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Variant on a Rider Stacker forklift, designed for narrow aisles. They are usually electrically powered and often have the highest storage-position lifting ability. A reach truck’s forks can extend to reach the load, hence the name. There are two types:

  • Moving carriage. This consists of an integrated tower mast that’s fixed and the forks are mounted on a deployable carriage or pantograph, typically with hydraulic or electro-mechanical actuators or in a scissor formation. They are common in North America and parts of Europe.
  • Moving mast; which consists of a slender tower mast that is mounted on tracks, allowing the entire assembly to extend or ‘reach’ using hydraulic or electro-mechanical actuators. It also eliminates a separate fork extender pantograph. They are common in the rest of the world, and generally considered safer.[14]

Counterbalanced forklift[edit]

A counterbalance forklift (note the counterweight at the back) being used to load logistics at an air force base


Standard forklifts use a counterweight at the rear of the truck to offset, or counterbalance, the weight of a load carried at the front of the truck.[15] Electric-powered forklifts utilise the weight of the battery as a counterweight and are typically smaller in size as a result.


A sideloader[16] is a piece of materials-handling equipment designed for long loads. The operator’s cab is positioned up front on the left-hand side. The area to the right of the cab is called the bed or platform. This contains a central section within it, called the well, where the forks are positioned. The mast and forks reach out to lift the load at its central point and lower it onto the bed. Driving forwards with a load carried lengthways allows long goods, typically timber, steel, concrete or plastics, to be moved through doorways and stored more easily than via conventional forklift trucks.

Order-picking truck[edit]

Similar to a reach truck, except the operator either rides in a cage welded to the fork carriage or walks alongside, dependent on design. If the operator is riding in the order picking truck, they wear a specially-designed safety harness to prevent falls. A special toothed grab holds the pallet to the forks. The operator transfers the load onto the pallet one article at a time by hand. This is an efficient way of picking less-than-pallet-load shipments and is


The middle nineteenth century through the early 20th century saw the developments that led to today’s[when?] modern forklifts. The forerunners of the modern forklift were manually-powered hoists that were used to lift loads.[4] In 1906, the Pennsylvania Railroad introduced battery-powered platform trucks for moving luggage at their Altoona, Pennsylvania, train station. World War I saw the development of different types of material-handling equipment in the United Kingdom by Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies of Ipswich. This was in part due to the labor shortages caused by the war. In 1917, Clark in the United States began developing and using powered tractor and powered lift tractors in their factories. In 1919, the Towmotor Company, and Yale & Towne Manufacturing in 1920, entered the lift truck market in the United States.[2] Continuing development and expanded use of the forklift continued through the 1920s and 1930s. The introduction of hydraulic power and the development of the first electric power forklifts, along with the use of standardized pallets in the late 1930s, helped to increase the popularity of forklift trucks.[4]

Forklifts and Cruise Liners
Forklift Loading Cruise Liners

The start of World War II, like World War I before, spurred the use of forklift trucks in the war effort.[6] Following the war, more efficient methods for storing products in warehouses were being implemented. Warehouses needed more maneuverable forklift trucks that could reach greater heights and new forklift models were made that filled this need.[7] For example, in 1954, a British company named Lansing Bagnall, now part of KION Group, developed what was claimed to be the first narrow-aisle electric-reach truck.[6] The development changed the design of warehouses leading to narrower aisles and higher load-stacking that increased storage capability.[6] During the 1950s and 1960s, operator safety became a concern due to the increasing lifting heights and capacities. Safety features such as load backrests and operator cages, called overhead guards, began to be added to forklifts produced in this era.[4] In the late 1980s, ergonomic design began to be incorporated in new forklift designs to improve operator comfort, reduce injuries and increase productivity.[8] During the 1990s, exhaust emissions from forklift operations began to be addressed which led to emission standards being implemented for forklift manufacturers in various countries.[9] The introduction of AC power forklifts, along with fuel cell technology, are also refinements in continuing forklift development.[4][10]

General operations[edit]

Forklift cab with control layout.

Forklifts are rated for loads at a specified maximum weight and a specified forward center of gravity. This information is located on a nameplate provided by the manufacturer, and loads must not exceed these specifications. In many jurisdictions, it is illegal to alter or remove the nameplate without the permission of the forklift manufacturer.

An important aspect of forklift operation is that it must have rear-wheel steering. While this increases maneuverability in tight cornering situations, it differs from a driver’s traditional experience with other wheeled vehicles. While steering, as there is no caster action, it is unnecessary to apply steering force to maintain a constant rate of turn.

Another critical characteristic of the forklift is its instability. The forklift and load must be considered a unit with a continually varying center of gravity with every movement of the load. A forklift must never negotiate a turn at speed with a raised load, where centrifugal and gravitational forces may combine to cause a tip-over accident. The forklift is designed with a load limit for the forks which is decreased with fork elevation and undercutting of the load (i.e., when a load does not butt against the fork “L”). A loading plate for loading reference is usually located on the forklift. A forklift should not be used as a personnel lift without the fitting of specific safety equipment, such as a “cherry picker” or “cage”.

Forklifts are a critical element of warehouses and distribution centers. It is considered imperative that these structures be designed to accommodate their efficient and safe movement. In the case of Drive-In/Drive-Thru Racking, a forklift needs to travel inside a storage bay that is multiple pallet positions deep to place or retrieve a pallet. Often, forklift drivers are guided into the bay by guide rails on the floor and the pallet is placed on cantilevered arms or rails. These maneuvers require well-trained operators. Since every pallet requires the truck to enter the storage structure, damage is more common than with other types of storage. In designing a drive-in system, dimensions of the fork truck, including overall width and mast width, must be carefully considered.[11]

Dedicated container forklift of HMNZS Canterbury vessel of the New Zealand Navy

Forklift control and capabilities[edit]

Forklift hydraulics are controlled either with levers directly manipulating the hydraulic valves or by electrically controlled actuators, using smaller “finger” levers for control. The latter allows forklift designers more freedom in ergonomic design.

Forklift trucks are available in many variations and load capacities. In a typical warehouse setting, most forklifts have load capacities between one and five tons. Larger machines, up to 50 tons lift capacity, are used for lifting heavier loads, including loaded shipping containers.[12]

In addition to a control to raise and lower the forks (also known as blades or tines), the operator can tilt the mast to compensate for a load’s tendency to angle the blades toward the ground and risk slipping off the forks. Tilt also provides a limited ability to operate on non-level ground. Skilled forklift operators annually compete in obstacle and timed challenges at regional forklift rodeos.


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