Cold storage is one of the most demanding areas for material handling applications.

In addition to the temperature in the cold storage area itself, there’s the time spent going back and forth between warm and cold portions of a warehouse.  And as we move into the hot summer months, this temperature change takes on even greater importance – not only on the operator, but on the forklift as well.

Working efficiently and effectively in cold storage facilities – such as frozen and refrigerated foods, pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals to name a few – depends on your level of knowledge that the impact of your surroundings has on that work; and in particular, understanding that forklifts are more expensive and less efficient to run in cold conditions than compared to similar work in an ambient warehouse.

To help increase that knowledge, here are four Facts and a Fiction about working in Cold Storage areas.

Fact  #1:  It’s cold in cold storage areas.

Surprised as you may be to learn, it’s cold in cold storage areas.  And one needs to recognize and understand the impact and effect these cold conditions they can have on a forklift.

For example, cold causes condensation and that leads to forklift failure.  Working in colder environments is often intermixed with time spent in warmer spaces – such as going from warm dock to a refrigerated truck or cold room.  This transiting between climates can cause condensation to form on a forklift when it sits inactive in a warmer temperature after activity in cold storage.  This condensation forms on batteries and electrical surfaces which can lead to corrosion and premature wear – not to mention further problems when upon returning to the colder environment, the condensation freezes over critical components.

Solutions to these cold issues come in several forms:

  • Using a forklift that channels heat to susceptible areas in order to help evaporate moisture. A forklift that minimizes the quantity of wires and connectors and positions them away from probably condensation areas is also a key factor toward overcoming condensation issues.
  • Keep the forklift in the cold area for an entire shift – don’t split-shift the truck between colder and ambient temperatures as that will increase condensation opportunities.
  • Leave the truck in the cold store when possible. By depriving the truck of warmth/heat, you eliminate the potential for condensation.
  • If the truck does go outside into warmer areas, allow it to dry out completely before returning to the cold environment

Fact  #2: Ice can be slippery.

Another surprise to many is that ice is – not only cold – but slippery as well.  Our old friend condensation can also make the ground slippery which can increase the frequency of tip-overs.  These slippery conditions may also create traction issues in chillers and freezers – again because of condensation build up – which can accelerate tire wear.

Overcoming these and other slippery ice issues requires a couple of items:

  • Using polyurethane tires on a forklift instead of rubber tires; the former provides improved grip.
  • Avoid tip-overs, by making sure your forklift has the latest stability control features.
  • Conducting regular and periodic maintenance inspections of every 250 to 500 hours. Because of the environments in which these trucks work, these are essential to avoid the truck being out of service.   During these inspections, confirm that everything is greased and condensation build-up is minimal.
  • Keep the overall warehouse clean by removing waste from aisles along with any water or ice that appears.

Fact  #3: Things slowdown in the cold.

When we work outside our bodies spend extra energy trying to keep us warm.  Expending this additional energy also tends to slow down our reflexes and response time.  This “slowdown” effect also occurs with electric forklifts — extreme temperature fluctuations reduces their efficiency.

Look at lead-acid batteries for example.  The colder the working environment, the less efficient the battery:

Work Area Temperature Battery Operational Efficiency
30oF 75% efficiency
10oF 56% efficiency
0oF 45% efficiency
-20oF 20% efficiency

       Source: Refrigerated & Frozen Foods

Work Area Temperature          Battery Operational Efficiency

30oF                                                           75% efficiency

10oF                                                            56% efficiency

0oF                                                             45% efficiency

-20oF                                                         20% efficiency

Add to that, storing a truck in a cold environment – while decreasing the chance for condensation – also decreases overall battery efficiency.

Conversely to what one might think and knowing that cold temperatures sap battery strength, getting the most out of a battery means running it down until almost depleted instead of charging them out at convenient times.  Additionally, full charging batteries is also critical to maintaining capacity and be sure to charge the forklift in ambient temperatures as it will charge faster than in a colder environment.

Lastly, having a Battery Fleet Management tool that tracks battery load and charging levels can also help manage the battery power issues resulting from cold temperature working conditions.

Fact  #4:  Gloves help in the cold.

NASA Research into how to keep an astronaut warm in space has direct relevance to keeping a forklift operator warm while doing work in cold-storage areas.  Surprisingly enough, NASA found that wearing gloves and warm clothes kept their team warmer.  Just as in space, however, working in freezing conditions with an operator required to wear bulky gloves impedes efficiency.  And the bulky clothing necessary to offset colder conditions also impacts entry, exiting and maneuvering within the operator compartment, just as it would in a space capsule.

Forklift manufacturers, seemingly borrowing from NASA, have come up with effective solutions to overcome these obstacles in order to work efficiently in colder conditions:

  • Focus on operator comfort through use of a heated cab. This simply solution ensures the operator is warm and promotes a more efficient and possibly safer driver.
  • If a heated cab isn’t an option, then be sure the forklift controls are designed for use with thick cold weather gloves and gear; and, that the cab is large enough for the operator to enter and exit easily and safely.

Peak operations in cold conditions may not be attainable, but a warm and comfortable operator reduces loss in performance and of dexterity.

Fiction  #1:  All lift trucks are the same – especially for Cold Storage work

Cold storage work requires a well-thought-out racking and storage density system; as well as, a solid selectivity of first-in/first-out rotation methodology toward material handling in order to maintain optimum efficiency.  This type of environment requires nimble, possibly articulated, forklifts able to work in confined spaces, rotate between warm and cold temperatures and reach multiple beam heights.

Armed with this information, your next goal is to find the right solution for your Cold Storage work.

Lucky for you, CLARK has several electric solutions for your consideration and use in cold storage environments:

This TMX continues the evolution of the CLARK three-wheel design with the efficiency, low maintenance and power of a 100% AC System.  A rugged yet comfortable design delivers superior capacities and the quality, dependability and maneuverability one has come to expect from CLARK.

The CLARK OSX raises the bar for order selectors. High performance and best-in-class operator comfort combined with generous standard features, positions this order selector above the competition.

In the past, one truck would be used for outdoor applications and another truck would be used for indoor warehousing. Today the CLARK GEX can handle both environments, leaving you with the thought… two “hands” aren’t always better than one.

When aisle space is at a premium, the 100% AC ESX fits.  Designed not only to be fast, energy efficient and inexpensive to operate, we also made sure that your operators can use the ESX to negotiate those tighter spaces.  As “well-engineered” would be an understatement, let’s go with… “Tenacious”.

Another narrow aisle option with the 100% AC is the NPX.  The three-stage upright reduces shock and vibration, and the nested I-beam provides added strength and rigidity making it the perfect solution for close-in applications.

The CLARK ECX series is the ideal choice for demanding manufacturing and distribution applications. A superior ergonomic design, operator comfort, safety and outstanding truck performance are all backed by the oldest name in lift trucks.

When choosing a forklift for a cold-storage, or really any, environment, your best first stop is CLARK where you’ll find the right solution for your application.

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