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Understanding what greenhouses need to run their operation efficiently, ergonomically and environmentally responsibly

Monday, May 11, 2015

Most product entering or leaving a greenhouse are usually stacked on pallets. Save your business time and money by investing in the proper materials handling equipment to do the work. Forklifts, manual and electric pallet trucks, and electric utility vehicles can assist in making the loading and unloading process less of a chore and reduce employee injuries and product damage over the long and short term. Hand-bombing heavy bags of growing mix, boxed plants, nursery stock, plant carts and containers off or onto a trailer is a difficult job, employing an ergonomic alternative is a greenhouse grower’s best choice.

Base your selection of the equipment required on the size of your operation, delivery occurrences, and distance materials have to be moved. Also consider the environment you’re working in. An interior workplace should focus on environmentally sustainable products like manual or battery operated forklifts, pallet trucks and utility vehicles. An electric materials handling fleet will keep your maintenance costs down as well as sustain a higher level of environmental standards in your greenhouse. With zero emissions from your equipment, your employees and product will thrive.

Pallet trucks are the most common solution for loading and unloading trailers and moving product from one end of the greenhouse to another. The decision whether to buy manual or electric is up to you. Electric offers a more ergonomic solution, while manual pallet trucks are the most affordable. Hydraulic pump pallet trucks raise the product a few inches from the ground and require a level of physical strength to push or pull and steer the pallet. An electric pallet truck will offer the same action with much less effort on the part of the operator, allowing anyone to move product through the facility.

If you have a dock which is at truck floor level, pallet trucks make the loading/unloading a simple task. The distance in which you will need to travel with your loaded pallet should also be considered, as an electric option works best if you’re moving materials over 300 feet. Spring-loaded casters should be a major consideration when purchasing an electric pallet truck, offering better control and limiting tipping when taking corners. The control handle is designed to provide steering, speed, lift, horn and brake controls. Consider also a built-in battery charger when shopping for your electric pallet truck.

Is your dock not at truck floor level? Consider a lift truck in this scenario. Also available in manual or electric models. When a dock is not available, the lift - or straddle truck - will raise its forks to the truck floor level to load or unload pallets. These units are also recommended in applications where you require stacking of nursery stock supplies and bulbs. Adjustable fork spacing and weight requirements are an important feature to consider as well.

Another option is an electric forklift. Forklifts come in a wide variety of sizes and load capacities. They can be relatively inexpensive and do the work of a pallet truck and lift truck. Electric is your best choice for an indoor application, but propane is also a good option. An electric Mini forklift has a tight turning radius and lifting capacities of up to 2,000 lbs. It is compact, yet operates just like any other forklift. Perfect for tight aisles and small spaces. If you’re sending and receiving product on a daily basis, a forklift is your best choice.

For your interior applications; electric utility vehicles are a great option. An electric puller can tow your plant carts and revolutionize your greenhouse’s efficiency in moving materials throughout the facility. A personnel carrier is also an added bonus in that it can move people while towing carts through the greenhouse. It also has the ability to carry cargo like grower mix or containers up to 660 lbs. These options reduce employee fatigue and improve moral. Wherever you can make your employee’s work physically less taxing, the more benefits you will realize.

Once you’ve reviewed your needs with a sales person and made your equipment choices, a service plan should be put in place to keep your trucks working effectively. Down-time in any facility due to equipment malfunction is a difficult hurdle. Make sure your provider offers rental equipment and on-site service options with repair parts in-stock.
Forklifts and pallet trucks are not exclusive to large greenhouses, even small grower benefit from having materials handling equipment included into their greenhouse operation. Research your options and discover which service provider near you is the expert in your industry. They will plan a site visit, and discuss your application requirements, offering the most beneficial solution for your business.

To contact a materials handling specialist in your region, call direct at 1-877-435-4352, or visit: www.starkeusa.com/dealers.php or in Canada: www.starkecanada.com/dealers.php

Michael Poeltl, Marketing and Dealer Development Specialist at Stärke Material Handling Group. Michael has been marketing the equipment industry since 2008.

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