In a beverage warehouse operation, getting product from point A to point B is clearly the No. 1 business objective. Equipment like lift trucks, pallet jacks and layer pickers are the workhorses of the warehouse, keeping product moving quickly and efficiently day in and day out. Yet, as with any other equipment, proper maintenance and operator usage is critical to productivity and safety.
Operator training is imperative to promote a safe work environment. Not only is operator training vital to protect a company’s investment in people, equipment and materials, it’s also required. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations require specialized training and regular re-training for forklift operators. And there are also state regulations that must be met. To supplement this, over the years, many distributors have implemented their own training programs to enhance operator performance and ensure the highest level of safety.
Gary Thompson, vice president and general manager at Powers Distributing Co., a beer distributor in Orion, Mich., says his organization believes it’s important to support training and maintenance practices, despite budgets getting pressured and squeezed, as it’s key to running a safe, efficient and cost-effective operation.
“We take very seriously our mission to be the best distributor we can be through constant improvement of people and processes. We as an organization put training front and center to develop our people and make sure they comply with regulations,” Thompson says.
Thompson describes the operator training program at Powers Distributing as “360 degrees,” as it incorporates classroom instruction, application education using actual equipment and training DVDs. OSHA requires companies to recertify their lift truck operators at least once every three years. At Powers Distributing, operators are retrained every year and a half, warehouse manager, Joe Hnatow, says. Other distributors also focus on retraining more frequently than the OSHA requirements.
There are many different operator training programs available with the goal of improving operators’ knowledge of proper operating procedures as well as increasing productivity. Many lift truck designers and manufacturers offer comprehensive training DVDs. Yale Materials Handling Corp. offers an operator education DVD, “The Key to Productivity.” And, Yale also offers a free safety poster providing an overview of safety ‘dos and don’ts’ and lift truck safety tips.
Hyster offers its “Productivity in Motion” operator training programs on DVD for Class I-V lift trucks. And Raymond Corp.’s “Safety in Motion” is a combination of classroom and hands-on training designed to help operators put into practice what they’ve learned.
Once the training session is over, warehouse supervisors are responsible for reinforcing proper and safe operation of lift trucks and other equipment in the warehouse, yet supervisors are often overlooked when it comes to training. To this end, Crown offers its DP LeadSafe education for supervisors. LeadSafe teaches supervisors to identify proper and improper lift truck operation, give feedback to lift truck operators, perform and understand the pre-use inspection process and understand OSHA requirements, according to Crown.
According to Jeff Bowles, product line manager at Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America, Inc. (MCFA), when it comes to ongoing training, one area managers should focus on is the use of walkie pallet trucks in confined spaces, such as trailers, as well as on lift gates and ramps, such as when the equipment is being used in delivery trucks.
“Load stability and security is another important emphasis. Operators are often building loads one case at a time and sometimes in excess of 10 high, so the ability to keep such loads stable is very important in these applications,” he says.
Beyond safety, ensuring that warehouse employees are properly trained on the most up-to-date processes and procedures also can help boost productivity and reduce product damage, which contributes to the bottom line.
Effective maintenance of lift trucks, power jacks and layer pickers is necessary to decrease downtime and increase productivity levels. Otherwise, if equipment needs to be repaired and is out of service, “you end up spending money when you should be making money,” notes Bill Pfleger, president of lift truck equipment supplier Yale Distribution.
While operating a lift truck fleet is a reality of business today, managing a lift truck fleet can get complicated, says Pfleger.
“Trying to keep tabs on service schedules is tough enough, but when you add in the varying degrees of usage per unit, multiple facilities in different locations and the possibility of having several service providers and part suppliers, it gets even trickier,” he notes.
To this end, an effective fleet management program can help tackle these challenges by helping warehouse managers understand their operating costs to better measure and monitor fleet savings.
A web-based fleet management system from Yale Material Handling Corp. allows managers to monitor and measure truck utilization, cost per hour and total fleet operation costs, Pfleger says. The system can even identify costs such as tire expense and avoidable damage repair.
Lift truck battery maintenance is a big maintenance challenge facing warehouse managers. Bowles with MCFA says managers need to focus on maintaining proper charge, battery cleanliness as well as regular cable, electrolyte and connector inspections.
At Powers Distributing, Hnatow set up a schedule to manage batteries consisting of eight hours on and eight hours off that has resulted in a battery life of more than 10 years for the lift trucks.
Good housekeeping around the warehouse also can assist with equipment maintenance, Bowles advises. Loose debris on the floor can cause flat spots on truck wheels, while loose articles lying on or around equipment can enter between movable parts and damage the equipment, he points out.
“We’re all trying to get more out of less,” Thompson notes. “There’s so many costs we can’t control, such as utilities and fuel, so if you can get your equipment to last longer and be in the shop less, then you can get more productivity out of your people.”