By Steve Liss
National Service Manager
I’ve been on the service side of the forklift industry for over 35 years, and I’ve seen it all, having worked for many of the best-known brands. People will often ask me, who makes the best truck, and I can honestly say, of the manufacturers I’ve worked for, they’re all good. Some are better at building big Class 5 units, while others may have an advantage in small Class 3s. As long as the truck is properly suited to the application it’s going to do the job well. For me, the real difference isn’t at the manufacturer, it’s at the service departments of the dealerships.
As the National Service Manager for Big Joe, I travel from coast to coast training dealer service technicians on the proper care and maintenance procedures for our products. I also assist technicians with trouble shooting on equipment in the field if there is an acute issue with a truck. Aside from obvious misuse and abuse (the leading factors in forklift failure), the biggest issue I encounter is the disregard for proper maintenance. It’s easy to blame the owners, but I also find fault with dealers and technicians who don’t do the basics or go the extra mile to ensure the mechanical soundness of a unit.
Training a technician to “go the extra mile” in their inspections
Too often I see equipment that has not been taken care of to manufacturers specifications resulting in unneeded repairs, high maintenance costs and excess down time, giving the equipment a perceived image of being poor quality. If you ran your car 30,000 miles between oil changes, it certainly wouldn’t last very long. I don’t care if it’s a Chevy or a BMW, if you neglect any machine it will breakdown. It’s just common sense and it couldn’t be truer for a forklift. That’s why I recommend implementing a quality Planned Maintenance program for every lift truck. A couple of hours out of service every few months can pay enormous dividends in the long-term service life of a unit. To be clear, I am talking about Planned or Scheduled Maintenance programs where a trained technician inspects and services a forklift on a regular basis; not Extended Warranty programs which go into effect once a system has failed.
The advantages of a Quality Maintenance program are:
- Ensuring the truck is safe, to avoid injury and product damage.
- Promoting maximum truck performance.
- Prolonging truck life.
- Reducing costly down time.
- Avoiding unnecessary repairs.
- Catching a problem early to avoid a more costly repair.
Obviously, we all want the truck to be operating in a safe manner. Brakes that work, valves that open and close properly, lift chains that are not worn, etc. A quality Planned Maintenance program can help reduce potential injuries and damage caused by a system malfunction by catching it before it becomes an issue. When you consider the costs associated with on the job injuries, lost productivity and destroyed materials, the amount spent on a maintenance program is inconsequential at best.
Maintenance is also key in ensuring the rated performance and service life of a forklift. Simple things like lubricating a mast channel, rollers and chains can allow a mast to raise to its maximum lift height freely, putting less strain on pump motors and hydraulic lines. Left unlubricated, over time, the bearings may cease, causing increased pressure on the hydraulic system that manifests itself in a catastrophic failure that is very expensive to repair. Forklifts often operate in less than ideal environments and can collect large amounts of dirt and debris in motors, switches, electrical contact points, and virtually every place where lubricants are used. Frequent cleaning and removal of contaminants can lower motor operating temperatures and prevent physical damage to mechanical components. A couple pennies worth of grease and a few minutes with an air compressor can, with regular application, add years to the life of a forklift.
Proper inspection by a trained technician is also essential to both the longevity and safety of a unit. When I conduct a service training seminar at a dealership, I always encourage the technicians to be both thorough and proactive in their inspections. Catching and repairing little issues like replacing a leaking hose, tightening a loose bolt on a stability caster, or replacing a worn lift chain now will save hundreds if not thousands of dollars down the road. Cutting corners or “pencil whipping” through an inspection sheet might get them out the door quicker, but I can pretty much guarantee that they’ll be back sooner, rather than later, to fix that little annoyance that grew into a great big problem. The end results are a broken truck, a black eye for the manufacturer, an unhappy customer and lost future revenues for the dealership.
So, what should a maintenance program entail?
The 4 steps are:
It is essential to lubricate fittings, bushings, chains and pivot points frequently as proper lubrication can reduce premature wear.
Removing dirt & debris from a unit can help to prevent breakdowns and systems failures. Accumulated dirt in the motor can raise its temperature, shortening its service life. Lubricants are notorious collectors of the grit and grime that fouls moving parts and leads mechanical breakdowns.
A trained technician inspecting a truck can catch a problem in the early onset to avoid a more costly repair. An abraded hose or worn switch is best replaced before it can cause a major problem and down time!
Proper adjusting along with servicing as a result of or during the inspection can eliminate the need for an emergency service call down the road, minimizing down time and repair costs.
Enrolling a customer in a scheduled maintenance program actually serves two purposes. One, obviously being the ongoing safety and operation of the customer’s investment.
Steve Liss, National Service Manager
The second and often overlooked item is the building of trust and a strong business relationship between dealer and customer. Having a knowledgeable and professional technician representing the dealership on a monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly timetable can lay the foundation for years and years of repeat business. Furthermore, conducting maintenance inspections at regularly scheduled intervals can also guarantee the dealership a revenue stream even in the leanest of sales cycles. When customers aren’t buying new, they are most definitely maintaining their existing fleet. Resulting parts sales and short-term rentals can be the difference between an up or down quarter. In our industry, its often said that the salesman gets the first order and service department earns the rest.