Walk into any warehouse, distribution center, retail stockroom, grocery store, or transportation operation and you’re sure to see pallet jacks and pallet trucks. These ubiquitous pieces of equipment are typically used for moving pallets over long distances as well as into and out of trailers and low-level storage. They include manual versions—essentially a pull handle and forks on wheels—and electric-powered walk-behind trucks (“walkies”) and operator-aboard walkie/riders.
These warehouse stalwarts have been undergoing a transformation. While manual pallet jacks haven’t changed significantly, powered pallet trucks—the primary focus of this article—have far more capabilities than they did just a few years ago. (Although the terms are often used interchangeably and with many variants, this article generally uses “pallet jack” for those that are driven manually and “pallet trucks” for powered types.) According to the manufacturers we polled, there are many more improvements to come. Here’s an overview of how they’ve changed and what they might be like in the future.
NEW DESIGNS FOR NEW PLACES
As pallet truck applications and demands change, so must the equipment’s design and capabilities. For example, because a grocery operation nowadays may run 20 hours a day, seven days a week, pallet trucks and jacks must be designed to reliably work longer in harsh environments such as cold storage, says Susan Rice, product manager, pallet trucks and stackers, for The Raymond Corp. With more customers using this type of equipment on delivery trucks, Raymond has moved to the IP65 standard of ingress protection against dust and water. “This allows [end users] to take the equipment on the street and work in rain or snow—that was unheard of 10 years ago,” she says.
Pallet trucks overall have been getting smaller and lighter, with lower capacities, says Bill Pedriana, director of sales and marketing at Big Lift LLC, maker of Big Joe forklifts. In large part, that’s because the growth of e-commerce, just-in-time delivery, and direct-to-store delivery (DSD) requires more drivers to maneuver pallets through commercial doorways, in retail backrooms, and in truck trailers. Those changing needs prompted his company five years ago to introduce a 3,000-pound-capacity electric pallet truck with the same size and shape as a manual pallet jack. According to Pedriana, the E30 was the first electric that could go wherever a manual could. Demand is so strong, he adds, that it has become the company’s all-time best-seller.
The popularity of direct-to-store delivery not only creates a need for maneuverability in small spaces but also places a premium on stability, says David McNeill, manager of product strategy for warehouse products at Yale Materials Handling Corp. It’s increasingly common for pallet trucks to carry loads over doorjambs, parking lots, and curbs, he notes. As an example of equipment that was designed with such tight quarters and bumpy terrain in mind, he cites Yale’s MPB045VG motorized hand truck, with its six-inch battery box, stability casters, load-retention strap, and moveable load backrest for multiple pallets.