Maintaining Forklift Reliability and Hydraulic Systems

Extending the Forklift Service Life

Forklifts, also popularly called lift trucks, are the irreplaceable workhorses in warehouses and manufacturing and processing facilities, lumberyards, and the freight moving industry. For those businesses who lease their forklifts, maintenance is not a concern, they’ll simply be exchanged for fresh, reliable machines when the lease is up. But for businesses who own and maintain their own forklift fleets, maintenance is imperative for smooth operations to prevent unscheduled downtime from disrupting production.

Forklifts are some of the most ruggedly built and reliable industrial machines and their service lives can be extended significantly with some basic maintenance performed monthly, or every 200 hours of operation including:

  • Chassis and mast lubrication
  • Changing engine oil
  • Cleaning the air filter
  • Adjusting engine idle speed and proper ignition timing
  • spark plugs, distributor cap, points, and rotor
  • Lift, tilt, and side-shift cylinder inspection
  • Drive belt tension

Forklift operators should perform checks at the start of each shift for hose or cylinder leaks, tire condition, operating safety lights, parking brake, horn, and steering. Mast operation should be checked by raising and lowering the forks with and without a full load. Finally, engine oil, fuel, radiator water and hydraulic fluid levels should be checked. Problems detected by these frequent inspections can be corrected before they cause costly unexpected failures and equipment damage and safety hazards later on.

Forklift Hydraulics

Forklifts vary by their power sources, whether electric, gas, propane, or diesel, but all of these different types get their lifting power from hydraulic systems. The typical forklift will use hydraulic power in three axes; to lift and lower loads, tilt the mast forward and back, and to side-shift the load from left to right. All the lifting power of the forklift is centered in its hydraulic system.

Even though the three functions use individual cylinders, they all operate from a common hydraulic system so failure in just one component can lead to problems in all the hydraulic functions. For this reason, a problem experienced with any single hydraulic function should never be ignored and put off until a more convenient time for repair. Low fluid levels can damage parts and seals throughout the entire system. Below are descriptions of some of the key components of the hydraulic system which can be helpful to troubleshooting malfunctions in forklift hydraulics.

  • Control Valve- Problems with the control valve can cause pressures to be out of spec and lifting capacity will be reduced. When pressures are off seals can be damaged, and low fluid levels can damage other components.
  • Lift Cylinder- Load drift is one of the most dangerous situations caused by trouble with the lift cylinder. Tell-tale signs of a cylinder leak are oil on forklift parts or on the ground.
  • Tilt Cylinder- If the tilt cylinder is leaking or not receiving the correct fluid supply the mast may move uncontrollably.
  • Hydraulic Hoses and Auxiliary Lines- Damage to hoses, retainers, or auxiliary lines could cause interference with proper flow and fluid routing problems. Watch out for damaged or bent hose sheaves which can cause leaks.
  • Hydraulic Filters and Fluid Reservoir- Hydraulic fluid needs to be clean and free of debris to prevent damage to the hydraulic pump. If the return filter or suction strainer is blocked, fluid flow is restrained and pressures may be increased beyond operating specs, blowing seals and hoses. Again, a low fluid volume from clogged filters can cause damage to parts throughout the system.

Thermoplastic Hoses for Forklifts

Forklifts rarely operate in an ideal temperature environment and forklift hoses frequently need to handle temperature extremes both low and high. Rubber hoses can crack from low-temperature embrittlement making them unsuitable for work in freezers or cold outdoor environments. On the other end of the spectrum, high temperatures and environmental stress can also cause premature failure with rubber hoses. Rubber hoses also fatigue from constant bending and flexing.

One of our industry-leading suppliers, Parker, developed their line of thermoplastic hoses to meet these challenges. Thermoplastics are designed to withstand both low and high temperatures and a fiber reinforced bonding between the hose and the jacket is able to endure constant flexing even at higher pressures. The hoses are chemically and corrosion resistant and are able to easily outlast rubber hoses. The hoses feature an ozone and UV resistant cover which resists cracking to further extend the life of the hose.

Forklift Hydraulics Repair Safety

When it comes to repairing forklift hoses or fittings safety should be the foremost consideration. While diagnosing a problem may be a fairly simple matter, the repair itself should only be attempted by qualified personnel. This is especially true when repairing components involving the lift cylinders.

This FACE (Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program) report from 2014 documents the case of a maintenance worker in Tennessee who was killed as he tightened a hydraulic fitting on a forklift. The worker was performing the repair under an unsecured lift carriage, with the fork tips on the edge of a shipping container, which slipped off as he tightened the fitting. Four contributing factors were identified by the FACE investigation of the accident including:

  • Lack of specific written maintenance procedures for hydraulic seal replacement
  • Working under an elevated, unsecured forklift carriage
  • Lack of job and task analysis to identify the hazard
  • End of the work shift

 Hydraulic Hose and Fitting Services at Custom Hose Tech

Custom Hose Tech has the experienced technicians and 24/7 after hours emergency service for onsite repairs of forklift hydraulic hoses and fittings as well as all types of industrial hydraulic equipment. Emergency field service is usually available within 1 hour with our multiple mobile service units strategically located throughout the Twin Cities region.

Our Preventative Maintenance Program allows your business to take advantage of special labor rates, product discounts and free service calls with scheduled maintenance when your machines are on inactive status. Our walk-in store carries a wide-ranging inventory from Parker, Couplamatic, Reelcraft and many more industry-leading hydraulic suppliers.

We also offer custom fabrication in small batch production for unavailable fittings, precision machined and brazed with high-quality silver for applications including:

  • Power steering hoses
  • Proprietary adapters & hose fittings
  • Non manufactured fittings
  • Non-standard hose fittings
  • Custom applications

Custom Hose Tech has the expertise to make us your best resource for all of your hydraulic maintenance needs so don’t hesitate to contact us.