A Guide To Forklift Types


In today’s fast-paced industrial landscape, the efficient movement of goods and materials is paramount. This is where forklifts, the workhorses of the material handling industry, come into play. With their remarkable lifting capabilities and manoeuvrability, forklifts have become indispensable assets in warehouses, construction sites, and various other settings.

However, not all forklifts are created equal. There are several distinct types, each purpose-built to cater to specific tasks and working environments. Understanding the differences and capabilities of various forklift types is crucial in choosing the right equipment to maximise productivity, ensure operator safety, and optimise efficiency.

This guide will explore the diverse range of forklifts available in today’s market. From counterbalance forklifts to reach trucks and electric-powered and rough terrain models, we will delve into their unique features, applications, and advantages. Whether you’re a business owner, warehouse manager, or simply curious about these remarkable machines, this guide will serve as your go-to resource for understanding the various types of forklifts and their suitability for specific material handling needs.

So, let’s look at your forklift options and discover the perfect lifting solution for your operational requirements!

What is a Counterbalance Forklift?

A counterbalance forklift is a type of forklift specifically designed to ensure stability when carrying heavy loads. Unlike reach trucks, which employ different methods for load stabilisation, counterbalance forklifts utilise larger counterweights positioned at the rear. These counterweights enable the forklift to lift and transport heavier weights effectively. The counterbalance mechanism stabilises the forklift, significantly minimising the risk of toppling over. As a result, counterbalance forklifts enhance the safety of operators and staff members by providing a secure and reliable solution for handling substantial loads.

What is a Reach Forklift?

A reach forklift, similar to a counterbalance forklift, is designed for efficient material handling. Unlike counterbalance forklifts, reach trucks utilise an extending mast and forks. The extending feature enables the reach forklift to reach greater heights and access items positioned deep within racking systems. This makes them ideal for high-density storage and order-picking tasks. While counterbalance forklifts rely on counterweights for stability, reach forklifts rely on their extended mast and stabilising legs to maintain balance. Reach forklifts can be used in relatively confined spaces but generally have wider aisle requirements than other narrow aisle forklifts.

With their ability to manoeuvre in confined spaces, reach forklifts are ideal for narrow isles in warehouses.

What is a Pallet Truck?

A pallet truck, or a pallet jack, is a manual or electric-powered device for lifting and moving pallets. It features two forks that slide underneath the pallet, allowing the operator to lift and transport the load easily. Pallet trucks are commonly used for short-distance transportation within warehouses, retail environments, and loading docks. They are efficient in handling pallets and can manoeuvre in tight spaces. With their simple yet effective design, pallet trucks provide a cost-effective solution for moving goods and materials, increasing efficiency in material handling operations.

What is a Pallet Stacker?

A pallet stacker is essentially a more advanced pallet truck. Whilst a standard pallet truck can move pallets at ground level, a pallet stacker introduces lifting capabilities. This allows you to stack pallets in addition to effortlessly moving them around your warehouse. Pallet stackers have forks that can lift pallets vertically to desired heights. They are commonly electric-powered and available in both walk-behind and ride-on configurations. They provide efficient and controlled stacking of pallets for a cost-effective pallet handling solution.

What is an Order Picker?

An order picker truck is a specialised type of forklift for retrieving individual items from high-level racking systems in warehouses. It typically features an elevated platform that allows the operator to reach and retrieve items at various heights. Order pickers are designed to optimise order fulfilment processes by enabling efficient picking of goods for shipment or distribution. They offer enhanced visibility and manoeuvrability in narrow aisles, making them ideal for high-density storage environments. With their ability to precisely access specific items, order pickers improve productivity, accuracy, and efficiency in order picking, ultimately streamlining warehouse operations.

What is a Telescopic Handler?

A telescopic handler, or telehandler, is a versatile lifting machine commonly used in construction and agriculture. It features a telescopic boom that can extend forwards and upwards, providing enhanced reach and lifting capabilities. The telescopic handler combines the functionalities of a forklift and a crane, allowing it to lift, move, and place loads with precision. It is equipped with various attachments, such as forks, buckets, and lifting hooks, making it adaptable for a wide range of tasks. With its telescopic boom, the telehandler offers flexibility, efficiency, and improved productivity in handling materials, making it an indispensable asset in diverse work environments.

What is a Side Loader?

A side loader, also known as a side-loading forklift, is a specialised type of forklift designed for handling long loads. Unlike conventional forklifts, which lift loads from the front, side loaders can pick up and transport loads from the side. This makes them ideal for handling timber, piping, and other lengthy materials. With their unique design, side loaders provide efficient and safe handling of long loads, optimising storage space and improving productivity in various industries such as timber, manufacturing, and logistics.

What is an Articulated Forklift?

Articulated forklifts, also known as flexi or Bendi forklifts, have a unique design featuring a centrally mounted articulating mast. This design allows the forklift to bend or flex in the middle, providing exceptional manoeuvrability in narrow spaces and confined areas. The articulating mast enables the forklift to operate in tight aisles and easily navigate obstacles. Bendi forklifts offer much of the speed and versatility of counterbalance forklifts with the added benefit of more easily traversing narrow aisles.

What is a VNA Truck?

A VNA (Very Narrow Aisle) truck, also known as a turret truck or narrow aisle forklift, is a specialised type of forklift designed for efficient operation in extremely narrow aisles. These trucks feature a unique design with a rotating mast and forks that can lift and lower loads while the truck remains stationary. This allows them to operate in aisles as narrow as 1.6 meters (5 feet). VNA trucks are typically used in high-density storage facilities to maximise storage capacity. High-density warehouses allow you to maximise storage space by narrowing the width of aisles. VNA forklifts make high-density storage viable and, therefore, can help create significant cost savings. 

Accredited forklift operator training

Having the right forklifts in your warehouse or worksite can completely revolutionise your business. Quicker order picking, more efficient warehouse storage and a number of other benefits can save you large sums. But having the right forklift is only the start. You must have the corresponding training in order to safely and effectively operate them. For accredited forklift operator training for any of the forklift types discussed in this guide, speak to one of our accredited forklift instructors. Our experts are familiar with the ins and outs of all these machines and can even offer low-level, medium-level, and high-level order picker operator training – we have all your needs covered. Our excellent forklift operator training with give you the skills and knowledge to get the most from your forklift whilst upholding the highest safety standards. Get in touch to learn more. 

Learn more about forklift training

Want to know more about forklift training and forklift safety? Get a head start on your training with our useful blog posts and guides. Here are a couple of great reads to start with…