Materials Handling

How to choose a power pallet truck

By Mark Nicholson

October 2021

Cat Platform power pallet truck – with fixed platform NPF20N3R

Power pallet trucks come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and types. Why should you invest in one, and how can you tell which type will be best for your operation? Mark Nicholson discusses the issues with help from Marja Högnelid of Cat® Lift Trucks.

Power pallets offer a simple but effective way of moving goods on pallets from A to B in anything from a shop or storeroom to a warehouse or distribution centre. Unlike many similar materials handling machines, they have no mast (except on double pallet handlers) – which means they cannot be used to stack or retrieve goods at height. Their forks normally just lift the pallet sufficiently to allow it to be transported horizontally without scraping on the floor.

As well as horizontal transport, power pallets are excellent for loading and unloading vehicles. Light, small and highly manoeuvrable, they are easy to operate on loading ramps, in the back of lorries and in other tight spaces. They can also be used for order picking.

A question of power

In many workplaces these duties are still carried out using traditional hand pallet trucks, which are relatively inexpensive. Why would businesses want or need to use powered machines instead? Marja Högnelid, the Product Manager responsible for Cat® low lifters and stackers in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, explains.

“With a hand pallet truck, you use physical effort to lift the load – by pumping – and to move it from place to place – by pushing or pulling. This is essentially a form of manual handling, and with that comes health and safety risks. Strain injuries may happen suddenly or may develop over a long period. If loads are often above half a tonne, and if the frequency or distance of their movement is high, you should certainly consider a power pallet truck.”

She adds: “Power pallets not only eliminate those strain injury risks – and related sickness absence – but reduce fatigue so the operator can work more efficiently. They also, of course, move the goods faster. This all adds up to higher productivity.”

An intermediate option

Cat® Electric Hand Pallet Truck

Hand pallet trucks are useful for movement of pallets and reasonably light loads over short distances. Cat Lift Trucks can supply a range of these tools. As an intermediate step toward power pallets, there is also a Cat electric hand pallet truck which takes the strain out of hand pallet work.

Click here for more information.

Pedestrian, platform, stand-on and sit-on

Pedestrian and platform power pallets are normally operated and steered via a tiller arm. The platform on a platform power pallet may fold up and down, allowing a choice between pedestrian and ride-on modes, or may be fixed. Some pedestrian power pallets also have a fold-down platform for occasional riding, but usually without the folding protective sidebars typical of a platform model.

“For short shuttle work, a pedestrian model makes sense,” says Marja. “If most of the work can be done on foot but the operator occasionally needs to travel over longer distances, a pedestrian truck with a folding platform is a good idea. When a lot of long-distance travel is required, it’s better to move up to a platform power pallet.”

Stand-on power pallets, providing further comfort for even longer travel, sometimes have a cushioned backrest and other features to minimise fatigue. For the longest distances of all, comfortable sit-on models are available. Along with ergonomics, Marja notes that speed, efficiency and safety should be considered when choosing between the various walking and riding options.

“Some companies may stick to pedestrian power pallets because they view them as the safer option for operators and other people in busy, crowded and confined areas. However, the extra speed of platform, stand-on and sit-on trucks makes them more productive in many situations. A platform truck also gives the operator greater protection, especially in the case of a fixed platform with a surrounding barrier. Barriers can be designed with side entry for easier order picking or with rear entry for better safeguarding in loading and unloading operations. The operator compartments of stand-on and sit-on trucks provide even stronger defence.”

Workplace matching

Although a particular power pallet type may be preferred for its ergonomic, comfort, safety and performance benefits, Marja stresses that choices may be fundamentally limited by the nature of the workplace.

“Essentially, the truck must be able to fit into your aisles, passageways, doorways, vehicles and other tight spaces. Moving from pedestrian, through platform, to stand-on and then sit-on, the trucks tend to become less compact. At one extreme, the smallest pedestrian models may be carried with the load in a light goods vehicle and used on mezzanine floors. To squeeze through the smallest gaps, pedestrian and folding platform models can be equipped with a brake override switch which allows them to be manoeuvred slowly with the tiller arm upright. It should be noted that the narrow chassis and small turning circle of a stand-on power pallet allows it to work in narrower spaces than a platform power pallet with its platform down.”

Other aspects Marja urges buyers to consider when selecting power pallets include the work site’s floor quality. If the surface is rough and uneven, shock-absorbing suspension, high-stability truck design and robust construction become priorities. For slippery or wet surfaces, trucks offering strong traction are needed. On sites with ramps, the truck’s lift height must be enough to prevent pallets from hitting the floor. In damp environments, or if the truck is used outdoors, you should look for trucks with good moisture resistance.

Finally, you should check the truck’s list of standard and optional equipment. For example, fork length and width should be chosen according to the dimensions of the pallets you are using. Your maximum load weight should be within the rated capacity of the truck chosen, but if you use extra-long forks you may need a higher-capacity model. You may also think about aids such as pallet entry/exit rollers, or a different choice of wheel design. A good dealer will advise on all these issues to make sure your truck’s specification precisely matches your application’s needs.

Click here to see the current Cat power pallet range


Pedestrian power pallet

Cat® Pedestrian Power Pallet Truck

Ideal for efficient loading, uploading and shuttle applications. In Cat pedestrian power pallets, a sealed chassis and waterproof electrics resist harm from moist or dirty work environments.

Click here for more information.

Platform power pallet – with folding platform

Cat® Platform power pallet truck, with folding platform

Shown here with platform and side bars deployed. It provides faster performance, with less fatigue, for longer-distance transport. Cat platform power pallets feature the unprecedented ProRide+ system, which simultaneously maximises traction, damping and stability, even on slippery, wet or irregular surfaces and when cornering.

Click here for more information.

Platform power pallet – with fixed platform

Cat® Platform Power Pallet Truck, with fixed platform

Fixed platform versions add extra comfort and protection for the operator. All models in the Cat platform power pallet range also have a market-leading lift height (220 mm) for easier operation on ramps.

Click here for more information.

Stand-on power pallet

Cat® Stand-on Power Pallet Truck

Designed for even longer distances and greater operator protection, these comfortable trucks have a small turning circle which allows easy manoeuvring in confined areas.

Click here for more information.

Sit-on power pallet

Cat® Sit-on Power Pallet Truck

Seated comfort maintains operator productivity over the longest distances and shifts.

Click here for more information

Double handling

Cat® Double Pallet Handling Trucks

Double pallet handlers are specialised power pallet trucks equipped with a mast and two sets of forks which can carry two loads simultaneously, one above the other. In applications where multiple pallet loads are being transferred to the same location, it can halve the number of movements required.

Click here for more information

Lifting forks

Cat® Power Pallet Truck, with lifting forks

This power pallet variation allows pallets to be raised to a convenient height for loading and unloading items without strain. It also enables movement of pallets on and off shelves which are above ground level. The model shown lifts to 735 mm.

Click here for more information