Reach trucks and forklifts are similar equipment types, but their capabilities differ. Learning about these two essential pieces of equipment can help you find the best model for your applications.
What Is a Forklift?
Forklifts are some of the most widely used material handling equipment. They feature two forks at the front that move up and down along a mast. These forks are designed for handling pallets, but they can also handle many other materials and objects.
A counterbalance forklift is the most traditional style of forklift. This type has a cast-iron weight on the back to balance out the load on the forks. There are many other styles of forklifts, like articulated forklifts that can move the forks from side to side. Models also vary by size, capacity and operator position. Some forklifts are standing styles, while others have a seat.
What Is a Reach Truck?
A reach truck is actually a type of forklift, but it’s often considered a different type of equipment because it’s smaller and the applications differ from a standard counterbalance forklift. If you’re thinking of a reach truck vs. a stand-up forklift, they’re really one and the same. Reach trucks have forks and handle pallets in the same way that forklifts do, but the configuration is different.
Reach trucks have a slimmer chassis and hold their loads closer to the wheelbase, making them well-designed for narrow spaces. Some models will have operators use a forward stance to operate them, which is why a reach truck is often considered a subset of a stand-up forklift. Some models will have a seat positioned sideways.
Differences Between Reach Trucks and Forklifts
If a reach truck is just a subset of forklifts, why is it often treated as a different type of equipment? When comparing a reach truck to a counterbalance forklift, several differences make it excellent for some applications and inadequate for others. These differences include:
- Lift capacity: Reach trucks are smaller pieces of equipment, so their lift capacity is smaller than many forklifts. While reach trucks can generally handle 3,000 to 5,500 pounds, some forklifts can handle up to 100,000 pounds. Standard forklift models will manage anywhere from 3,000 to 19,000 pounds before they become high-capacity models.
- Reach height: A reach truck may pale in comparison to a forklift when looking at lift capacity, but they win by several feet when looking at reach height. Traditional forklifts can reach up to 19 feet, while some reach trucks can extend their forks to 41 feet.
- Power source: Forklifts come in electric, gasoline, diesel and liquid propane models. These fuel sources all have selling points and drawbacks, but the freedom to choose fuel source alone can be a benefit for some fleet managers. Reach trucks, on the other hand, always use an electric battery, making them free from emissions.
- Visibility: Since most forklifts are seated, the operator may lose some visibility depending on the size of the load. The standing configuration or side seat of a reach truck may make it easier for the operator to see.
- Maneuverability: Reach trucks are much smaller than standard forklifts, so they have a much tighter turn radius. This factor is particularly helpful in narrow spaces.
- Load balancing: Forklifts use a weight at the back of the truck to counterbalance the load. Reach trucks balance the load with base legs on either side of the forks.
- Attachment compatibility: Reach trucks are generally not compatible with attachments outside of the standard forks. Forklifts, however, can take on varied responsibilities with a range of attachments. Choose from bale clamps, side shifting fork positioners and more to expand a standard forklift’s capabilities.
Applications for Each Equipment Type
Knowing the differences between a forklift and a reach truck, you can decide which option is best for which applications.
When Should I Use a Forklift?
Forklifts are best for:
- Outdoor tasks: Different fuel sources give forklifts the flexibility to work inside or outside. Electric options are not safe to use in the rain, but gas, diesel and liquid propane are all reliable regardless of the weather. High-capacity models are also more equipped to handle a variety of terrain types.
- Open spaces: Forklifts are not as maneuverable as reach trucks, so they’re easier to use in open spaces like loading docks, large storage facilities and construction sites.
- General material handling: A forklift can handle a wide range of loads and responsibilities with attachment capabilities. They’re an excellent choice for a wide range of material handling needs.
When Should I Use a Reach Truck?
Use reach trucks for the following:
- Indoors and in narrow spaces: The smaller, more maneuverable design of a reach truck works well in narrow aisles and small warehouses. The electric battery also functions best away from any type of weather.
- With higher shelving: Reach trucks have far higher reach than forklifts, so they’re ideal in warehouses with high shelving.
- With lighter loads: Capacity capabilities are much lower, so stick to lighter loads with reach trucks.