5 signs that it's time to change your forklift truck lifting chains

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What is the most valuable and important part of a forklift truck? The answer to this is without doubt the lifting chains. They support the entire load during lifting and therefore have a direct impact on safety.

Without chains, it is impossible to lift anything and even more crucial than this, with worn chains, handling is less productive and even destructive (wear and tear on the forks) and above all, it’s more dangerous - the risks are extremely high.

So how do you maintain your lifting chains, how do you know when to change them and what are the classic signs of wear and tear?

You can spot signs of wear and tear on your lifting chains with a few simple tips. With general wear and tear, the chains lengthen and slacken. This will have a direct impact on your work.

How do you know if it's time to maintain or change them?

Mast chain inspection
  1. The chain will make noise during operation (you’ll hear slapping sounds when the mast is moving, which means the pins are getting stuck).

  2. The chain will be slacker on one side (this means that the adjustment is not good and the chain tension must be balanced).

  3. The chain will undoubtedly show rust marks.

  4. The forks will drag on the ground.

  5. The chain will have more than 2% elongation. 

 

To find out if the chain has 2% or more elongation, simply use a chain wear indicator which measures the percentage elongation of the chain. By following the manufacturer's instructions for this chain wear indicator, you can determine whether your chain needs to be replaced. If the reading is:

  • < 2% your chain is still in good condition and doesn't need to be changed.
  • > 2% is a warning signal. If this is measured during a thorough examination, mark in the report that the chain is to be changed and arrange for a replacement with your dedicated service engineer.
  • > 3% is an intolerance threshold. Replacement is imperative in order to continue working without risk.
Chain wear indicator use

Note: VNA trucks have a threshold of 2% or a timed deadline for change.

This measure should be carried out by your authorised maintenance engineer at each thorough inspection performed (e.g. every 6 months).


What factors accelerate mast chain wear?

If a chain wears normally, it may need to be changed due to certain errors or external factors which accelerate its general wear. To find out if you need to schedule more frequent maintenance, look to see if one or more of these criteria apply to you. What are the most common causes of premature wear of a lifting chain?

1. Cleaning chains with unsuitable cleaning agents

If you maintain your mast chains yourself, be sure to use the grease or lubricant specified by the manufacturer. To do this, check with your manufacturer to find out which product is most recommended. Some detergents are abrasive and can damage the chains by attacking them.

2. Intensive use

A second common factor – the heavier the loads and the higher the frequency with which they are lifted, the faster the chains lengthen. So, if you have intensive use of your forklift truck, plan closer talks with your dedicated service engineer.

3. The Workplace

Some environments can cause premature chain wear:

  • Saline environments (salt attacks)
  • Warm and humid environments (the chains degrease faster)
  • Acidic environments (e.g. battery manufacturing, where acidic vapour is regularly released)
  • Food environments (when forklift trucks are cleaned with a jet wash very regularly, this will degrease the chains faster).

In these environments, it is advisable to increase the frequency of checks and chain lubrication.

4. Shocks

If your chains hit obstacles, depending on the frequency and violence of the shocks, their lifespan can be considerably shortened.


How to maintain your lifting chains in 3 easy steps…

Cleaning of lifting chains

If you want to maintain and ultimately extend the life of your lifting chains, here are our three tips:

  • Clean the chains using steam or solvent to degrease it and avoid additional detergents that will cause corrosion.
  • Dry the chain with compressed air.
  • Lubricate with the correct type of grease (advised by the manufacturer).

There are special lubricants for cold storage, as there are for engine oils. To find out the most suitable grease reference, contact your manufacturer or consult the user and maintenance manual of your forklift truck.


How often should you maintain your chains?

The chains are supposed to be checked at each thorough inspection. Otherwise, as an indication, it is recommended to have them checked every 1000 hours in order to control and grease them.


Is it possible to repair / maintain your own lifting chains?

It is possible, but it is not advisable and can be dangerous. Indeed, certain elements must be secured (some parts of the mast, such as the carriage which are very heavy to lift). Even when all the necessary elements are secured and the chain is accessible, it’s important to note that it is attached on both sides. Therefore, if you detach the chain from one side, it can slide violently from the other. Of course, the risk is then very high.

In addition to the human risk, if the chain is not properly maintained, it is possible to damage the chain (by not cleaning it with the right products, by not drying it after cleaning or lubricating which can then make it fragile).

Finally, this maintenance work is very messy, both for the person carrying it out and for the environment. To avoid any inconvenience, contact your professional forklift truck maintenance team and ask them to support you. We will be happy to advise and visit you to carry out maintenance on your mast chains whenever convenient.

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