July 21 2006 03:43 PM

Parcel shipping is a 24-hour-a-day operation. It requires seamless execution with little down time and low operating costs. Companies need to move heavy shipments without concerns that their lift trucks might run out of fuel before the shift is over. Bottom line � in this business, any time a forklift isn�t on the move, it�s costing you money.
Not all forklifts are created equal, though, which means you need to carefully consider the needs of your company and weigh them against the performance benefits of various forklifts. For example, propane forklifts are capable of traveling up a 33% incline, whereas electric forklifts are restricted to two percent to three percent inclines. But there are many other factors to consider.
Keep on Truckin�
For the most part, any forklift you use � be it electric, propane, gasoline, compressed natural gas (CNG) or diesel � will work an eight-hour shift. But what then? Many distribution centers operate 24 hours a day, not eight. This is your first, and often most important, performance hurdle � refueling and shift duration.
Think about it � it takes less than five minutes to switch tanks and refuel a propane forklift. Now consider that it typically takes eight hours to sufficiently charge an electric forklift battery from 80% discharged (the customary point to interrupt operation) to full 100% charge. You can always purchase additional batteries to keep lift trucks moving while other batteries are recharging, but that requires an additional capital investment of several thousand dollars per forklift. That�s on top of the money you invest in an electric charge station.
Propane forklifts, on the other hand, allow for quick, economical refueling. Typically, propane marketers offer three refueling options at little or no cost � cylinder exchange (or cylinder floats programs), on-site customer storage and on-site retailer fills. This means no investment in fueling infrastructure because marketers either deliver the propane cylinders right to your door or refill your existing cylinders on-site.
The ease with which you can refuel propane forklifts is significant to the parcel shipping industry for two reasons � quicker refueling means less down time; it also means you�ve got greater flexibility to operate back-to-back shifts, allowing for maximum productivity and superior execution.
Clearing the Air
Another performance factor to consider is forklift emissions because it can directly impact the air quality in your distribution center and the integrity of your fuel economy. Invariably, users who choose electric forklifts do so because of air quality concerns, even at the expense of increased costs and lower productivity. Users who choose propane are also highly motivated by air quality concerns but also want the productivity and efficiency offered by the internal combustion engine units. Despite propane�s clear advantage in keeping forklift fleets operating economically, around-the-clock, questions persist about propane forklift emissions.
�Eighty percent of class 4 and 5 internal combustion forklifts are fueled by propane,� explains Roy Willis, president of the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). �Yet the forklift market is plagued by reports that are misleading or contain conflicting data on the relative emissions benefits of various fuels. We conducted the review to help set the record straight; when forklifts emissions data is compared accurately, propane delivers the highest efficiencies and remains one of the cleanest fuels available for industrial lift trucks.�
The review, released in May 2003 by William H. McGlinchey and Ivan Jacquez, also showed that propane forklifts, when fitted with approved closed-loop controls and exhaust catalysts, result in very low emissions that meet and exceed California Air Resources Board Large Spark Ignition (CARB LSI) standards. �Testing conditions are an integral part of research studies,� says McGlinchey. �Our review has found that previous research studies often did not use the same fuel delivery system and engine, elements that are crucial for accurate comparative studies.�
Maintenance Is Vital
While this study settles the case for end-users that operate propane forklifts with closed-loop systems and exhaust catalysts, there are still many companies that operate older, open-loop fuel systems. To address this issue, the propane industry launched a Forklift Maintenance and Training Program in August 2003.
The Forklift Maintenance and Training Program was designed to train attendees in the proper procedures for maintaining and repairing propane-powered forklift fuel systems, with an emphasis on pre-2002 open-loop models. The curriculum includes instruction in safety, maintenance and monitoring of a fuel system, tailpipe emis-sions and an introduction to US Environmental Protection Agency and CARB emissions regulations for propane-fueled forklifts.
�Forklift users expressed tremendous interest in having access to an industry-approved maintenance and training program,� states Willis. �This program satisfies that interest and provides them with the skills they need to effectively maintain and test their equipment to ensure compliance with emissions stan-dards, deliver improved performance and obtain maximum fuel economy.�
The curriculum, developed by the Propane Vehicle Council and AFV Consulting � in cooperation with the propane industry � draws upon more than 150 years of combined experience of instructors familiar with both off-road and over-the-road propane vehicles. The course curriculum introduces an all-new Forklift & Industrial Engine Propane Fuel Systems Training Manual and includes an examination of the National Fire Protection Association 58 (Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code) and other issues specific to various manufacturers� specifications as well as local regulations.
The program provides forklift maintenance personnel with the information they need to reduce emissions, thereby saving on fuel costs and increasing efficiency of their forklifts. The propane industry also hopes that these courses will re-affirm end-users� trust in propane as the cleanest and best all-around choice for powering their forklifts.
According to the Industrial Truck Market Analysis prepared by MacKay & Company, Inc. for the Gas Research Institute, when end-users were asked the single most important reason in choosing propane-powered trucks, air quality was chosen by 61%. And with new technology and proper training, this number will likely climb even higher.
Brian Feehan is executive director of the Propane Vehicle Council. For more information, visit www.propanevehicle.org.