Selecting an Electric Order Picker

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Order pickers are a specialized kind of forklift, designed for retrieving items from pallet rack systems and other kinds of vertical shelving. The main difference between order pickers and traditional lift trucks is that most order pickers raise the operator along with the load.

Why choose an order picker?

If your organization routinely needs to retrieve individual products or less-than-pallet-load lots, an order picker is an excellent choice of equipment. By lifting the operator to where the inventory is stored, order pickers make it easy to pull one item off of a pallet. They can also be driven from the raised position, allowing operators to pick multiple items far more efficiently.

Most order pickers also have forks that can be used to lift pallets, but they don't usually have the same operating capacity that sit-down trucks have. Because of the reduced capacity, many warehouses can benefit from combining an order picker with a standard rider forklift. The sit-down truck is used to stock the shelves when inventory comes in, and the order picker is used to pull items that are on their way out.

Since they're designed for indoor work, order pickers are powered by rechargeable batteries, making them emission-free and fairly quiet. The batteries generally have enough charge for a full shift, avoiding the need for cumbersome battery changing equipment: at the end of the day, you take it back to recharging station for the night and let it fill up for the next day's work. If you run a multiple-shift operation, you may need to invest in spare batteries.

More than any other type of industrial forklift, most order pickers are electric and have battery charging requirements that must be considered before you make a purchase. Part of the consideration is the equipment, while others include procedures and training. A poorly-maintained battery is not only a safety hazard, but can have a shortened lifespan resulting in frequent and expensive replacements.

Charging stations

Each picker should come with its own charging station. Charging stations will generally consist of the charger itself and a winch mechanism to remove and replace the battery with a spare. The availability of spare batteries to be swapped out is especially important to prevent downtime if multiple employees will be using the vehicle in shifts.

The electric order picker can take considerable floor space, especially when you consider that the machine itself will need room to be parked there when not in use. Most large electric vehicle batteries are acid-based. As such, they can emit hydrogen gas when charging. Hydrogen gas is very flammable and you need to be careful working with it to prevent it from accumulating in the charging area.

Open sources of ignition should also be kept away from the charging station. Fans or strong ventilation may be required if the charging station is in a smaller space such as an alcove where airflow may be restricted. It's also wise to keep water on hand as certain batteries need to be topped off with water as part of daily maintenance. Carefully read and follow the maintenance and charging procedures that come with the battery and vehicle that you purchase.

Battery care

Batteries have different charging requirements depending on the type of battery and charger. Generally, an electric order picker battery will need to be fully discharged before being recharged. Most battery chargers will have a discharge function that handles this before switching over to actively charging the battery. However, this may be a manual process for some.

Make sure that the battery charging recommendations for the equipment you purchase are followed precisely. Specific individuals should be made responsible for maintaining the batteries of the hydraulic lift platform so that there is no confusion about who is handling it on any given day. Failure to charge a battery overnight may mean the electric order picker is out of service for an entire day which can be costly to your business.

As a final suggestion, make sure to post battery maintenance checklists and logs in clear view of the charging station so the status of each battery can be verified at a glance.

Purchasing tips

The main consideration to keep in mind when selecting order pickers is the height you need to reach: 20' to 30' is the most common range, so if you have extra high shelving systems your options may be more limited.

Operating capacity is less important in most cases, since you won't be lifting full loads, but do make sure the order picker you choose is capable of handling your heaviest loads.

Try it yourself! Manufacturers are constantly improving their models, and improved ergonomics and safety features make order pickers easier than ever to operate safely. Controls that are easily operated with one hand and "progressive speed control" that limits the operating speed according to the height of the platform are just two examples. To really evaluate these types of features, there is no substitute for a good test drive.

You can expect an investment of $3000 to $8000, depending on height and weight restrictions and new or used. Popular manufacturers include Hyster, Yale, Crown and Caterpillar, among others If you look to purchase used, just be sure to ask for the owner's manual and maintenance records to make sure you are getting the best value for your dollars.

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