Forklifts are small truck-like industrial vehicles equipped with "fork" prongs that are attached to a powered lift. Forklifts are meant primarily for the purpose of elevating and lowering large or heavy loads that have been placed upon standardized cargo pallets. Cargo pallets, also known as skids, are designed with slots that allow forklift prongs to be securely inserted for stable handling.
Forklifts serve a very specific industrial function but it is an extremely ubiquitous one that they perform with great efficiency, which is why they are one of the most widely utilized types of industrial machines. They are used virtually anywhere general cargo lifting and lowering is required. They are found everywhere from docks to delivery and distribution hubs, junkyards, lumber mills, retail facilities, chemical plants, warehouses and storage facilities attached to any manufacturing or processing business that might need to handle large quantities and weights of cargo and materials. While they do excel at handling pallets, they can also be used for their general limited lift capabilities for other loads, such as rebar, timber or other extended loads that can be secured to the fork.
There are many different kinds of forklifts that offer a variety of features and come in a number of configurations.
Forklifts can either be of the front-loading or side-loading variety. Front-loading forklifts are the more straightforward and general-purpose of the two and are more widely utilized. Side-loading forklifts are better suited towards use in aisles or along stacked rows of materials, as they can be driven straight down the rows and then inserted sideways. An extended load is also easier to transport sideways as it will have a smaller cross-section on the axes in which it is least extended.
Either type of forklift, where the lift capacity of the forklift might approach or exceed its own weight or the work terrain may be uneven, when handling a load of comparable size to itself can face a significant risk of overbalancing. To help prevent this, forklifts can be equipped with counterbalancing weights that can provide additional stability.
Forklifts can vary in terms of peak lift height, maximum lift weight capacity and width. Heavier duty forklifts can handle tougher jobs but might be less fuel efficient, more costly to operate and maintain, and less capable of fitting into smaller or indoor environments.
Forklifts can be fuel, electric (battery) or manually powered. Diesel or gasoline powered forklifts generally offer greater lift capacity but are noisier and emit combustion fumes that can make them hazardous for use in indoor or enclosed environments. Electric forklifts are generally better suited for lighter tasks in smaller environments where emissions of fumes are a concern. Manually powered forklifts like pallet jacks are the smallest variety that can fit into the smallest environments and are the simplest and cheapest to operate and maintain.
Forklifts can be equipped with either pneumatic tires filled with pressurized air or solid core rubber tires. Pneumatic tires are better suited to work in rougher, more uneven terrain and offer a smoother ride but are susceptible to punctures. By contrast solid rubber tires offer a slightly rougher ride but are more durable and require less maintenance and fewer repairs so they are better suited for indoor, high-use environments where terrain roughness is not a major concern.