February 13, 2007
Ever more stringent safety standards, driven largely by OSHA and state regulators, have led many fabricators to examine closely their material handling processes. Side loaders can provide safety benefits as well as improve material handling efficiency.
Over the years the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state regulators have driven higher workplace standards in safety procedures, checks, and processes. While more stringent safety practices are vital to employees' health and well-being, it is not necessarily obvious that safety improvements can lead to productivity and efficiency improvements. The reality is that in many cases safer practices do mean more efficient operations.
Using forklifts safely is high on the agenda of OSHA and state regulatory bodies. Much effort goes into training drivers, achieving certification through agencies such as OSHA, and initiating on-the-job surveillance and monitoring. Manufacturers seem to pay less attention to choosing the right forklift for an application or material. Selecting the best type of vehicle is critical, particularly for applications involving long and awkward loads. In such cases, the right forklift can improve both safety and efficiency.
Industries such as metal fabrication deal with many lengths, widths, and diameters—sizes and shapes that can present significant handling, storage, and safety concerns. In most shops metal workpieces of all sizes must be safely maneuvered in every direction, often among workers. When the material length exceeds the aisle's width, material handling is a matter of traveling with the load raised high above the ground so the load goes over other materials, railcars, trucks, machines, and, in some instances, people.
Many manufacturing shops use overhead cranes for this work. However, cranes cannot be taken outdoors and they cannot be easily repositioned as the company grows and changes. Common counterbalanced forklifts are more versatile than cranes and can travel outside, but they also carry long and awkward loads overhead. When these forklifts move inventory from one building to another, they can encounter high winds and rough terrain, making the process both dangerous and inefficient. Operators must travel slowly to keep control of the vehicle and prevent damage to the load.
Forklifts that move in every direction may help to resolve these problems. On multidirectional side loaders, long loads of sheet, pipe, and tube rest on a platform or spreader bars close to the ground. They can travel sideways, so product length does not matter—a multidirectional truck can move long materials safely through any doorway or aisle as narrow as the truck itself. Furthermore, a four-way forklift or side loader has a large stability triangle, so the load remains close to the ground and allows the driver to transport the load at normal speed.
While flat products such as square or rectangular tubing tend to sit still during transport, round tubes present a hazard because they can roll off a forklift. A customized forklift, such as one with a tapered platform, can make a big difference in safe material handling. The tapered platform isn't level—it is inclined toward the truck body (see Figure 1). Any type of round product has less chance of rolling off the platform.
A four-way truck provides flexibility. Just as fabricators must be flexible enough to adapt to changing market conditions, material handling equipment must be flexible too. As a company responds to market changes and the need for new materials, processes, and production methods, will its material handling equipment keep up? Lift trucks' mobility means flexibility—they can accommodate immediately changes in plant floor layout.
Adding a customized spreader bar to a multidirectional forklift allows four forks, rather than two, to support long loads. When material is secured safely on a platform or on spreader bars, operators are more productive because they can move at normal speed and are not required to slow down.
A spreader bar provides extra stability and reduces the risk of material hitting the ground when traveling. The result is that operators can move more quickly and efficiently throughout the facility. A spreader bar can be attached or removed in seconds, allowing fabricators to switch quickly between handling long loads and short loads or pallets.
Customization makes a lift truck more versatile so it can handle a variety of loads. A side benefit is that this versatility allows one truck to take on the duties of several trucks, thereby allowing a fabricator to reduce the size of its forklift fleet.
In some manufacturing shops, material is moved on carts through doorways or through production lines, adding to the number of times the material is handled. In such a case, using a four-way forklift provides two benefits. First, it eliminates this unproductive practice. Second, decreasing the handling reduces the risk of damage to the workpieces.
Fabrication companies interested in improving safety can achieve additional improvements. With the right forklift, operators move with confidence and transport material securely, resulting in greater productivity and efficiency.
The FABRICATOR® is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971. Print subscriptions are free to qualified persons in North America involved in metal forming and fabricating.