Should Manufacturers Replace Forklifts with Tugger Trains?

Manufacturers need to feed their lines, which requires a reliable material handling operation within the plant. Historically, material flow has depended almost entirely on forklifts. More recently, another type of industrial truck is showing up at assembly lines around the world.

Whatever you call them — tuggers, tow tractors, tugger-cart systems, Warehouse Trailers — this new approach has plenty to recommend itself. As a representative of a leading industrial-truck manufacturer told Material Handling & Logistics, “A forklift can only carry one load, or sometimes two. With tow tractors, you can pull multiple carts.”

Of course, every line-feeding set-up is unique. Tugger trains can’t do certain things that forklifts can. How do you know when it’s time to switch strategies? Here are a few questions to ask when comparing Warehouse Trailers and lift trucks for any manufacturing operation:

  1. How much do you depend on rack storage and retrieval? When you need to access pallets high in the rack, only forklifts will do. That’s the key advantage they have over tuggers, and the reason why many manufacturers benefit from a combination of the two industrial truck types.
  2. How many trips per shift between storage and the assembly line does your operation require? If you’re only bringing one or two pallets to the line for every shift, and you already own forklifts, it doesn’t make sense to switch to tuggers. As Material Handling & Logistics’ source said, “You have to make sure, wherever these carts are taken, that they’re ready to accept them. Otherwise, what’s the point of carrying so many loads at one time?”
  3. What’s your budget for truck operators? According to trade publication Modern Materials Handling, tugger operators are much easier to afford than their forklift-specialist counterparts. “A forklift costs five times as much, but a forklift operator also costs five times more than a tugger operator,” one tugger manufacturer told MMH. “Anyone can grab a tugger and go.”
  4. What is the total cost of ownership for one truck type versus another? A tugger trailer setup usually has lower costs of ownership than a forklift. There are fewer moving parts, so maintenance is simpler. Then there are the training costs and wages, which are both higher for lift trucks. The important thing to do is plan for the cost of ownership over the full lifetime of the equipment; often, tugger trailers will end up the more affordable option.

Ultimately, tuggers and lift trucks were designed to do two different things. A manufacturing line that requires lifting as well as horizontal transportation will always need forklifts. For many operations that rely on lift trucks alone, however, the addition of a tugger trailer system will improve productivity and lower costs.


Bond, Josh. “Lift trucks: Using tuggers and carts effectively.MMH. Peerless Media LLC, 18 Oct. 2010. Web. 27 Jun. 2019.

Drickhamer, David. “Equipment Update: Tugger Power.MHLNews. Informa, 1 Jul. 2006. Web. 27 Jun. 2019.

Specter, Sara. “Tuggers, carts work together to increase productivity and ergonomics.” MMH. Peerless Media LLC, 1 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 Jun 2019.