Leaf chain – used on the masts of forklift trucks -withstands the full load exerted on it via the forks and carriage arrangement and is a safety critical component.
But, with anecdotal evidence pointing to a big rise in sub-standard chain entering the market in recent years, how can you ensure that the chain on your forklift is appropriate?
Peter Church, managing director FB Chain Ltd, one of the UK’s leading suppliers of chain to the materials handling industry, offers five tips to help lift truck users and dealers ensure they get the right product for the job.
1. Expert Guidance
Your chain supplier should be able to discuss the various chain options available to you and highlight any benefits or pitfalls you might expect with any given product. While it is hard to tell one make of leaf chain apart from another by simply looking at it, the material, the quality of press tooling, heat treatment processes as well as ancillaries such as corrosion resistant coatings and lubrication will all influence a chain’s product quality and performance. It is the responsibility of every chain supplier to educate lift truck dealers and repairers.
2. Is the chain tested and traceable?
Historically all leaf chain manufacturers supplied chain with a unique batch traceability code clearly shown. These days very few do which means that, in the event of a failure, they are unable to identify an individual batch, trace and recall the products.
We see more examples of chain entering the UK without any form of batch marking whatsoever. It is virtually impossible to recall a batch of potentially faulty and, therefore, highly dangerous leaf chain once it has entered the market if the chain cannot be matched with a batch number.
Unless clear reference to each batch test is identified frequently on the chain, future traceability is all but impossible. Some manufacturers even identify a chain with simply the generic part number which provides no batch traceability whatsoever. Even worse, some have no markings at all.
It is also worth considering that the Machinery Directive states: "Each length of lifting chain, rope or webbing not forming part of an assembly must bear a mark or, where this is not possible, a plate or irremovable ring bearing the name and address of the manufacturer or his authorised representative and the identifying reference of the relevant certificate."
3. Service – is your supplier a specialist?
Users should look to source chain from organisations that have the infrastructure and stock in place to be able to guarantee the highest levels of service.
There is little point in any manufacturer pretending that chain cannot malfunction because, from time to time, it does. The things that differentiate a good supplier from the others are, firstly, the frequency between technical problems and then the ability of the supplier to have an engineer on site in the shortest possible time to put faults right when they do occur.
4. Does the chain have good fatigue endurance?
Under European regulations, manufacturers are required to test leaf chain and issue a test certificate. But proposed changes to ISO 4347 – the international standard governing the manufacture of the type of leaf chain used by forklift truck manufacturers – will require chain manufacturers to demonstrate that their products offer high levels of ‘fatigue’ resistance.
At present, chain suppliers are only required to demonstrate that their products comply with ‘breaking load’ guidelines. A chain’s ‘breaking load’ (ultimate tensile strength) indicates the stress or force that can be applied to a chain before it breaks or ruptures.
By introducing an element of fatigue resistance (dynamic strength) testing to ISO 4347, the International Standards committee hope to enable chain users to ensure that the chain used on their materials handling equipment and other products and machinery is fit for purpose and will provide the longest life and – therefore – the lowest operational costs.
5. Is your supplier a member of the industries foremost trade associations (FLTA or BITA)?
Ensure that you buy any product – especially a safety critical one such as leaf chain – from a member of your trade association. You will then have peace of mind knowing that your prospective supplier has passed the stringent tests required and can be relied on as a committed supporter of the industry they serve.