When Using a New Forklift, How Do You Calculate Its Load Capacity?

If you’re a forklift operator or a warehouse manager in charge of one, your most significant responsibility is remaining safe while operating material handling equipment. To keep you and others safe, you want to be sure that the load you are transporting on your forks does not exceed the load capacity for that machine. That’s why it’s essential to check the data plate before operating a new forklift.

Here at Sam’s Mechanical, we know that approaching a large pallet can make you uneasy, especially if you are a newer forklift operator. However, with your forklift training and help from our expert team of forklift professionals, you can confidently and safely transport any load.

For over 25 years, we have helped warehouses ensure their material handling equipment is operating safely, so you can do the job you get paid to do—and return home in the same condition you arrived at work.

Read the Forklift’s Data Plate

The data plate of a Royal Forklift lists the machine capacity at 24,000 pounds with a 36-inch load center.

When you purchase a new forklift, one of the first tasks you should do is read the data plate, like the one pictured here from one of our Royal Forklifts. All forklifts must have this plate that specifies their load capacity. It will often include other information like mast height, load center, and lifting capacity of the forks alone without any attachments.

So, if the capacity of a piece of equipment is 24,000 pounds, like on the one pictured, that means you can lift any load up to that weight, right? Well, not exactly.

The capacity listed on a reach truck, lift truck, electric forklift, or another piece of machinery is based on a pallet load that is twice the length of the load center. So, in this example, this forklift can handle a pallet that is 72”x72” and weighs up to 24,000 pounds in optimal conditions.

What Are Optimal Conditions?

The key here is optimal conditions. You know you have optimal conditions when the pallet you are transporting is:

  • Smaller than the maximum size listed on the data plate
  • Positioned at the back of the forks
  • The mast is in the upright position
  • The forks are placed low to the ground
  • The forklift is driven at a low speed

If any of these conditions aren’t true, for instance, you have a larger or uneven load or can’t position the load correctly, then the load’s center of gravity is shifted, and capacity is diminished.

How to Calculate the Load Capacity

To correctly calculate if your forklift can safely handle a larger load, you need to calculate the load for a forklift accurately. To best illustrate this calculation, let’s say that you’re trying to move a pallet or other item that is eight feet long (96 inches), using the forklift with the same data plate shown in the first example. In that case, you’ll follow these steps:

  1. Calculate the actual load’s center of gravity by dividing its length in half. So, in this example, 96 inches / 2 = 48 inches.
  2. If that number is greater than the load center on the machine’s data plate, then divide the load center from the data plate by the actual load’s center. For example, 36 inches / 48 inches = 0.75.
  3. You’ll take that number and multiply it by the machine’s rated load capacity on the data plate. For example, 0.75 x 24,000 = 18,000 pounds.
  4. If the load you want to move that is 96 inches long weighs less than 18,000 pounds for the machine listed, then you can safely handle the load.
  5. If the load happens to weigh more than your calculation, then use a machine with a higher capacity or, if possible, decrease the weight of the cargo or lower its center of gravity.

The Load Moment

While you have your calculator out to determine the maximum load capacity of your forklift, you also want to be mindful of the load moment. The load moment is the product of the load’s weight by the load’s distance from the fulcrum or pivot point. In the case of a sit-down counterbalanced forklift, the fulcrum is the axel of the front wheels. This number is essential because it determines how much force is being applied that could cause the forklift to overturn.

To calculate the maximum load moment, let’s say we have a forklift with a 24-inch load center and a capacity of 3,000 pounds attempting to move an item that has a load center of 30 inches.

  1. Multiply the data’s plates load center and capacity. In this example, 24 inches x 3,000 pounds = 72,000 inch-pounds.
  2. Take the maximum load moment and divide it by the load’s center distance. So, 72,000 inch-pounds / 30-inches = 2,400 pounds.
  3. If the load weighs more than this number, then you cannot safely move it without the risk of tipping the forklift.

Dangers of Miscalculating Load Capacity

When attempting to use a new forklift, whether it’s your first time using it or the machine is brand new to your facility, you always want to be sure you’re calculating load capacity correctly. If you miscalculate, you could be subjected to the forklift tipping over, the load falling, or damage to the forklift. That’s why you must know how to calculate these numbers accurately.

Tips for Safely Handling Loads while Using a Forklift

Beyond an accurate calculation of lifting capacity and the maximum load moment, there are also some general safety tips for transporting larger loads.

  • Use extra caution when handling loads at or near capacity
  • With loads near-maximum capacity, travel with the mast tilted back to keep the load stable
  • Ensure loads are centered because off-centered loads can cause tip-overs
  • See if the load you’re transporting is damaged or loose, and fix it before attempting to move it
  • Distribute the heaviest part of the load near the front wheels

Ready to Purchase a Used or New Forklift? Contact Sam’s Mechanical!

Whether you’re looking for new forklifts for sale or ones with a high capacity to move larger loads, Sam’s Mechanical has you covered! We have plenty of new and used material handling equipment, accessories, and related equipment, so you can find the perfect model to fit your needs. If you need to move a large load only once, you can even rent a forklift from us with enough capacity to move it.

No matter what your forklift or pallet racking needs are, Sam’s Mechanical is your one-stop forklift shop and can assist you!