Investing in a forklift fleet is no simple procedure. With the wide and ever-increasing volume of forklift trucks on the market, how can you know which ones are the right choice for you?
You will likely find yourself querying key factors such as the condition of the vehicle - is it used, new, or refurbished, and considering whether you want to buy, rent or hire. But there are other, very important factors to take into account, namely; do you choose an electric counterbalance forklift or an internal combustion (IC) Engine?
In this article, we’re going to discuss these two primary options and how they fare in terms of sustainability, cost, downtime, size, comfort, and noise pollution. This direct comparison will help you to gain a deeper insight into the advantages and disadvantages of each forklift truck and decide which is the best option for your material handling operations.
Electric counterbalance vs. IC engines: 6 key considerations
As the UK government has committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, many companies want to ensure that their operational strategies are as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible.
Electric counterbalance: these vehicles have zero carbon emissions, meaning they work to reduce your carbon footprint and offer a cleaner, safer working environment for forklift operators and those around them.
IC engine: these trucks use a variety of fossil fuels including diesel and LPG (liquid petroleum gas) for power, making them less environmentally friendly than electric vehicles. Because of this, IC engines are becoming more strictly regulated.
Whilst sustainability is a hugely important factor to consider – not just for the health of the environment, but also for the health and safety of your workforce – there are other elements that may contribute to your decision-making process.
Related read: FORKLIFT & DRIVER TRAINING
The price of a forklift truck is an important consideration, particularly when purchasing, renting, or hiring a full fleet.
Electric counterbalance: the initial purchase price is typically more expensive compared to IC engine models. However, other factors make electric forklifts less costly over the life of the truck. With fewer moving parts, electric vehicles usually require less maintenance and fewer repairs than those with IC engines. This has the cost benefit of less money lost through dropped productivity due to the truck being out of commission.
IC engine: generally, the purchase price for an IC forklift is lower than an electric forklift, and that can make it an appealing, cost-effective option if you’re on a tighter budget or only using the truck sporadically. For trucks in regular use, an increase in maintenance costs should be factored in, and day-to-day fuel prices and type (diesel or LPG) will need to be considered — for example, diesel costs in the UK have risen significantly since the end of the red diesel subsidy in 2022.
Electric counterbalance: this equipment uses a battery to power the entire system. The battery can last anywhere up to a double shift based on its condition and how well the truck is maintained. However, once the battery is drained, it requires charging which can take around 8 hours – if it is to be restored to its full capacity. During this time, the truck is stationary and cannot be used, so it’s a good idea to always have an additional, fully charged battery available as a replacement.
Of course, you then have to account for the time taken to switch the batteries – albeit a small amount of time. Ideally, method statements and battery change training should be provided to forklift operators, both of which are provided by Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks.
IC engine: for internal combustion engines, refuelling is easy – taking less than 5 minutes. Additionally, one LPG tank can last the entirety of an 8-hour shift. This means you can get back to moving more materials much quicker than you can with an electric counterbalance. However, there is more time required for a service of this type of equipment, due to the nature of the motive power.
Whether you’re operating in a compact warehouse, an obstacle-laden building site or a vast shipyard, the truck’s size will be a key factor to consider.
Electric counterbalance: the truck chassis gains stability by having the weight of the battery low in the chassis. They are more compact than IC engines, giving a smaller turning radius and better residual capacity. This makes it easy to manoeuvre both in a warehouse environment and when cross-docking or unloading, for example. Electric forklifts are highly suited to indoor use, however, they are designed for outdoor operations, too.
IC engine: due to the current market, IC engines are better suited to the highest capacities required – 5.5 tonnes and above. Technology is changing rapidly, and the weights lifted by electric trucks will increase over the next couple of years. IC engines are well-suited to operate in extreme environments, this includes intense heat and cold.
The comfort of operators is a significant factor in the decision-making process. If you want to work with a happy, productive team, facilitating comfortable working conditions is essential.
Electric counterbalance: electric forklifts typically have operator-friendly features, such as advanced ergonomic steering wheels and hydraulic controls, making them more efficient and smoother to work with. They also create fewer vibrations and noise, making them a lot more comfortable for drivers – this is important as some operators spend an entire working day on a forklift. Great ergonomic design works to prevent RSI (repetitive strain injury) and, therefore, long term injuries, which enhances comfort and also means your staff take less time off sick – reducing your total cost of operation (TCO). Additionally, the lower step makes this machine easier for the driver to access.
IC engine: due to the vehicle’s heavy engine, the driver experiences more vibration and noise which can lead to operator discomfort and fatigue.
6. NOISE POLLUTION
Forklifts can create a lot of noise, and long-term exposure to elevated noise can cause health problems. Some work sites can be noise-sensitive, and the combined noise of several working forklifts in an enclosed environment could contribute.
Electric counterbalance: AC (alternating current) motors produce significantly less noise than an internal combustion engine. Noise can be an annoyance, but it's also a safety concern when you have multiple machines and pedestrians moving around you.
IC engine: if noise level is a concern, then IC engines may not be the right choice for you. That being said, the noise of these forklifts works to alert pedestrians of their presence, which can be seen as a benefit.
The deciding factor: Total Cost of Ownership
TCO is used to describe the cost involved in purchasing or investing in something and considers more than just the initial monetary exchange.
Overall, electric counterbalance trucks prove more efficient in terms of TCO. Whilst they incur higher costs at the point of purchase than their IC counterparts, electric vehicles require less maintenance, produce zero emissions and their ergonomic design provides greater comfort for operators which, in turn, improves health and productivity.
Nevertheless, IC engines have a great range of benefits, including the ability to run 24/7, and can be an efficient investment, particularly when you take into account the likes of planned maintenance.
Which of these powerful options is right for you?
Each of these options has its benefits and drawbacks and the one that’s right for you predominantly depends on its application. With the information provided, you’re more well-equipped to make your own informed decision on which type of forklift truck will suit you best.
Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks has a range of machines fit for every operation. To find out which is the best solution for you, whether it’s buying equipment, hiring for the long or short-term, or if you simply need service or spare parts, get in touch today.