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Electric Forklifts Supply Powerful Benefits

All along the supply chain, companies are switching from internal combustion (IC) forklifts to those powered by electricity. Electric models accounted for 64% of North American forklift sales in 2018, and their market share is expected to increase. Companies making the change are looking to reduce their environmental footprint, lower costs and provide a safer working environment.

Lower costs and less maintenance

A major benefit of switching to electric forklifts is lower operating costs. For example, annual fuel cost for a standard liquid petroleum gas forklift with an 8-gallon tank operating for eight hours a day five days a week can reach nearly $5,000 at $2.60 per gallon. An electric lift truck with a 36-volt battery and a charge of six hours per day would cost only $625 a year at the same operating schedule, assuming an average electric rate of 7 cents per kilowatt-hour.

According to Washington State University, operating and maintenance costs for a lead-acid electric forklift average 30% less than those for an IC version. An electric forklift has far fewer parts compared to an IC vehicle. There are no spark plugs, belts, filters or oil to change, as well as no pistons or catalytic converters to replace. Most IC units require oil and filter changes every 250 hours.

How do they stack up?

Comparing them side by side, electric forklifts have a number of advantages over IC models.

  • Environmentally friendly. Most electric forklifts produce zero emissions, eliminating greenhouse gases and harmful carbon monoxide. With no combustion sources, ventilation and monitoring costs are lower. Spill control and remediation costs are also reduced.
  • Less noise. Decibel volume of an electric forklift ranges is roughly equivalent to conversation level, providing much quieter operation.
  • Flexibility. Because they can generate as much torque as gas forklifts, electric units can handle just about any load, from light to heavy.
  • Easy to maneuver. An electric forklift battery weight acts as a steady counterbalance to the forklift's compact size, providing superior maneuverability.
  • Improved safety. Potential injury from handling fuel cylinders is eliminated. Employees are no longer exposed to fumes from fuels and spills, as well as potential fire hazards.

Electric forklifts can cost more to purchase than their IC counterparts, and they require a charging infrastructure. They're more suitable for indoors because they're affected by cold or wet weather conditions. Cold temperatures can reduce run time on electric forklifts using standard lead-acid batteries by up to 35%. Lithium-ion (Li) batteries aren't as severely affected by cold, however. Forklifts using these batteries may be more suitable for outdoors or cold storage applications.

In general, the operating life of electric forklifts are similar to those of IC models. Some electric forklifts feature regenerative charging, where energy is recaptured during braking, extending operating time.

Construction supply company goes electric

Midwest Canvas, a manufacturer of high-performance packaging materials and construction supplies, uses a fleet of 10 forklifts to move product. With high repair costs, the company was looking for an alternative and decided to lease four electric forklifts. Average savings for the year after implementation were 50%. Additional benefits included a cleaner environment and long run-times of 12 hours on a single battery charge.

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