Forklift wheels aren’t one size fits all. The wrong wheels can decay quickly and need to be replaced more often. In today’s post, we’ll review different types of forklift wheels and how to extend the life of your forklift load wheels.
How Heat and Debris Can Destroy Your Forklift Wheels
The two enemies of forklift wheels are heat and debris. Knowing these enemies, and how to overcome them will help extend the life of the polyurethane wheels on your forklift, reach truck, pallet jack, etc.
Enemy #1: Heat When a wheel rotates, it compresses as it comes into contact with the floor. As the wheel continues to roll, it expands back to its original shape. This expansion and contraction creates heat which, over time, can create cracks in the load wheel compound. Heat damage can even cause the bond between the wheel compound and the wheel hub to release.
Higher durometer compounds are the most common way to battle heat damage. A higher durometer number means the wheel is harder, so it resists compression. Less compression = less heat.
Trucks that are constantly moving are generating more heat in the wheels, so they benefit from higher durometer wheels. The trade-off is that harder wheels have a rougher ride and usually cost more.
Diameter also plays a part in the heat equation. Larger diameter wheels don’t have to spin as fast as smaller wheels, so the compression cycle isn’t happening as often in a given distance. This is why drive tires can outlast load wheels on a given truck, even if they are the same compound.
Enemy #2: Debris
Debris is a load wheel killer. Think back to when you rode a skateboard or roller skates: rolling over a small pebble, even one as small as a pea, could prevent the wheel from turning. The same type of effect happens with load wheels.
A piece of pallet stringer, or a rock from the yard, can stop the load wheel from turning. But the hefty drive motor of a forklift or pallet jack keeps the equipment moving while that load wheel just slides along the floor – creating a flat spot on the load wheel.
When the load wheel is able to roll over debris, the heavy load often presses the debris into the load wheel material. Eventually, there isn’t enough space for both the debris and the load wheel compound, and the load wheel comes apart.
If debris is a fact of life at your operation, the best solution may be to buy the least expensive wheel available. Since the debris is going to damage the wheel, regardless of its brand name or durometer, then it makes sense not to spend a lot of money on something that is going to have a short life anyway.
How to Choose the Right Load and Drive Wheels
The best load wheel for your equipment depends on the machine and application.
Reach trucks can utilize a larger load wheel than other types of material handling equipment. As described above, a larger wheel makes fewer rotations over a given distance (compared to a smaller wheel) which means less compression/heat damage. The increased diameter also allows the wheel to roll over debris easier, reducing or eliminating the cause of flat spots.
Pallet jack load wheels typically wear into a cone shape where the edge nearest the outside of the forks is the most worn. This type of wear is known as “coning” and is caused by frequent, tight turns.
The best way to combat coning is to use load wheels that have been split into sections. This allows the outer portion of the load wheel to spin faster than the inner portion during a turn, which reduces the cone-shaped wear.
Even though stand-up lift trucks don’t technically have load wheels, the steer wheels can suffer from the same heat effects as load wheels do. On a stand-up counterbalance forklift, the steer wheels carry the heavy counterweight when there is not a load on the forks to counterbalance.
Customers who have light loads, or frequent trips across the warehouse with empty forks, may experience the same type of heat-related failures as a reach truck customer with load wheels. For this reason, the stand-up counterbalance has steer wheel compounds ranging from a soft rubber to a hard poly. The hard poly tire will have a rougher ride, but will not heat up as easily in applications that do a lot of driving with little to no weight on the forks.
Drive wheels (aka drive tires) need to provide adequate traction for acceleration, braking, and steering, and also suffer from the same heat and debris issues as load wheels. In other words, there’s a lot to take into account when choosing drive wheels for your forklift. Below is a summary of different types of drive wheels, but it’s best to speak with an experienced product rep to ensure you’re getting the right drive wheels for your operation.
Different Types of Forklift Drive Wheels
PROS: Smooth ride, good traction on a variety of floors
CONS: The soft compound means easier heat buildup in applications that are always moving
Smooth Poly (varying durometers)
PROS: Non-marking, variety of compounds allows for customized balance of ride quality vs. heat resistance
CONS: Requires better floor conditions for traction (smooth dry floors or mildly abrasive floors are best)
Siped-poly (a smooth poly tire with diagonal razor cuts in the traction surface)
PROS: Better traction in slippery conditions vs. a smooth poly tire, while retaining heat resistance benefits
CONS: Razor cuts in the poly material reduce the life of the tire if driven on a dry or abrasive floor
PROS: Improved traction on icy floors. Use of walnut shells instead of metal fibers allows use in food applications. Usually made with a soft compound that provides a smooth ride for the operator
CONS: Low resistance to heat
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