Rough Terrain Forklifts: Heavy-duty transporters ideal for small jobsites

According to Manitou, about 70 percent of RT forklifts sold in North America are equipped with four-wheel drive, versus two-wheel drive. The Manitou design, says the company, features a “non-tractor-style” body that uses a rounded counterweight to protect rear tires and lights.

With this new generation of straight-mast forklifts, there are plenty of options to choose from. We take a brief look at what leading manufacturers offer so you know what to look for when buying a new RT forklift.

Key Insights for Buyers

RT forklifts are ideal for smaller jobsites, due to it’s lower cost and maneuverability.

Features such as the “clear-view” mast, shorter turning radii, and hydraulic side-shift of carriage and forks provide operators with greater control.

Different mast types allow buyers to tailor machines more closely to applications frequently encountered.

The RT forklift vs the telehandler

With the rise in popularity of the telehandler, the rough-terrain (RT) forklift has become the lower-cost, more-maneuverable alternative on construction sites. These qualities can be a plus for smaller job sites.

“The rough-terrain or straight-mast forklift has become more of a niche machine, rather than an ‘everybody-needs-one’ machine,” says Charlie Detrich, U.S. sales & dealer development manager for Liftking.

“Granted, the telehandler is a versatile machine, but it takes up a lot of real estate on a small construction site—maybe for a convenience store or a gas station,” he says. “The telehandler is almost overkill on such sites, because it takes up so much space moving around.”

Advances in RT forklifts
RT forklift manufacturers—and there are more than you might think, some with surprisingly broad product lines—are pursuing ongoing refinement of their machines. Electronics, for example.

“Tier-4 RT forklifts, for the most part, incorporate advanced electronic control units,” says Mike Sover, North America product marketing manager, Manitou Group, “along with the ability to plug a laptop into the machine to aid in troubleshooting issues. With Tier-5 machines, we could possible see greater electronic interface of operator and machine.”

In keeping with design advances in many other types of electronic technology, a number of RT forklift models are available with telematics systems, such as JCB’s Livelink and Case’s SiteWatch.

Larger, more comfortable, easier-to-operate machines might also be on the design radar for RT forklifts.

“I see increased capacities as a trend for RT forklifts,” says Dell White, sales marketing manager, Sellick Equipment Ltd. “Some markets are now probably more than 50 percent 10,000 pounds and more. Also, there’s a trend to design machines with superior ergonomics in an effort to provide operators with a quiet, efficient cab environment to increase productivity and reduce fatigue.”

Detrich says that such features as the “clear-view” mast (with lift cylinders on the outside of the mast to provide an unhindered view to the forks), shorter turning radii, hydraulic side-shift of carriage and forks, and improved ergonomic operator platforms result in machines that provide operators with greater control, convenience, and comfort.

Also, a selection of masts offered by some RT forklift manufacturers allow buyers to tailor machines more closely to applications frequently encountered. Masts with two, three, or even four sections allow choosing a lift height best suited to particular operations, and the free-lift feature offered on some masts (allowing the forks to raise without extending the mast) makes working in low-overhead situations much easier.

Views from the front
This quick market overview is not intended to be all-inclusive, either by manufacturer or by products within a manufacturer’s lineup, but aimed rather at providing prospective buyers a sample of RT forklifts available.

Dell White, sales marketing manager, Sellick Equipment Ltd:

The Sellick RT forklift range includes a variety of models, including the five-machine S-Series with rated lift capacities of 6,000 to 15,000 pounds. All use a 74-horsepower (gross) engine. Transmissions are four-speed (three-speed in the S120) fully synchronized units with torque converter and power reversing. An automatic power-shift transmission is optional. The company’s SLP Series features three low-profile models rated at 5,000, 6,000, and 8,000 pounds lift capacity, all using a 74-horsepower Kohler engine and shuttle-type transmission with torque converter. A four-speed automatic transmission is standard on four-wheel-drive models.

Charlie Detrich, U.S. sales & dealer development manager, Liftking:

Liftking has a diverse product offering, ranging from a variety of RT forklift configurations, to application-specific custom forklifts, to heavy-duty transporters. The nine-model P-Series RT forklift range includes units with rated lift capacities from 5,000 to 30,000 pounds (24-inch load center), with two-, three-, and four-section mast configurations. Models through 16,000 pounds lift capacity use a standard 100-horsepower engine; the next two larger models use a 142-horsepower engine; and the largest model, the LK30P44, has a 225-horsepower engine. Full-time four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering are standard.

Mike Sover, North America product marketing manager, Manitou Group:

The Manitou M-Series “masted” forklift range has models with lift capacities from 5,700 to 15,400 pounds, all powered by a 75-horsepower Perkins engine and available with torque-converter type or hydrostatic transmissions. According to Manitou, cabs feature “efficient heating and ventilation as standard, air conditioning (optional).” The company uses “Shock Absorber Technology” designed to keeps the load stable in all types of terrain.

JCB RT forklift models include the 930, 940, and 950, respectively rated at 6,000, 8,000, and 10,000 pounds lift capacity. All use the JCB 74-horsepower EcoMAX engine, a four-speed synchromesh transmission with a power-shuttle feature for directional control, and each is available with either two- or four-wheel drive. Zero-tail-swing design eliminates counterweight interference once the rear wheels clear an obstruction during a full turn. The JCB telematics system, Livelink, is available for all models.

Case RT forklift models include the 586H and 588H, both powered by a 74-horsepower (gross) FPT engine and using a 4F/4R power-shuttle synchromesh transmission. Lift capacity at 15 feet on a 24-inch center is 6,000 and 8,000 pounds, respectively; maximum fork height is 22 feet. The Case H-Series features zero tail-swing, standard differential lock, and a dual-mast design with tilt of 45 degrees forward 15 degrees rearward. The Case SiteWatch telematics system is available for all models.

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