Should You Be Using Multi-Pallet Handlers?

By: Maureen Paraventi, Editor

It’s been 98 years since someone had the bright idea to put forks and a vertical mast that could be raised on a truck, thus creating what came to be known as the forklift. The fact that the mast could be elevated above the height of the truck – with a lifting mechanism controlled by a rack and pinion system – made material management much more efficient.

Forklift trucks have evolved since then, especially in terms of the many attachments available to outfit the lift trucks for particular loads or tasks. Among these attachments are pallet handlers. The introduction of multi-pallet handlers within the last decade was a welcome development for many industries. Unlike standard two-forked pallet handlers, which can lift only one or two pallets side by side, multi-pallet handlers feature additional forks that can be separated by a hydraulic spreader, so that the operator can lift, and the truck can carry multiple pallets at a time. These hardworking attachments allow forklift operators to make fewer trips when transporting goods, thus increasing efficiency and reducing costs by using less fuel. However, multi-pallet handlers are not optimal for all industries and all facilities – or even for all forklift trucks.

If you’re thinking about adding them to your forklift fleet, here are a few things to keep in mind.

First, there are a number of options:

  • Single/double pallet handlers have four forks instead of two
  • Double pallet handlers can hold one or two pallets, side by side
  • Double/triple pallet handlers can hold up to three pallets
  • Six pallet handlers are for four to six pallets
  • Four pallet/eight pallet handlers can carry two or four pallets side by side or four or eight pallets

Multi-pallet handlers are especially useful for the beverage, construction and landscaping supply industries. They are ideal for handling pallets that are the same size and loaded with the same products, such as beer, soft drinks, bottled water, brick, stone and tile.

The pros of multi-pallet handlers

Among the advantages of multi-pallet handlers, they are durable and require minimal maintenance, giving companies a good return on their investment. They not only save time on loading and unloading operations, but they also save on fuel costs, since a forklift operator needs to make fewer trips to achieve the same results. The movement in which forks are divided is synchronized and smooth. Visibility has been optimized by manufacturers, so that the operator can see over the attachments and keep the load in view. Side or rear loading is an option in some models, as are high operation speeds.

The cons of multi-pallet handlers

A forklift may be fitted with a handler that allows it to pick up and transport multiple pallets simultaneously, but can its engine handle the weight of that load? If the combined pallets weigh in at a number that exceeds the forklift’s rated capacity, its engine could be damaged. Repairs and downtime can be costly and affect productivity.

Then, too, multi-pallet handlers may increase the instability for which forklifts are known (although many manufacturers say their multi-pallet handlers are designed to enhance stability). Most forklifts used in warehouses have load capacities between one and five tons, with the load limit decreasing as the fork is raised. The limit is affected by the positioning of the load as well. Do the kinds of heavier loads enabled by multi-pallet handlers increase the chances of a tip-over incident? A forward tip, in particular, can occur if the load shifts because the manufacturer’s maximum load has been exceeded. (The high operation speeds mentioned previously may also pose a safety challenge.) Before you install any attachment, it’s important to ask the manufacturer or dealer of your forklift brand for a re-rating of your forklift’s safe lifting capacity that is based on the specific attachment.

Wider loads need wider aisles and a larger turning radius. Multi-pallet handlers may not be a good fit for facilities who’ve adapted narrow aisles and drive-in or drive-through racking systems in order to maximize the use of space. One solution to this is the use of telescopic forks that are ultra-narrow and use a single cylinder for each tine, resulting in a width that allows the forklift to navigate narrow aisles.

Accelerating the material management process

Multi-pallet handlers have been embraced by a number of industries and are likely to be adapted by even more in the future. Their ability to accelerate the material management process can make them a valuable addition to a forklift fleet, as long as factors like lifting capacity and aisle widths are taken into account. WMHS