How Many Forklifts Do I Need?

by Dana Bowen, on May 8, 2020 at 11:00 AM

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How many forklifts do I really need? Is a common question that's easy to answer - once you do some homework. In the material handling industry, we call this "right-sizing" your forklift fleet.

The number of forklifts you need really depends upon how many hours your lift(s) get used, and to a lesser extent, the size of your warehouse and number of operators. Unfortunately, the calculations is not as simple as saying, “we run an 8-hour shift, so our forklift gets used eight hours a day.”

How Many Forklifts You Need Depends on Utilization

Accurately calculating how many hours your forklifts get used each day is the key to determining the optimal number of forklifts for your operation. Many businesses think because they run an 8-hour shift, operators put eight hours per day on each lift truck.

When you think about it, that’s nearly impossible. Most operators are on and off the lift throughout their shift; they don’t operate it continuously for eight hours. Based on the analysis we've done for many customers, an operator assigned to a single forklift typically uses it 4-6 hours per day.

How to Maximize the Productivity of Your Forklift

While some warehouses assign lifts to a single operator, others make their forklifts available to any operator as needed - whether they need it for one hour or six hours. This “on-demand” availability is the best way to maximize the productivity of your forklift.

Establishing shifts so operators stagger their forklift use is the key to making the on-demand system work. While some operators are moving product, others are building or wrapping pallets, doing paperwork, etc.

Running multiple shifts is another way to reduce fleet costs. For example, if you have 20 operators all working at the same time, you may need 20 lifts; but if you have 20 operators split between two shifts, you only need 10 forklifts.

Paper companies often have a day shift and night shift. It works like this:

  • Day shift - receives product and puts pallets away
  • Night shift - pulls pallets and builds pallets for deliveries the next day

If you have a new operation, leases and forklift rentals are a good place to start. That way, you’re not locked into equipment long-term. When it comes time to buy a forklift, you'll have plenty of usage data. Seasonal businesses can right-size for their peak season using rentals or specially-structured leases.

Optimize Your Warehouse By Right-Sizing Your Forklift Fleet

Break down usage by task - How many hours are your forklifts used for shipping and receiving versus production? Are forklifts being used extensively for horizontal transportation? A tow tractor or single-double forklift attachment can help you get the job done at a lower cost.

Track forklift activity by operator - If you have multiple operators that do the same job, follow their productivity to see if they all move roughly the same number of pallets per shift (or other specified time frame).

Identify inefficiencies - If your operation uses multiple lift trucks to move a single pallet from the loading dock to its final position on the rack, you can save time and money by having one forklift handle everything from start to finish.

The right forklift/pallet racking combination allows you to:

  • Maximize equipment usage
  • Improve productivity by eliminating the need for multiple lifts to move a single pallet
  • Limit the need for specialty use lifts

Questions? Let us know how we can help.

Why tie up capital in equipment that just sits around? Mid Columbia Forklift and MidCo Material Handling can help you right-size your forklift fleet by taking hour readings and calculating usage - so you can make data-driven decisions about your fleet.

Contact us online or by phone:
Auburn 253-854-5438
Pasco 509-547-7413
Wenatchee 509-663-9009
Yakima 509-457-5137

Further Reading:
Rent Vs. Buy - Do You Know the Magic Number?
Common Misconceptions About Buying a Used Forklift
How to Plan For Your Seasonal Forklift Rental

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