Pallets are the literal platforms that uphold global trade and commerce. We use them to stack, store and deliver goods to where they’re needed. As such, they’re the quintessential item in every storage facility, depot, or warehouse. There are millions of pallets differing in design, size, and materials. There is also different equipment available for handling them. To move pallets and their loads, you can use either a forklift or get a practical pallet jack. Compared to forklifts, pallet jacks are usually a better option. They are easier to use, cheaper, more versatile, and available in different configurations. In areas where forklifts are just too big, pallet jacks are your only reasonable option for moving palletized loads.
What Are Pallet Jacks?
A pallet jack, also called a pallet truck, is an essential piece of material handling equipment. It’s used to move loads and cargo stored on pallets. Pallet trucks consist of the following elements:
- A pair of forks or tines that go under pallets;
- A rotating handle that’s used to lift, lower or hold the pallet in place;
- Sturdy wheels or castors that allow for easy movement.
Some models can come with hydraulic or electric lifting mechanisms for handling heavier loads and reducing the risk of physical strain or injury.
That said, pallet lifters are simple to operate, take up less space than a forklift, and are safe and easy to maneuver. Operators can repeatedly haul hundreds of kilos of cargo without serious effort or potential risk.
Where Are Pallet Jacks Used?
You can find these items in a warehouse, factory, retail shop, production facility, loading depot, or anywhere where pallets come in handy. They increase pallet handling efficiency, providing speed, ease of use, and safety. They also need minimal effort to move in any direction, despite the weight of the load.
You can also use a pallet jack when you need to lift and move all kinds of heavy items from one location to another. Despite their name, they’re not only restricted to pallets. You can use them to transport drums, cylinders, crates, boxes, and other items to the desired location.
What Are the Benefits of Pallet Jacks?
Ease of Use
Pallet trucks are smaller in size and easily maneuverable. It makes them more versatile compared to most material handling equipment, especially forklifts. They’re especially suited in tighter spaces and need less training to operate.
Even smaller jacks can lift heavy loads, and transport them with the least risk. Workplaces that use pallet trucks and jacks regularly have considerably fewer cases of injuries. Operators don’t have to lift and load heavy items using manpower. As a result, there’s less downtime due to possible work-related injuries.
Efficiency and Cost-Savings
Safely transporting heavy loads across larger distances increases workflow and efficiency. Loading, moving, and unloading pallets is fast and with minimal effort. Additionally, compared to other equipment, a jack is inexpensive to buy, operate, and maintain. There are significant cost savings over the long term.
Types of Pallet Jacks
There are two basic types – manual and electric, each with its pros and cons.
Manual Pallet Jack
Manual or hand pallet jacks are generally smaller. They are mostly used on flatter surfaces indoors and are good for transporting light to medium loads over shorter distances. They’re cheaper and need little to no maintenance.
Depending on their height, manual jacks can be super-low profile, low profile, and standard jacks. Super-low profile jacks have forks set at 35mm, which suit smaller and lower Euro pallets.
Low-profile jacks have forks at 51mm off the ground and provide good access for low pallets and kids. Standard jacks have forks at 85mm and work with most pallets used in Australia.
Electric Pallet Jack
Electric pallet jacks reduce physical strain when you need to haul heavier loads over longer distances. They rely on battery power to do the heavy lifting and moving.
They are generally bigger than hand pallet jacks with comparable lifting capacity, and operators require special training.
Besides, they are more difficult to maintain and more expensive. Due to size and costs, they might not be suitable for smaller operations.
Yet, they are necessary for larger, fast-paced warehouses that move large amounts of cargo daily. They are divided into several types.
Semi-electric jacks offer assisted lifting or assisted movement, depending on what is more important to you.
Assisted lifting mechanisms are suitable for heavier loads that need to be transported shorter distances. On the other hand, those with assisted movement cover larger areas better.
Fully-electric pallet jacks usually combine both features. They can be electric walkie stackers where operators walk behind the pallet truck or rider pallet jacks where they are seated atop the jack. For uneven or loose surfaces, there are specialized off-road electric pallet jacks.
What to Consider When Buying?
Pallet jacks come in different sizes, lifting capacities, designs, and materials. Different features will make them more suited to a particular setting, load, or type of pallet. Assess the type of loads and pallets and the size and surface of your facility before buying.
Standard hand pallet jacks in lower capacities are enough for most jobs and are cheap to buy. Larger hand-operated units find use in medium to larger operations with more employees and cargo.
Heavy-duty and electric variants, as well as those with special features, cost more. But the added cost improves functionality, speed, workplace efficiency, and safety.
All in all, check the following characteristics of pallet lift trucks to determine what to buy.
Smaller, hand-operated pallet trucks are the cheapest and most common. Despite this, they have no issue lifting and transporting pallets loaded with up to 1000 kilos in weight.
They are small and easier to handle and maneuver, so they’re the mainstay of retail shops and smaller businesses.
Medium-duty jacks, both manual and electric, can lift to 2500 kilos. So, these are generally what you’d find in factories, warehouses, and workshops. If this is not enough, then there are heavy-duty pallet jacks. These can lift and haul loads over 5000 kilos and at longer distances.
Standard pallet jacks can lift pallets to 20 cm off the ground. If this is not enough, hi-lift jacks can handle pallets at 80 cm height. The latter have special scissor-lift designs stemming from a central pivot to lift and lower pallets.
When moving extra-low pallets and skids, low-profile pallet trucks are your only option. The forks are set at either 35 or 51mm off the ground and work with disposable pallets as well. Here the front wheels are set into cutouts in the forks.
Fork/Tine Designs and Adjustability
Different pallet jacks have forks you can position at different widths. This affects which type of pallet you can use them.
For instance, jacks intended to transport Euro pallets have forks set at 520mm apart. And they are often set lower, at 35mm from the ground, like low-profile variants. Standard (or American) pallet jacks have forks that are 680mm apart. These usually have loading heights set at a minimum of 85mm.
That said, if you’re looking for versatility, go for pallet jacks with adjustable fork widths. These ensure that they work with different types of pallets.
The length of the forks of different jacks also differs. The standard size is 1120-1150mm. But there are also pallet trucks with extra-long forks up to 2500mm. These can lift and transport two pallets in a single go.
A pallet truck is mostly made of steel, with yellow, powder-coated forks. Though, there can be treatments applied to make the steel suitable for different environments.
Stainless steel jacks are best where there is the risk of water, chemicals, or corrosion. They’re good for agricultural, medical, pharmaceutical, chemical, food, and other industries. Hot-dip galvanized jacks give more corrosion resistance. Both types have sealed front wheels and specially-designed hydraulic pumps.
Many buyers overlook the importance of the wheels. The right set of wheels makes moving heavier loads faster and safer, without unnecessary wear and damage to the floors. That said, make sure that the wheels suit the flooring or surface in the establishment.
Pallet trucks usually have two pairs of wheels. One pair sits just below the forks and is responsible for handling the weight. The second one is below the handle and hydraulic pump and affects the steering.
There are different material options for the wheels. The right choice can improve safety and speed. Hard-wearing nylon wheels are ideal for heavier loads and harder surfaces.
Their low rolling resistance also helps in getting the jack to where it’s needed faster. The only downside might be the higher noise levels, so they won’t be appropriate in all settings.
Polyurethane wheels are another popular choice. They perform better in areas with high exposure to heat and chemicals. It makes them suitable for manufacturing plants and facilities that store paint, chemicals, oils, and gas cylinders.
Besides, the slightly softer compound leaves floors free from scratches or marks. This is something nylon wheels aren’t good at. Improved traction from the non-slip surface, quiet operation, and better weight loading are other benefits.
Lastly, more specialized pallet trucks use rubber wheels. Usually, these are used outdoors or on uneven terrain. They handle weight like nylon or polyurethane wheels while being quiet and shock-absorbent.