Forklift Purchasing for the Winemaker

Deep down most hands on winemakers praise, cherish and respect their forklift. Perhaps that comes from the days of remembrance when few forklifts existed in the industry. Maximizing the use of the winery forklift is crucial to saving labor, our precious backs and dollars. Try to take the labor savings and re-invest it into focusing on the winemaking. Many thanks are in order to the forklift industry for saving our aching backs with these hugely useful tools.

When searching to acquire a forklift, one must look at many factors before engaging the purchase, such as: Fuel choice, size, number of wheels, tire size and material, load capacity/size, lift height needed, fork length, options (tilt, side shift, rotating head) and floor / terrain to operate the unit on.

Fuel Choice: Electric is recommended for any type of indoor use. These are quiet and they do not emit noxious carbon monoxide gases that can build to levels of toxicity in an indoor environment. Make sure the electric power source at your winery will be ample, and properly configured, to charge the forklift when speaking to suppliers. Propane and other fuels are only recommended in well-ventilated areas typically outdoors.

Size: Do the best you can to get the smallest size forklift possible that will be able to handle the largest job(s) anticipated. This will help conserve space in the winery by limiting the “swing room” needed to properly navigate certain areas. The smaller the turning radius, the larger amount of space that will be conserved for product storage and that equals greater return in the use of your building(s) floor space and utility bills. Look at doorway openings you plan to enter and exit rooms through and make sure the lift will be able to enter these areas. Look at and assess any ceiling supports and/or free span areas to be confident the storage area can be maximized with the use of the forklift.

Number of Wheels: There are four-wheel and three-wheel models to consider. In general it can be said the four wheel models may have a touch more stability while balancing loads at heights. These, in my opinion, don’t seem to have the swing room radius to that of a three-wheel model. The extra swing room one gets from a three model makes the three-wheel model a better choice for the small winery. Drive both types before deciding on this feature and review the overall needs before locking in on a choice.

Tire Size and Material: The size of the tires make a large difference in terms of the terrain it may operate on. Larger tires may operate on more infirm surfaces, such as gravel dust, while smaller tires get stuck easily when driven off concrete or macadam surfaces. Pneumatic tires and solid tires are the choices but do keep in mind pneumatic tires may have less stability mostly at higher stacking heights. Most indoor winery forklifts have solid tires. The tire material will make a big difference especially in the cleanliness look of your winery. White tires are an option with most companies and they leave less marking on floor surfaces if that is a concern to you and your operation. Keep in mind a forklift is often limited by small changes in flooring level heights so small edges, even an inch or more, in the flooring will need to be overcome if the winery has them. Plan your building if you have not already built your building.

Load Capacity/Size: The load capacity will range greatly with your needs. The size of the load one can lift will vary with the size and weight of the lift. Smaller wineries will want to review the following numbers at a minimum. If handling two standard 60 gallon barrels on racks one must calculate the weight to consider this will weigh approximately 1400 pounds. Then consider if your building and barrel room program is set up to stack these three, four, five and even six high while full. (Please do your own in-house calculations to generate your own numbers, review these with your forklift supplier and winery safety personnel). The next potential calculation can be the bottled warehouse goods. Assuming 60 cases per pallet in standard glass one must calculate that load will be near 2600 pounds. Please remember the load size and fork length can greatly impact the height level of lift. Larger cumbersome items become unstable while smaller items keep the center of mass more manageable.

Height: Review the above comments to understand the weight of an item factored in with the maximum height it may be stacked will influence the model forklift needed. The higher one desires to lift heavier items the heavier the actual forklift should be. Other items to consider are: Will a side shift feature exist on the lift? Does the lift have a tilt feature (most do)? How long are the forks on the lift? Has an extension to the forks been made, such a rotating head, which will affect the load capacity? These are all important considerations to keep in mind. Keep in mind that in most cases the lifting beams are triple recessed masts that extend upward one mast at a time allowing for better navigation while stacking. Again, the above mentioned four or three wheel models will factor in greatly due to stability.

Fork Length: Look at the many variable day to day items one may use the forklift for at your location. Handling bins, pallets, and barrels may be the top needs for the lift. Size the forks to fit these needs both in length, width and thickness and that the width may be adjusted between the forks. Some of the thicker forks have issues with actually getting into and out of certain areas. I prefer the thinnest thickness and width possible in conjunction with the best length. Most winery’s find 50 to 52 inch forks length are ample. Double check to make sure this will handle your needs and your equipment setup. Many wineries also source removable fork extensions that can be used for odd jobs.

Options: Many forklifts offer options that a winery may find useful. Make sure that if you think you will select and add an option in the future, that the unit selected will have the space or lever present for that option and enough capacity, especially hydraulic, to run the option. The feature that comes to mind the most and perhaps is one of the best adaptations of the forklift to the winery trade, is the dumping option: Many of these dump forward or use a 360-degree rotating head feature. If handling fruit in bins, this feature should be highly considered. It also helps in other material handling such as pomace, lees filter cakes, tasting room refuse etc.

Side shift as previously mentioned is a great asset in terms of stacking palletized case goods, barrels and other materials that should have uniform stacking.
When adding additional options be sure to investigate the actual load capacity of that individual option.

Note: In the past I have been able to obtain forklifts with both side shift and the rotating head feature. This, however, is becoming difficult to obtain directly from the manufacturer.

Other options could include a cage roof, lights, capitulating forklifts (hydraulic center swivel) and a host of other items to discuss with your sales representative.

Always keep safety in mind when having personnel operate the forklift. Make sure they have taken courses with an emphasis on safety since these units have obvious potential safety concerns.

Floor: In all cases make sure the floor load will handle the forklift PSI rating. This includes the flooring of any tractor trailers one may drive into. While setting up numerous wineries with engineers involved, they have always found the forklift was the single greatest psi rating issue to review when discussing the floor load ratings. As mentioned before, abrupt surface level changes an inch and a half or more may be just enough height change to restrict a forklift from going into certain areas. Review this feature, also, in your building before selecting or sourcing a forklift. Make sure the flooring has an ample roughness to the floor so traction is maintained. A light broom concrete finish is often ample or an epoxy with some aggregate. Avoid slick glazed concrete surfaces and if your winery has glazed concrete floor be especially cautious to keep it dry. These floors become very slick to forklift tires when the floors are wet!

As you can see, one does not just venture out and buy any forklift. Research must be done taking into consideration what one expects to do with the lift, factor in any building limitations and move forward from there. Select the smallest forklift possible that will adapt to your building and also be able to do the largest job expected. The above is essential to maximize the forklift’s use for your operation, maximize your capital and keep labor costs at a minimum.

Extra Notes:

• Longer forks increase the swing room radius needed; make sure the rating of the floor will handle the weight of the lift as well as the items(s) carried.

• Relate the above into the PSI (pounds per square inch) per tire surface contact point and investigate your flooring.

• Watch items on the other side of what is being handled to make sure the forks don’t pierce walls etc.

• Make sure loose items are secure before raising them to certain heights.

• Know when to get off the forklift and to use a pallet jack, walk behind models or other means.

• Always, always, always be safe on or around a forklift.

Short Course:

• White tires make for cleaner looking floor

• Look at floor load ratings and finish.

• Smallest size lift possible to do largest job.

• Safety, Safety , Safety.