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The list of attachments and options for forklifts is constantly growing, which makes it all the more important for operators to have a full understanding of their forklift's load capacity, as well as the dangers of exceeding it. Load capacity should be one of the first things you consider when looking for a new forklift, as it is directly related to the unit you need. It may seem like a straightforward process, but there is more to it than matching your average load weight to a forklift that is rated for that capacity.
What Is Forklift Load Capacity?
Forklifts are categorized in a variety of ways. One of these is the weight that they are able to lift, commonly referred to as load capacity. They tend to start at a capacity of 3,000 pounds, with some being able to support as much as 120,000 pounds. While several models are rated for heavy-duty applications and operation, the most common load capacities are those that are rated from 3,000 to 7,000 pounds and 8,000 to 11,000 pounds.
Your average load affects the load capacity you need for your forklift. You should know the usual dimensions and weight of the loads so that you can better work with the salesperson to find the best unit for your needs. It is also important to consider load variation when looking into forklifts. If every pallet you load is identical, then variation isn't a big deal, but many environments move different sized loads. It is often a good idea to get a forklift that can handle larger loads than you typically run to allow for any future weight increases and maximize your investment.
Another factor that needs to be considered is the distribution of the load. A heavy load with odd dimensions or an odd shape can impact the load center, altering the weight distribution and capacity needed.
Understanding Forklift Capacity Limits
Multiple factors play into capacity; it isn't as simple as matching your average load weight to a forklift of the same weight capacity. To get a complete idea of the capacity limit of a forklift, you need to look at both the gross and net capacity.
The gross capacity is the rating for the base chassis. This tells you the forklift's load capacity under ideal conditions and up to a specific working height. Gross capacity tends to be highly generalized (experienced operators, for example, know better than to push these limits). Net capacity is more individualized to the particular unit, taking all part of the forklift into account.
Remember that any attachments to your forklift can alter the load capacity and center. It is important that you know the full extent of the impact that an attachment will have when calculating the load capacity and center. Refrain from using attachments that do not provide this information. Otherwise, your estimates will be off, which can lead to unstable loads and dangerous situations.
Field Calculating Load Capacity
There may be times that a load will be outside of your specific load center, which will require calculating whether the load is safe for you to move. For example, let's say your forklift has a 5,000 pound capacity and a 24-inch load center, but the load you need to move has a 28-inch center. Since the load center is higher than that of the forklift, the safe load capacity will be less than the 5,000 pounds the forklift is rated for. In order to estimate the actual load capacity, you will need to divide the rated load center by the actual load center, then multiply that by the stated capacity. So for the measurements of the example, you would divide 24 by 28 and multiply that number by 5,000:
24" / 28" = 0.857 x 5,000 = 4,285.71
Therefore, the approximate safe load capacity is 4,285 pounds.
Recommended Safety Requirements
Operating a forklift can be dangerous, but as long as the proper safety precautions are followed and the unit is handled correctly it's smooth sailing. However, even the smallest detail or incident can turn routine operation into a dangerous, or even fatal, task. Because of this, it is incredibly important that all of the recommended safety requirements are followed.
Never exceed the listed load capacity of a forklift and always remember to calculate the safe load capacity of an oversized load. You should also make sure to position all loads in a way that will shorten the load center distance by loading as close to the front wheels as possible. When in doubt, you can always consult the manufacturer's instructions for your specific forklift.