3 Questions to Ask When Determining the Best Forklift for Your Operation

Ensure efficient, reliable operation by choosing the right forklift and fuel

Fleet managers have a lot to take into consideration when deciding which forklift, and forklift fuel, is best suited to their business’s needs. The material handling equipment a business chooses is a big investment, affecting everything from productivity and operating costs to emissions. But, ultimately, it can provide a substantial ROI.

An overwhelming number of material handling professionals are discovering propane to be the right fit for their operation and budget. In fact, more than 90 percent of Class 4 and 5 operators are using propane-powered forklifts, according to data from the Propane Education & Research Council.

Other facilities choose to operate with electric forklifts, but oftentimes overlook some of the drawbacks that come with electric equipment.  Here are three questions facility managers should ask themselves when selecting the best forklift for their operation:

1. Does your business operate 24/7?
Businesses operating around the clock need material handling equipment that can keep up and get the job done. Propane-powered forklifts ensure employees have all the advantages they need to work effectively, providing long-term productivity and performance and 100 percent power throughout operation. According to data from PERC, propane also has the ability to push heavy loads at full capacity better than electric forklifts.

Plus, propane provides the quick refueling necessary to keep material moving. Employees can simply swap out an empty propane cylinder for a full one, which takes just a few moments and eliminates the need for additional expensive, heavy batteries or dedicated staff to manage the battery maintenance process. With propane, employees can avoid downtime for recharging, too. One propane cylinder typically lasts an entire eight-hour shift, so businesses can rely on uninterrupted operational capacity. Electric forklifts, on the other hand, can often require hours of recharging and strict battery management. Businesses can also set up a tailored refueling schedule with their local propane supplier to ensure propane cylinder cages are always full.

2. Does your company place a premium on being clean?
“Going green” and operating with an environmentally-friendly mindset is a growing trend across the country. There are many ways facilities can become “greener”, or more energy efficient, one of which includes the type of equipment, and fuel, they choose to move materials on a day-to-day basis.

For businesses looking to reduce emissions, decrease their carbon footprint, and mitigate harmful effects to the environment and their community, propane is the best choice. Many material handling professionals are surprised to learn that, environmentally speaking, propane has an edge over other forklift fuels.

Propane is a low-carbon alternative fuel that can produce significantly fewer emissions than diesel, gasoline, and electricity in a wide range of applications. A comparative emissions analysis of forklifts conducted by PERC, in partnership with the Gas Technology Institute, revealed that propane forklifts, when compared with electric, can reduce SOx emissions by 76 percent. While it’s true that electric forklifts produce zero emissions during normal operation, it’s important for facility managers to account for the emissions produced in the creation and transmission of electric batteries. That includes all of the emissions produced at coal-fired plants where electricity is generated, as well as the emissions during transportation to the facility. When the “site-to-source” emissions are considered, electric’s emissions profile is less impressive.

Compared with gasoline forklifts, propane forklifts produce 15 percent fewer SOx emissions, 17 percent fewer NOx emissions, and 16 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Best-in-class propane forklift engines can produce 97 percent fewer hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions when compared with similarly-sized diesel forklift engines. Plus, well-maintained propane forklifts meet or exceed nationwide indoor air quality standards, while diesel models produce higher amounts of carbon monoxide and other harmful emissions.

3. Is cost a driving factor?
Cost is often top-of-mind for facility managers as they make business decisions — including purchasing new material handling equipment. In fact, in a survey from PERC, fleet managers rated initial capital cost as one of the top five important factors when purchasing a forklift.

Compared with electric, propane forklifts have a 30 percent lower capital cost. Beyond capital cost, propane has no hidden costs and provides savings throughout ownership compared with electric and diesel equipment. Electric forklifts get costly when you consider battery purchases and recharging equipment. Battery life and power output also diminish over time with electric forklifts, which lead to future costs that can go overlooked.

Aside from the initial equipment purchase and the cost of fuel, businesses operating propane forklifts are only responsible for maintenance and cylinder storage, which they can lease from their local propane supplier. For additional cost savings, facility managers may be able to lock in a fuel price with their propane supplier.

Choosing the right forklift can have a substantial impact on business. As facility managers work to select the best equipment, it’s important to ask themselves these questions and familiarize themselves with the benefits of various forklift fuels. More and more professionals in the material handling, distribution, and logistics industry are trusting propane-powered forklifts to get the job done — all while providing long-term productivity and performance, contributing to a cleaner operation, and keeping costs in check.

For more information on propane forklifts, visit Propane.com/Material-Handling.

Jeremy Wishart is director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at jeremy.wishart@propane.com.

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