Forklift Load Centers 101

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A forklift’s load center is an essential piece of information when determining how much weight a forklift can handle.  The common mistake is to assume that if one needs to handle 5,000 lbs, then all they need is a forklift with a capacity of 5,000 lbs.  However, the size and dimensions of the load have serious implications on how much the forklift will safely lift. To start, let’s look at what is meant when talking about the load center.

What is a load center?

Take the picture to the right for example.  This is from the OSHA.gov website and explains OHSA picthat the center of the front tires is considered the fulcrum or balancing point of the forklift when loaded.  When the forklift is unbalanced, one side will “tip” to the ground.  Contrary to most balancing acts, when looking at forklifts and load centers you WANT the left side of the balancing act to outweigh the right side because that results in both axles on the ground. The load center is measured from the front (or face) of the forks to the load’s center of gravity.  In this picture, the load center is 24″.  This is the most common load center when referring to a forklift’s capacity because a common load is a standard 48″ pallet.  The longer the load or closer to the fork tips one handles a load, the higher the load center and higher capacity needed to handle the same amount of weight.

For example, a forklift with a capacity of 5,000 lbs at a 24″ load center would handle a standard 48″ long pallet that weighs 5,000 lbs.  However, if the pallet was longer or carried at the ends of the forks, the rear end of the forklift may tip off the ground and be unsafe to operate because the center of the load is farther than 24″ away from the face of the forks.

Where do I find a forklift’s load center?

So now that we have a better idea of what a load center is let’s figure out where to find it.  IMG_1748Forklifts all have data tags and most have several on different spots on the forklift.  Most of the information you will need should be on the data tag from model, serial number, weight, capacity, and load center.  It is common for high capacity forklifts to be rated for several different load centers for the convenience of the customer depending on the application.  Most machines that lift more than 10,000 lbs won’t be handling standard pallets.  Lumber loads, concrete, steel, pipes, etc…could all have much longer load centers.

The picture below is the data tag of a 2013 Kalmar DCE160-12.  As you can see, it has a few load centers and capacities on the data tag, but the main rating is 36,000 lbs at a 48″ load center.  This makes sense because the standard forks for this truck are 96″ long, twice the distance of the load center so the entire load is supported by the forks.IMG_1313 Also notable is that the longer the load center, the less the capacity becomes.  This is because if you picture the front axle as the fulcrum and you extend the right arm of the fulcrum (which would be the forks and load) it would more easily tip the scale and the forklift would come up off the back end.

Do load centers really matter?

Here is an example of when a load center dictated the capacity of a forklift that one of my customers could buy.  A man called me who worked for an industrial sign making company.  They wrapped cars in signs and manufactured huge canvas, plastic, and other material signs for sides of building and billboards.  They needed to ground unload the huge, rolled-up signs out of the back of a truck.  In some cases the signs were 16 feet long.  They only weighed a maximum of 2,000 lbs, but they had to get out over the middle of the sign, chain it, and lift it up and out of the truck.  We were able to run the calculations and based on a 96″ load center, lifting about 2,000 lbs, they needed a forklift with a capacity of around 12,000 lbs!

Now what?

It is important to consider your typical load center when buying a forklift for the safety of your operators and your facility.  The product you are handling should be treated with care and by knowing your load centers you can ensure you buy the correct machine for the job.  Let us know if you need help calculating your load center and we can help you decide what capacity forklift you should be looking for.

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