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Material Handling Tires and Safety

By: Philip J. Lannon, Contributor

Image courtesy of Continental

Material handling tires are a subject where most everyone reading may have an opinion. For something so basic, is it really that simple? Or is there more to tires than just being black (sometimes white), round and being able to roll? What size and compound are required? Smooth or traction? The fact is, these are some of the questions you should be asking before deciding which tires to purchase.

When one of my customers is looking to replace tires, I ask if they purchase the least expensive tire for their family car or SUV. In most cases the answer is no. Why? Everyone wants to ensure the safety of what is most important to them – their family.

When purchasing tires for personal use, I give the example of walking into an auto center or tire chain and looking at the “wall of tires”. Not surprisingly, the 25,000-mile tire is always cheaper in price than the 80,000-mile tire which is being promoted as offering increased tread mileage, energy savings and enhanced traction, among other benefits. It is usually impossible to merely look at tires on the rack and be able to compare performance between them. In many cases the 25,000-mile tire may look as good as or better than the 80,000-mile tire, when in fact, it’s just the opposite. The low price is reflected in the decreased lifetime of the product. In the material handling world, we refer to this concept as “The Lowest Overall Cost of Ownership,” which considers not just the purchase price, but the lifetime cost of the product.

With forklifts today exceeding $30,000 for a typical 5,000 lb. LPG, and more for a similar sized electric, they are a major expense. Yet forklifts are essential for the production and movement of goods in most industries. The tires they run on can be considered one of the fastest wearing parts, but also one of the most valuable parts on the forklift.

Why? There are no shock absorbers on forklifts, so tires play an extremely valuable role in protecting the most valuable assets – the driver, the materials being transported and that $30,000 forklift we spoke about.

Material handling tires come in varied sizes, heights and widths. Most can be categorized in the following: press on band (rubber press-on-solid), pneumatic (radial and cross-ply) and super elastic/resilient tires (pneumatic-shaped solid).

The penny test is often used on passenger vehicle tires to determine if the tread is worn down to recommended replacement depth. Image courtesy of Continental.

Press on band tires comprise the most unit sales and are used on the Industrial Truck Association classes of 1 – 4:

  • Class 1: Electric Motor Rider Trucks
  • Class 2: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks
  • Class 3: Electric Motor Hand or Hand-Rider Trucks
  • Class 4: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks – Cushion Tires

Pneumatic and super elastic tires are used on:

  • Class 5: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks – Pneumatic Tires

Ensuring proper inflation is the most critical factor providing enhanced performance in pneumatic tires. If air pressure is critical for our passenger vehicles, it is really important for forklifts. Considering that a 5,000 lb.-
capacity forklift weighs between 7,500 lbs. and 10,000 lbs., proper inflation is extremely critical.

If everyone has an opinion on what passenger or SUV tires they should purchase, there are many more opinions on when tires should be replaced. How many remember the penny test?

The penny test is one of the time-honored ways to determine tread depth for a passenger vehicle. If a person puts a penny in a vehicle’s tread with Lincoln’s head down, ideally the head would be completely covered. If Lincoln’s head is starting to show, or the tire is to the bottom of the head, then it is time for new tires because the tread is probably at 2/32nds of an inch – recommended replacement tread depth.

Replacing Tires

What about replacing material handling tires?

To maintain the load capacity, shock absorption and safety factor designed into press on band tires, industry standards recommend that tires be replaced when approximately 33% of the available tread rubber is gone. Unfortunately, a penny test will not work on a solid tire! The rule of thumb for a traction tire is when the lug pattern is worn smooth, and for a smooth tire when the diameter has worn to the sidewall size markings.

If not replaced to the recommended diameter the following lift truck parts are at greater risk of repair:

  • Steer axle components such as the bearings, bushings, tire rod ends, king pins and spindles.
  • Drive axle components such as the cylinder, forks, mast upright and lower mast rollers.

Lower ground clearance can also create dock and floor damage, while increasing vibration causing driver fatigue and lowered productivity.

Super elastic tires provide a RTD, Remaining Tread Depth, indicator also known as the 60 joule indicator which illustrates the maximum limit for wear and regrooving. If not replaced at this diameter, the same issues can occur as stated in the press on band replacement recommendations.

Pneumatic tires should be replaced whenever there is tire wear or damage that reaches the cords or casing. Forklift tires are inflated up to 145 psi and when they blow, it can do serious harm. There is not one absolute for pneumatic tire replacement, some tires may appear to have plenty of tread at the shoulder but are worn in the center of the tread, still others have plenty of tread depth but have tread or sidewall damage which causes replacement.

Now that you know some of the ins and outs of material handling tires, find the best tire that meets your operation’s needs and replace in a timely manner before you experience unplanned downtime. Tires can offer the best in longevity, ride, rolling resistance, load capacity, stability or any combination of these. When replacing material handling tires, price is not the only question that should be asked. Bottom line – as with most things in life, so it is with material handling tires – you get what you pay for. WMHS

Philip J. Lannon is a Sales and Training Manager for Continental Tire the Americas – Commercial Specialty Tires. Lannon is a 40-year veteran of the specialty tire industry, having worked in aftermarket sales, marketing and training for several major tire manufacturers. Continental develops pioneering technologies and services for sustainable and connected mobility of people and their goods through safe, intelligent and affordable solutions for vehicles, machines, traffic and transportation (

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