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What are Rough Terrain Forklifts?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Many people may not be aware that there are two classifications for forklifts in the manufacturing world. One is the industrial model, and the other is the rough terrain forklift. Rough terrain forklifts look a bit different from industrial models, and they are designed to be used in rough, unpaved conditions.

The first appearance of rough terrain forklifts was during the mid 1940s. Unlike their industrial cousins, these forklifts were designed primarily for use on rough surfaces. This made the units ideal for jobs around construction sites, moving materials around in lumberyards, and in general providing lifting power when there was no paved surface available.

Rough terrain forklifts are characterized by their large pneumatic tires, usually with deep treads that allow the vehicle to grab onto the roughest of road or ground cover without sliding or slipping. Typically, the machines use an internal combustion engine with a battery for power. The engine may be designed to use regular gasoline, diesel, or propane fuel. A few manufacturers are beginning to introduce models that run on ethanol produced from vegetable matter.

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Some of the first rough terrain forklifts had the ability to lift in excess of 1,000 pounds (453.5 kg), using blades that could run underneath the item, lift it slightly, and move it to another location. Within the first ten years, these machines were enhanced with additional carrying power, increasing the potential load to over 2,000 pounds (907 kg). By the 1960s, telescoping booms were added, allowing them to stack materials much higher than in years past. The telescoping feature remains a staple of most models today.

Continued enhancements over the years have improved the load capacity of these forklifts, with many models able to handle well over 4,000 pounds (1814.3 kg) today. The telescoping ability has also improved, with some units able to telescope to a height of 35 feet (10.6 m). Protection for the operator has become more of a focus as well, with many forklifts now coming equipped with a small enclosed cab for the driver, rather than the older, open air seat.

Some rough terrain forklifts are marketed as all terrain forklifts. In addition to functioning well on unpaved surfaces, these models also can be used without difficulty on paved floors as well. This makes it possible to use one unit to transport materials from an outside working area into a warehouse or other finished space.

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