Lift Trucks On Ice

New developments in technology and design advance lift truck performance in harsh, cold environments.


Refrigerated and frozen warehouses present a number of challenges beyond those present in ambient-temperature warehouses. The harsh temperatures can wreak havoc on the life span and functionality of lift trucks and their components, which translates to additional maintenance and repair costs, as well as the potential for significant downtime for cold storage facilities. With an eye to engineering exceptional performance, manufacturers offer lift trucks with cold storage options for optimal electronic, mechanical, and hydraulic performance.

We checked in with several major manufacturers of lift trucks for these unique environments to discover what to look for to optimize functionality while watching that bottom line.

Culprit Condensation

Electric lift trucks are commonly used in these harsh applications. To take advantage of the pricey square footage due to the energy required to operate and maintain them, cold storage facilities are typically high-density, high-lift operations requiring the use of high-lift reach trucks and deep-reach trucks. “Manufacturers aim to design in as much protection as possible because of the electrical circuits that need to be protected against these harsh temperature conditions,” explains Jeff Bowles, manager of product marketing for Houston-based Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America. “It’s not when you are in the freezer that the truck is most prone to the elements—

it’s more about what happens to the truck when it comes out of the freezer.”

What happens is condensation—the nemesis of any truck operating in these environments. “The number-one issue facing trucks when they leave the freezer is when they begin to sweat, which tracks into pins in the wiring harness,” reports Lou Micheletto, manager of warehouse product strategy for Yale Material Handling Corp. in Greenville, NC. About three years ago, the company began using a double-sealed connector design to minimize any invasion of moisture into the pin environment.

“We discovered that what was happening with some of the older and less expensive connectors was water would invade the area and then freeze when the truck re-entered the freezer, causing the area to expand,” Micheletto explains. “Upon defrosting again, the pin would be in a hole that was too big to make contact, resulting in a bad connection.” To eliminate the need for end-users having to change connectors frequently, Yale designed a high-end, double-sealed connector. Attacking the problem at its root cause eliminated the potential of condensation tracking into the pin area.

Another root-cause approach involved minimizing the number of wires in the harness assembly. “Historically, lift trucks have been controlled by a point-to-point set of wires running from the power source to the object being powered,” explains Micheletto. Reducing the amount of wires and the number of connectors, Yale minimized the likelihood of potential problems.

Yale engineers discovered that each truck model has its own signature condensation path. “We coated trucks with blue chalk to study how condensation follows specific pathways,” Micheletto reports. “The result was that we position all of our electronics, connectors, and wiring in areas located away from these pathways.”

Equipment life can deteriorate a lot quicker in these harsh environments than equipment operating in typical ambient applications, says Cesar Jimenz, national product planning manager for Toyota Material Handling USA in Irvine, CA. “Our customers are looking for products that last so they can maximize their ROI. We offer several environmental conditioning options, such as our freezer, cold storage, and rust-proof specifications to help protect critical areas of the lift truck in these environments.”

Attention To Details

Paying attention to the state of your trucks’ components can go a long way to extending the life and performance of your fleet. Understand the best oils and greases your trucks require for optimal performance in these harsh environments. Tend to your switches and other electrical devices and choose tires and batteries with deliberation, advise the experts.

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