Nearly everything we eat, wear, or place in our homes moves on a pallet. Lifting those pallets are ANSI B56.1-1969 standard powered industrial trucks—better known as forklifts. If you buy a product in a store, it has been moved by a forklift at some point. The everyday operation of warehouses, distribution centers, and, indeed, the entire supply chain depend on these humble vehicles. Even if a warehouse has multiple forklifts, the loss of even one for a single day can seriously impact warehouse productivity and even cause contract violations due to missed deliveries.
OSHA takes forklift maintenance seriously, with three different sections concerning forklift maintenance. In order to perform safe, reliable repairs that comply with manufacturer’s specifications and OSHA standards, you need precision torque tools that can tighten every bolt, screw, and hydraulic fitting with exactly the right force needed to hold a part securely in place without damaging the fastener or the part.
Why Torque Tools are Vital for Hydraulic Systems
The type of relatively small forklift you see in your average warehouse has some serious might, capable of lifting 4,000 to 5,000 pounds. The forklift can carry this weight across the warehouse at approximately 10 miles an hour and can lift it 12 feet overhead. With extensions to its mast, it can lift pallets even higher into high rack systems. Or, with additional counterweights, it can carry even more. All this adds up to extraordinary stress being placed on the bolts holding a forklift together, and it highlights the dangers of having any part of a forklift fail in your warehouse. In order to prevent such hazards, your fasteners and hydraulic fittings must be adjusted to the manufacturer’s specifications, and this is given in the measure of torque.
Torque is the measure of the radial force applied to the fastener as it is screwed in. Apply too little torque to a fastener and it will not stay fastened in place. In forklift maintenance, a hydraulic fitting that is too loose may not be able to hold the pressure of the fluid in the line when the forklift picks up a pallet, resulting in leaks. Hydraulics depend on the pressure of this fluid pushing off of pistons in order to work, and a forklift with a loose hydraulic fitting can have its loaded forks drop very quickly.
Over-tightening one of these fittings is no better than leaving it loose, as they’re often made of soft, non-ferrous metals. Applying too much torque damages the threads so that they will not seal or so that the fitting can pop under loads. In either case, the likely consequences are a dropped pallet, a spray of hazardous hydraulic fluid—which, on top of everything else, can be scalding hot—and significant delays in operations as the mess is cleaned up and a repair or replacement for the forklift is found.
That is the best case scenario. If someone is injured by the falling pallet or a spray of hydraulic fluid, then operations may be stopped entirely for a thorough investigation and review of your warehouse practices. Proper maintenance of hydraulics using torque tools, therefore, is necessary to avoid such harmful accidents.
Engine Repair Requires Torque Tools
If you’ve done mechanical repair of any type, you probably have encountered an incorrectly torqued fastener. Usually over-torqued, these bolts or screws can be easily recognized by their refusal to turn even as you stand on the wrench and the way their heads round off. Their shanks also have been known to snap, leaving the head of the fastener in your hand and most of the shaft still in the bore with no easy way to turn it. Often, repairs are held up for hours while workers either carefully loosen these fasteners or extract them after they break.
Many forklifts are powered by internal combustion engines similar to cars, and, as in an automobile, forklift engines have torque specifications for the bolts used for the water pump, crankshaft, camshaft, cylinder heads, and every part of the engine inside and out. In the case of crankshaft bearing bolts and connecting rod bolts, there are two specifications: one each for the first and second tightening passes. Tightening by feel and having it too loose can cause a bolt to come free inside the engine and destroy the engine block. If they are over-torqued, the bolt can shear under the force, also destroying the engine block.
Over- or under-tightening even seemingly less critical parts can also have catastrophic consequences. For instance, if the bolts that hold the water pump to the exterior of the block are not tightened correctly, then coolant leaks can ruin the engine. This is to say nothing of the problems you might encounter if pulley torque specifications aren’t correct. Engine work, whether it is for forklift maintenance or repair, needs to be done to spec in order to keep everything functioning reliably.
The Best Tools for Safe Forklift Maintenance
Forklift maintenance uses a variety of fasteners set to different torque specifications. Hydraulic fittings are made of softer metals sensitive to over-torquing. For these applications, it’s best to use tools that actually prevent over-tightening by disengaging once the set threshold is reached. Cam-over and break-over torque wrenches both meet this requirement. Cam-over wrenches disengage at the set limit and stop turning the fastener. Break-over wrenches disengage the handle from the head. Due to the variety of fasteners and different torque settings found on forklift hydraulics, an adjustable break-over wrench with interchangeable heads is the best tool to use. It will work well for many fasteners found in forklift mechanical systems, too.
The bolts that go onto a forklift’s engines tend to be made of sterner materials like steel, so they aren’t as vulnerable to over-tightening. They generally need to be tightened with more force to hold, and this might not be possible with the wrench you might use for hydraulics. Click wrenches have higher maximum torque settings than other wrenches. However, these audibly warn the user with a click when they’re approaching the torque limit instead of disengaging. Since they don’t actively prevent the operator from exceeding limits, they should be used with care and attentiveness.
Everything in the modern supply chain depends on forklifts to make it into the hands of consumers. Manufacturing centers also rely on these vehicles to function daily. In order to stay in operation, meet contractual agreements, and provide the inventory you need to stay in business, forklift maintenance needs to be done to specifications using the right torque tools.