enclosed depending on safety concerns or environment:
Seat – In “sit-down” forklifts, the driver seat is positioned to allow the operator full reach of all controls. In electric lifts, the seat also acts as an auto off, meaning that when the operator stands or leaves the forklift, power to the lift is cut.
Overhead Guard – In potentially hazardous environments, an over head guard may be placed to protect the operator from falling debris or load failure when at height. Overhead guards may also be reinforced if needed.
Lever Controls – The lever controls allow the operator to engage the lifting mechanisms to manipulate the load. These levers include:
- Tilt Lever – Controls the angle of the forks relative to the ground.
- Lift Lever – Engages the lift mechanisms on the mast.
- Side Shift Lever – Allows the load to be moved a few centimeters left or right.
- Swing Lever – For trucks with a swing mechanism such as those used for racking systems, the swing lever allows the load to be turned up to 90° left or right. This system will also include a scissor mechanism and an extension lever that allows the swing load to be pushed forward for positioning within a rack.
Brands of Forklifts
Irrespective of make the major parts of a forklift counterbalance truck can largely be described the same. However, when it comes to replacing these parts it is important to ensure that you replace like for like. Parts manufactured for 1 brand will not necessarily work with another.
Major brands of forklift manufacturers are:
- Toyota (Raymond and BT)
As the workhorses of any operation, forklifts can help to create a safe and efficient environment for moving heavy or bulky loads. Facility type, height, max load sizes, environment and other factors will impact the type and capability of the forklift required.
In heavy use environments, many parts will require replacement while others will last the lifetime of the lift. However, a strong maintenance program and diligent service in conjunction with a good working knowledge of the parts of the lift purchased will provide a long-term return on investment and one that is safe for all involved.