Reach forklifts, also known as reach trucks, reach forklift trucks, and high reach forklifts, are a specialized type of forklift used primarily in the warehousing industry, specifically designed for the put away and retrieval of stock/loads in narrow warehouse aisles. Reach Forklifts are significantly different to drive than regular counterbalanced forklift trucks. For more information, read ahead!
Know what a reach forklift is. As previously mentioned, reach forklifts are a specialised type of forklift specially designed for operation in narrow warehouse aisles, as such, the seat is positioned side on to reduce operator neck strain, as only a slight turn of the head is required to look forwards or backwards. Depending on the make and model, some reach forklifts can lift loads up to 12 meters (39.4 ft) high! The vast majority of reach forklifts are electrically powered, and the strongest ones have a lifting capacity of around 2.5 tons. This may be considered small compared to other forklifts, but for the purpose of reach forklifts, most loads in warehousing to be put away in aisles are usually no more than 1 ton. A very similar variant of the reach forklift is the double deep reach forklift, which by using a moving mast and moving forks and carriage, can put stock away "2 pallets deep".
Learn how to drive a reach forklift. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of learning to drive a reach forklift, is the reversed steering! This is due to reach forklifts designed to be driven backwards, so new operators usually find it tricky driving forwards trying to position the forks correctly to pick up a load. Other than steering, Reach Forklifts usually still have the same levers in the same positions as counterbalance forklifts - raise/lower, tilt, and sideshift. Some reach forklifts in North America have a joystick to control all the hydraulic functions - raise/lower, tilt, reach, and sideshift. The only new major hydraulic function a reach forklift has is the reach lever. This allows the forks and carriage to be moved forwards and backwards.
North America uses moving carriage and forks, whereas most other countries use a moving mast, with moving forks and carriage saved only for double deep forklifts. Other functions a reach forklift may have include: a "deadman's switch" (usually a pedal) which must constantly be pressed in order for the forklift to operate, "fork tines leveler" - feature which returns tilt to 90 degrees/"mast vertical", and other electrical gauges such as wheel turn indicator, scale, and battery indicator.
Understand how to drive a reach forklift. Initially, as with all forklifts, for your first few times you will need to practice driving/basic maneuvering in open spaces, before moving onto aisle work. Provided you are already a certified/licensed as a forklift operator, you may be able to take short periods of time to practice driving the reach forklifts at your workplace, as long as you have not been told otherwise and are reasonably sure you are allowed to do so. Another option is to find a training organisation to deliver reach forklift training, however unfortunately these are few and far between as forklift operators usually do not legally need another license/certification to drive a reach forklift - therefore demand is generally low.
Understand how to drive in aisles. Perhaps the most difficult maneuvers of reach forklift driving is put away and retrieval of stock in narrow aisles. Practise maneuvering in open spaces and practise put away and retrievals of loads on open space wall racking before attempting aisles. In aisle use, an example of a retrieval would be once you have driven to your selected "load bay", with the reach fully retracted (back to the forklift), turn a full 90 degrees so your forks are in the right position (don't be afraid to drive back and retry as sideshift can only help you slightly). Raise the forks until at the desired level, reach outwards to put the forks into the pallet to be retrieved, lift up and out of the racking, then retract the reach lever back towards the forklift, lower the load, and make the return 90 degree turn to drive out of the aisle. Experienced operators are able to operate with the reach feature fully extended at all times by turning the forks into the pallet they want to retrieve. However this takes many years of practise and experience and is certainly not recommended for new operators without experience.
Understand the limitations of reach forklifts. Most Reach Forklifts have a very low ground clearance and cannot be driven at all on uneven ground or slopes at the risk of tip overs. Reach forklifts are designed to operate only on flat even ground - usually concrete. Also previously mentioned, it is very uncommon to come across a reach forklift with a lifting capacity of greater than 2.5 tons. Most warehouses will even use a reach forklift with a lifting capacity of 1.5 - 2 tons. Therefore caution must be used whenever handling heavy loads, or double stacked loads to avoid overloading of the forklift (leading to tip overs).
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