What Is a Reach Truck?

Dustin Hawley | Feb 14, 2021

A reach truck is a forklift that is designed to work well within narrow and tight applications, such as warehouse aisles. The name stems from its purpose, which is to reach the highest shelving units in a warehouse. 

reach truck

This article will explain the key characteristics of a reach truck and what makes them unique from other types of forklifts.

Reach Truck: An Overview

In comparison to other forklift models, reach trucks are much smaller in length and width. Depending on the manufacturer, the fork can either face forward or towards the vehicle’s right side. 

The most common power source for a reach truck is an electric motor that drives the rear wheels, while the front wheels extend out from the vehicle, acting as stabilizing legs. They provide both stability and weight distribution, eliminating the need for a large counterweight opposite of the fork.

Access to Cargo

Since the stabilizing legs create a gap between the shelves (otherwise known as racking), certain warehouse designs must be in place for reach trucks to function effectively. For instance, bottom bars must not be present on any racking, and pallets should be stored on the ground, as the stabilizing legs have to slide underneath in order to bring the truck closer to the cargo. 

If improper racking is present, a reach truck with a pantograph mechanism can still be used, albeit in a limited capacity.

Seating Arrangement

The size of a reach truck limits seating configurations, a problem that is solved in multiple ways:

  • Conventional seating configurations do not provide the comfort and space that a classic forklift does, but they are still the most comfortable option among reach trucks. To accommodate the operator in a fully seated position, reach trucks must be wider and longer than necessary, which is somewhat counterintuitive.
  • Universal stance designs actually do not include a seat at all. Instead, the operator has to stand on the platform and operate the vehicle. This type of design provides improved control ergonomics at the expense of the operator’s comfort.
  • The dock-stance compartment allows the operator to lean against the reach truck’s side and have forearm resting panels for a more manageable working position, particularly during prolonged use.
  • A sit or stand configuration is similar in design to dock-stance arrangements but incorporates a shallow, foldable seat that allows an operator to alternate between sitting or standing positions.

Since it’s an open-cabin design, every reach truck is equipped with a protective roof to prevent any falling objects from potentially harming the operator. Some reach truck cabins have a tilting feature that allows the operator to get a better view. Nowadays, most modern reach trucks are equipped with cameras that accurately assess their surroundings and increase safety.

Operating Mechanism

Reach trucks are categorized by the mechanism used to lift and maneuver cargo. There are several designs, but the three most prominent are the pantograph, moving mast, and straddle variants. 

  • A pantograph is a scissor or accordion-like mechanism whose origins can be traced back to ancient Greece. Compressed by default, the pantograph extends the fork away from the truck, a design that allows warehouse racking to be much deeper. 
  • A moving mast reach truck cannot extend its forks forward, operating in the same fashion as a conventional forklift. They are considered somewhat safer than the pantograph configuration, most likely due to their higher tolerance to operator negligence rather than any specific design element.
  • Straddle reach trucks utilize their stabilizing legs more than the lifting mechanism, often in the form of a pantograph, moving mast, or some other design. The legs on these reach trucks are wider apart than the pallet’s width, giving the truck the ability to “straddle” the pallet. The drawback of this design is that the legs get in the way of the optimal horizontal packing procedures. 

Application

As previously mentioned, reach trucks are primarily designed to operate within warehouse environments. But they are capable of outdoor application as well and can serve as truck loading and unloading forklifts. It is not uncommon to see a reach truck mounted on the back of a semi-trailer, which guarantees the truck driver has the means to unload cargo on their own.

Walkie Stacker

Walkie stackers do not fall into the same category as standard reach trucks, though they offer similar functionality. Rather than having the operator sit or stand on the machine, a walkie stacker is maneuvered in the same manner as a manual forklift - with an electric motor’s assistance. Their core application is often in staging areas of warehouses, production lines, and for transporting lighter cargo.

Order Picker

In a warehouse filled with thousands of products, removing a pallet for a single product can be both time consuming and inefficient. This is when an order picker can come in handy.

Order pickers work the same way as a reach truck, but the fork includes a standing platform for the operator. Fork controls are installed within the platform so that a single person can operate the entire machine. In this configuration, operators can raise a pallet to either offload from it or use it to safely lower products from up high. 

However, order pickers are not exempt from risk. Because they can reach heights of 30 feet, safety harnesses are necessary to ensure operator safety.

Summary

As we have outlined throughout this piece, reach trucks are an indispensable tool in every large-scale warehouse. The ability to vertically maneuver cargo results in a more efficient volume distribution while simultaneously reducing the need for a larger warehouse. As a commerce-driven nation, the use of reach trucks is vital to the health of our economy. 

Continue reading to find more of our informative guides and articles!

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