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Ways to Safely and Efficiently Transport Pallets Without a Forklift

Full pallets & less-than-pallet loads are frequently transported without forklifts

Forklift Safety Inquiry

forklift carrying a heavy loaded pallet in a warehouse

Forklifts are ubiquitous in warehousing and other industrial operations, but aren’t necessary in many other applications, such as small assembly shops, retailers, auto dealerships, and others that require materials movement but do not need a forklift, with its maintenance costs, safety issues, driver requirements and its footprint in a smaller facility. What methods can you use instead?

Ways to transport and elevate unit loads with no forklift

stacker unloading a truck

There are a variety of powered and non-powered materials transport tools available if you either cannot or don’t want to have forklifts in a particular area or function.

Among them are stackers, lift transporters, and powered lift hand trucks, all of which are more ergonomic and speedy than hauling materials on carts, trays, wagons and so forth. Ergonomic because they don’t require bending and lifting for loading and unloading. Speedy because they roll smoothly and have some form of lift for loading and unloading, thereby saving on loading time.

The common pallet jack is good for moving pallet loads around, but only after the pallet has been loaded off a truck. Facilities that don’t have a forklift or other means to move a full pallet from an elevated trailer to the ground must seek alternative means.

How Can You Go Forklift-Free? Fewer forklifts make operations safer. How can you handle pallet loads without one?

Stackers – powered, manual, portable, non-straddling and counterweight styles

powered stacker

Portable stackers, with load capacities of between 300 to 350 lbs., have a narrow 28″ wide footprint for fitting into smaller spaces like packing & shipping areas, and offices. They run on 12V batteries and can be folded up for storage when not in use. One nice thing about them is that the platform is suitable as a work positioner to assist in assembly/disassembly work.

Manually operated stackers lack the battery power, but are a good choice for light to moderate weight loads ( up to 1,000 lbs.). The lift is foot pump actuated and can use both platforms and forks for carrying loads. A lift height of up to 65″ allows for lifting light pallets into pick positions, as well.

Counterweight stackers can handle loads up to 1,000 lbs. and lift from 62″ to 74″ high. Able to handle pallets, these stackers can lift full loads to higher levels because of their counterweight design which keeps the stacker balanced when under load and lifting.  Also battery powered, these machines have very low load centers between 13″ and 15″.

Powered stackers not only lift and position loads, but they transport under power as well, making transport times faster. Ergonomic controls provide greater visibility when loading and positioning. Capacities from 1,500 lbs. to 3,000 lbs. make these stackers useful in dock and rack areas as well as order picking, stocking and restocking. Lift heights range from 62″ to 150″.

Non-straddling stackers can work with standard GMA pallets and skids and have a capacity of up to 2,000 lbs. With a lift height of 34″, these stackers are great for transporting and lifting closed bottom pallets without having to straddle them. Outriggers provide stabilization without straddling the load while lifting the load and can be moved under the lifted load during transport.

Pallet jacks are another good way to execute this, although they typically don’t replace forklifts. They’re more for accessing pallets within a lower rack level or short transport. For the right application, they’re a good way to reduce the number of forklifts in the building.

Can the pallet be conveyed?

gravity conveyor carrying pallets to a manufacturing process.
If you frequently transport pallets over a defined distance, pallet conveying may be a solution. This allows you to build, load or unload pallets along a conveyor line and transport them either away from the process or toward the next one. This may reduce the need for forklifts to transit to and from an area constantly. Examples include progressive assembly, takeaway from loading and dock areas that require constant forklift egress.

Vertical Pallet Movement Options: Scissor lifts, vertical conveyors and other ways to load or unload pallets from mezzanines and elevated surfaces

Manual pallet transport

You can also consider mobile pallets, pallet jacks and other pallet transport methods for many applications.

You need forklifts, but you don’t need them everywhere

If your facility has narrow aisles and way too much pedestrian traffic for forklifts to be in the mix, you do have other options for getting materials from one place to another without using motorized vehicles. Whether powered lift hand trucks, lift transporters or some kind of stacker, there is a solution for most any transport issues you face.

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Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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