Connecting into Lift Truck Asset Health

Lift truck maintenance relies on having diligent procedures and readily available technicians, but connected lift truck solutions are an emerging means of improving maintenance programs.

Last year marked the fourth-straight year lift truck sales increased, with more than a quarter million units sold, according to the Industrial Truck Association. Meanwhile, the pace of fulfillment work continues to quicken, with multiple surveys showing pressure is being felt around shorter cycle times and increased customer demands.

As a result of these trends, distribution center managers have more lift truck assets across their fleets and a pressing need to keep them up and running. Lift truck maintenance is mission critical.

Lift truck manufacturers say some best practices and technologies can help, including lift truck telematics solutions. Those operations that continue to rely on standard, time-based preventative maintenance (PM) schedules and paper-based checklists could be missing out on opportunities to make lift truck maintenance even more effective. While computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software is perhaps the key tool for helping maintenance programs, connected lift trucks also play a role in improving asset health.

Leveraging technology

Lift truck telemetry solutions offer a couple of key benefits for lift truck maintenance, says Kevin Paramore, emerging technology commercialization manager for Yale Materials Handling. For one thing, maintenance cycles will occur based on actual use rates rather than calendar-based estimates.

With calendar-based PM intervals, inevitably some assets get serviced too soon, some not frequently enough, while others at roughly the right time. But with a telemetry offering such as Yale Vision, explains Paramore, connectivity to the main service meter is on each lift truck, while the solution assesses that data to tailor intervals accordingly.

“This should reduce the amount of periodic maintenance events that are either performed too frequently, as well as the ones not performed soon enough because service can be performed based on actual use and the correct intervals issued by the manufacturer,” says Paramore.

The second key benefit area for telematics revolves around how telemetry instantly communicates diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) on lift trucks. Immediate communication of DTCs to maintenance managers or dealer service departments ensures technicians know the details on what might be causing a code and can be better prepared to service the asset. Under Yale Vision, DTCs on connected assets can trigger a notification e-mail or app alert to the appropriate parties.

Forklift telematic control

Telemetry connectivity to the main service meter can be placed on each lift truck, while the solution assesses that data to tailor intervals accordingly.

“The technician will know more about what will be needed to fix the asset,” Paramore says. “The benefit is that this increases the chances of a first-pass fix by the technician, which contributes to increased uptime.”

Telemetry’s GPS capability and supporting fleet software dispatch also allow the dealer or service provider to communicate around service arrival times so that any asset needing service is pulled into the appropriate service bay or other area, rather than wasting time trying to locate the lift truck needing service. “The technician can pull up and immediately locate and service that lift truck to get the asset back into its normal application,” says Paramore.

Telematics’ ability to tailor service schedules to actual use tends to make maintenance more cost-effective, says Bob Hasenstab, general product manager for KION North America. For one thing, it eliminates wasted time in manually collecting or noting meter data from assets and also lessens the tendency to schedule PMs more often than necessary given wear patterns.

“Without telematics systems, appropriate maintenance is certainly achievable,” says Hasenstab. “However, the effort is considerably larger. Schedules have to be established on “worse-case” scenarios and, to be effective they will be much more frequent than necessary.”

Operator improvements

Lift truck telemetry can be seen as a way for managers to monitor asset health remotely rather than by personally “roaming around” to inspect equipment, which can be hard to do given the increasing size and pace of work in many DCs, says John Rosenberger, director of iWarehouse Gateway and global telematics for The Raymond Corp.

Ensuring safety checklists are done thoroughly carries a maintenance benefit. Fleet software can help with digital notation of checklists, while telematics data can be used to see if operators are fully carrying out certain checklist procedures, such as moving a unit to check braking, Rosenberger explains.

“When checklists are followed, that tends to bring down maintenance costs over time because issues can be identified when they are just symptoms,” says Rosenberger. “These potential issues can then be addressed before they become a problem that is going to cause a truck to be out of service for an extended time.”

Telematics and fleet software help maintenance in larger ways, Rosenberger explains. For one, telematics can detect operator driving habits like hard braking that wears out parts more quickly. For example, telematics can detect if an operator is frequently slowing a vehicle by lifting off the dead man pedal to brake, as opposed to using the throttle control handle to gently slow the unit.

The more technology progressive companies are not only using telematics to detect incorrect driver habits, they are starting to use virtual reality, or “VR,” training to teach operators correct driving habits, says Rosenberger. An advantage of VR, he adds, is that multiple operators can go through a virtual training session without taking up warehouse space like normal training would.

In addition to lift truck telematics, Raymond offers a connected solution for battery monitoring. This solution helps monitor the state of batteries on and off the trucks, including whether recharged lead acid batteries are being put into use before they have time to properly cool down, which shortens battery life, Rosenberger says. “Battery maintenance should be part and parcel of lift truck maintenance,” he says.

Even basic telematics solutions can move an operation toward intervals based on actual use, says Rosenberger, rather than static, time-based PMs. That’s because telematics can detect how a vehicle is being used during a shift, such as the hours or time spent doing actual lift tasks and moves.

Telematics might not be a maintenance panacea, concludes Rosenberger, but it’s a step in the right direction. “Telematics, when you combine that with fleet management system, is a winning combination for improved maintenance as well as reducing costs,” he says. “It gives you history over the assets, so you can look for ways to improve. And, it gives you a way to monitor your remediation efforts, to see the impact that training has in terms of improving driving habits and reducing maintenance costs.”

Data-driven insights

There are plenty of operations best practices for reducing maintenance issues with lift trucks, points out KION’s Hasenstab, often revolving around using machines only as intended.

These include ensuring operators don’t use a lift truck to lift loads that weigh more than the truck’s lift specifications as well as not lifting loads higher than the rating for a particular lift truck. Other tips for avoiding problems include using indoor machines indoors only, and ensuring that lift trucks used in cold storage are built to operate in cold environments. Diligence in completing pre-shift checklists also helps, says Hasenstab.

These tips aside, connected lift truck solutions result in better data to make many types of decisions with, including when to replace trucks or parts, says Hasenstab.

“Most companies do not have, or track, the level of data to make an educated decision on repair or replacement,” Hasenstab says. “Many companies replace “preemptively” after a set time, either by their own experience or recommendation of the truck supplier or service provider. The data necessary is available but varies from type of truck to manufacturers design principles. Some trucks are designed for longer life and warrant repairs, others are designed only for ‘one life.’”

Collin Rush, general manager of InfoLink customer support for Crown Equipment, agrees that connected solutions result in a wealth of data on operator performance, equipment health and product movement.

“You can gain a better understanding of when, where and how your fleet is operating, as well as identify those operators who are performing at the desired level and those who may need more training or coaching,” says Rush.

This data empowers better decisions, says Rush, including when to replace units. “While it’s possible to make lift truck repair/replace decisions without a fleet management system, there are a number of data points that can be monitored through forklift connectivity and analyzed to help you make a more accurate and informed determination,” Rush says. “This includes data related to utilization rates, maintenance history, and costs and performance levels. This data can then be combined with other factors, including growth projections, budgets, depreciation cycle, purchase or lease agreements, age of equipment and amount of spend you already have on the asset, into a customized calculation companies can use.”

One final tip any operation can follow—even if telematics isn’t part of the deployment—don’t be shy about tapping the expertise of lift truck manufacturers, dealers or other organizations who can help with maintenance advice or services. “There are organizations out there that can help with maintenance, and many of these services are reasonably priced, so it makes sense to look at using that expertise,” says Rosenberger.

Companies mentioned in this article:

  • Crown Equipment
  • KION North America
  • The Raymond Corp.
  • Yale Materials Handling Corp.


By Roberto Michel · September 23, 2019

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