In and around harsh and corrosive port conditions a robust forklift chain lubrication and maintenance regime is essential if costly truck or container handler downtime is to be avoided, says Peter Church, managing director of FB Chain Ltd.
If the chain that powers the mast functions of the type of heavy forklift trucks and container handlers used within port and terminal environments develops a fault, the costs incurred can run into thousands of pounds.
Truck downtime and the resultant disruption to the operation alone are likely to incur eye-watering losses and, in the event that the chain has to be completely written off, the truck owner will be looking at a bill of around £5000 for a replacement.
A forklift chain will malfunction for all sorts of reasons but one of the most common causes of failure is a lack of sufficient or regular lubrication.
The life of a forklift truck chain that has been adequately lubricated can be up to 60 times longer than one that has been neglected and within harsh and corrosive port conditions a robust lubrication regime is particularly essential.
“Forklift and container handler operators often assume that they have correctly lubricated their leaf chain but friction corrosion, turned pins, metallic friction, stiff joints, noisy operation and pitting still occur – all of which will, eventually, lead to chain break down,” says Peter Church, managing director of chain manufacturer, FB Chain Ltd.
He continues: “Problems often arise because the applied lubricant has remained on the exterior of the leaf chain and not penetrated into the leaf chain joints.”
To avoid this scenario, forklift users must ensure that the chain is slack during the lubrication process so that the lubricant Is able to flow between the chain link plates and pins.
It is worth noting that in instances where trucks are fitted with some form of attachment the chain is always under pressure – making it difficult to ensure that the lubricant is correctly applied. This is especially true when trucks have ‘spreader’ units that result in the chain being constantly under load even when not lifting.
Of course, forklift chains should always be lubricated with an oil that remains on the chain for the longest period and trucks that operate outdoors or in low temperatures or at sites where they are subject to a regular cleaning regime should have lubricant re-applied on a regular basis to ensure the chain’s optimum life.
Peter Church also warns that oil can be prevented from flowing to the vital load bearing sections of the chain (between the articulating link plates and the pins) if the chain has become encased in dirt.
“Regardless of the type of lubrication or frequency of application, if debris is not removed, the lubricant will not flow to the critical contact areas on the leaf chain where it will be most beneficial,” he says.
To help reduce the risk of chain damage on trucks operating in corrosive environments, FB Chain recently introduced the SEB SuperEndurance range of leaf chain.
SEB chain is treated with a zinc flake coating which increases protection significantly.
The new chain’s design also ensures that lubrication oil remains in place for the entire working life of the chain – even on trucks that work in harsh outdoor working environments such as harbours or docks. Forklifts parts involved in these applications are eroded with salt spray from their working environments. Because the lubrication is trapped inside the chain, SEB chain also reduces the risk of oil contaminating the environment
“The costs and maintenance charges associated with large forklift chains is high. Chains are time consuming to inspect and maintain and often require specialist lifting equipment to deal with any problems that develop. But the impact of having a large piece of handling equipment ‘out of service’ will be even more significant,” says Peter Church.
He adds: “SEB chain not only reduces the amount of time that a truck user has to spend maintaining the chain but will also result in trucks spending less time ‘out of service’. These major savings will significantly reduce fleet operating costs.”