The heat Is on – Prepare your materials handling operation for summer

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As summer approaches, warehouse and factory managers need to plan for potentially difficult working conditions, an influx of temporary personnel and perhaps a seasonal shutdown. Here is some good advice on keeping your materials handling staff and equipment in top condition.

Cool

Excess heat in the workplace makes employees uncomfortable and tired, so productivity falls. If this discomfort continues for some time, you shouldn’t be surprised if staff leave you and join a company with a better working environment. Another outcome of overheating is loss of concentration, leading to mistakes and accidents.

Bearing this in mind, investing in temperature control makes good business sense. Air conditioning systems, ceiling-mounted high-volume low-speed (HVLS) fans, reflective ‘cool roofs’ and a variety of insulation methods should be considered in your improvement plans.

More immediately, you can bring in portable industrial fans, dehumidifiers and air conditioners to ease the situation. These have the advantage of flexibility, allowing you shift the cooling focus to whatever area is most in need of it at any time. In fact, if your workspace is very large or high, you might find this approach more cost-efficient than installing an air conditioning system for the whole building.

Well-insulated dock doors, when shut and sealed, can be very useful for keeping out hot air when the sun’s heat is intense. Conversely, if the temperature is hotter inside than outside, they can be opened wide to let in cool air. Be careful, however, that this doesn’t help insects and other pests to invade your premises. You may need to install screens as a defence.

Conveyor systems and other warehouse machinery are sources of heat. They should be serviced just before the summer, to make sure they are running at an efficient temperature, and then switched off when not in use. Insulated curtain walls or strips can be used to separate hot areas from the rest of the building.

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Portable industrial fans, dehumidifiers and air conditioners are a flexible option for comfort in specific areas.

Train

If your workforce is supplemented in summer by students, trainees and other seasonally employed staff, you need to be aware that this creates safety issues. Lack of familiarity with each other, with the job and with your operating practices can be a recipe for disaster – as seasonal accident patterns demonstrate.

You need to provide everyone with training, quickly and effectively. Some may have been trained elsewhere, in which case you should look at their certification and ideally check with the training organisation supplying it. In any case, it may be advisable to give them a refresher course specific to your operation.

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Early and effective training of seasonal staff is essential to minimise safety issues.

Statistics show that pedestrian workers are at higher risk than lift truck drivers from death or injury due to forklift accidents. Ensure they are trained to work safely in materials handling areas.

You should always view training as a profitable investment. It not only reduces the cost of damage to personnel, goods and equipment but enables your team to be more productive. As well as regularly reminding everyone of your safety policy, make sure you enforce it. That means supervising people’s work and being prepared to take disciplinary action if rules are broken.

If you take care of your temporary employees’ wellbeing and personal development, you will be rewarded with good work in the summer and hopefully beyond. Those who enjoy the experience may well help you again in your next busy period or join your company permanently when it expands. Some may even develop into your logistics managers of the future.

Protect

Leaving a forklift truck to bake for long periods under the hot summer sun is not a good idea. You may find, for instance, that rubber and plastic components disintegrate more quickly in that situation. Hydraulic oil may lose its lubricant qualities when overheated, with a resulting loss of internal protection. Coolants are also subjected to extra stress in the summer heat, and their deterioration can release chemicals which are damaging to cooling systems.

Whether you are storing the forklift for a summer break or just parking it between shifts or periods of activity, choose a cool place. Check and top up coolant levels as necessary – and replace the coolant before extended truck storage.

When storing a truck, beware of atmospheric moisture too. As well as causing general rust problems, it can contaminate the truck’s hydraulic oil and lead to oxidation and corrosion of metal components internally.

Place the truck on a level surface and apply the parking brake. Leave it with its mast positioned vertically, its forks lowered to the ground, and its directional and other controls in neutral. To release any remaining pressure in the hydraulic pipes, move the lift and tilt levers backwards and forwards a few times. If the tyres are pneumatic, inflate them to the normal recommended pressure.

You should try to use up as much as possible of the fuel in a diesel forklift’s tank before storing the truck. Diesel fuel deteriorates quickly, especially in hot weather, so store the truck empty and refill with a fresh supply after your break.

On an LPG lift truck, close the cylinder’s outlet valve and keep the engine running until all gas already in the system has been used. At this point it will stop. The valve should remain closed throughout storage.

Batteries should be disconnected, placed in your battery room or another cool, dark place, and topped up with battery fluid.

Before a summer shutdown, check engines carefully and ensure correct levels of all fluids.

Before leaving the truck, make sure its coolant and other fluid levels are correct. Examine its mechanical systems for signs of wear, deterioration or damage. These defects may grow worse during storage and you could be faced with a breakdown as soon as the truck goes back into use. When checking engines, pay special attention to the radiator’s cap, hoses and overall condition, the fan and its belt, the water pump and the thermostat. Check the engine oil and filter as well.

Apply the appropriate grease or oil to all lubrication points. Parts which are vulnerable to rusting, like forklift chains, can be smothered with a protective grease coating. Place covers over air intake vents and other openings to keep out moisture, condensation and dust, and enclose the whole truck with a sheet if possible.

These careful preparations will help you to maximise your lift truck’s life, minimise the long-term cost of maintenance and prevent unplanned downtime. With your forklift safely ‘put to bed’, lock away its keys and enjoy your holiday. When you return, both you and your truck will be refreshed and ready for action.

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First published on Eureka Online – Author: Mark Nicholson