What Is a Container Forklift?

Dan Cavallari

A container forklift is a piece of heavy machinery designed to lift and move large freight containers commonly used for freight shipping on boats or trains. These freight containers are quite large and heavy, so the container forklift is much larger and heavier duty than just about all other types of forklifts available. It usually features very large pneumatic tires for better maneuvering, especially over uneven terrain, and it usually runs on a heavy-duty diesel engine that can produce enough power and torque to help the machine lift the very large containers.

A container forklift is a piece of heavy machinery used to load freight containers onto a ship.
A container forklift is a piece of heavy machinery used to load freight containers onto a ship.

Other container handlers may use different methods for grabbing the containers and moving them, but a container forklift uses forks similar to other forklift models. The forks slip underneath the containers and lift them, so they must be positioned correctly to ensure the container stays securely on the lift during transport. Some container forklift models are only designed to lift the containers a few feet off the ground during transport; it is not uncommon for a lift to only raise the container 7 feet (2.13 meters) off the ground at most. Other container handlers are designed for moving containers to much greater heights using a different lifting method.

The main purpose of a container forklift is to load and unload containers onto or off of truck beds, train cars, or even ships. The lift itself features a back plate for added support, and the forks are rated to handle the weight of a loaded container. The lift should not be used to lift containers beyond the lift's weight capabilities, which are usually posted somewhere prominent in the cockpit of the forklift.

A container handler is used to lift containers to heights a forklift cannot reach. The handler secures one or more container by using an apparatus affixed to the front of the vehicle. This apparatus clamps down on either end of the container or containers, pressing inward like a set of jaws. The machine is counterbalanced with weights at the rear end of the machine to ensure stability during lifting and transport. The apparatus may rise or fall like a typical forklift, or it may operate using a telescoping boom, much like a telehandler forklift or a crane; this design allows the containers to be moved forward as well as up and down.

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