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Reach stacker vs. laden container handler

Supplier: MLA Holdings
25 September, 2013

For a layman with very little heavy machinery knowledge, it can often be difficult to know the difference between the operation of the reach stacker forklift and the laden container handler.

When looking at the differences between reach stacker forklifts and laden container handlers, it is worthwhile to categorise their features to give an accurate comparison of these machines. The breakdown between both machines goes as follows:


The reach stackers can reach up to second row with a full container and also handle light weight containers in the third row. The laden container handler can only handle containers in the first row. Reach stackers, when equipped with stabilisers (that cannot be fitted on laden container handler) can also be used for second rail applications. The reach stacker can also perform general terminal stacking making it an extremely versatile piece of equipment.


This ability of the reach stacker equates to much more efficient use of the stacking space in the terminal as it makes possible to block stack containers up to 4 rows with a minimal impact on the number of shifts required to select any container in the stack.


For a laden container handler the mast is a "negative weight", which means the weight of the mast sits beyond the fulcrum (drive axle centre). This means that more counter weight is required to effectively stabilise the machine. With the reach stacker, the boom is a "positive weight" as it is behind the fulcrum (drive axle centre). This determines a completely different weight distribution between the two machine types. This huge difference in weight distribution reflects very strongly on the tyres and the ground as well as on the stability and speed of operation.


As a result of the weight distribution; the reach stacker has a longitudinal stability that is far superior to the one of the laden container handler. When driving – which is the phase of the operation where the stability is most important and where typically the truck is at a higher risk of overturning, the reach stacker – which has the ability to "reach-in" and carry its load over its front axle 'the fulcrum' has a much higher stability factor than the equivalent laden container handler. In fact more than double the stability.


The much higher stability in driving configuration enables the reach stacker to be a lot faster than the laden container handler when performing load transfers. In short, the longer the distance covered in a working cycle, the higher the productivity of a reach stacker.


The reach stacker is equipped with a spreader that is connected to the boom through a very high articulation ability system:

  • The spreader has a side-shift ability of +/- 800 mm (against the +/-300 mm of the laden container handler)
  • The spreader has a +190/-100° spreader rotation ability (against a +/- 3° of the laden container handler)
  • The spreader has a dampened (and power controllable) load swing range of +/- 60° (whilst the fork-lift can only allow 10° max load swing)

Due to the overhead boom and its high stability, the reach stacker has enormous load reach ability (2.4 metres with retained full container capacity) whereas the laden container handler can in the best case grant just 200mm.

This results in a massive difference in the flexibility of the reach stacker and in its speed of operation when picking up or positioning containers. Also, the possibilities that a reach stacker provides in terms of space utilisation and efficiency are unmatched by the laden container handler.

The reach stacker can handle containers even with the chassis positioned at 45 degrees against the stack, substantially reducing the stacking aisle and therefore making it possible to stack in areas that would normally be too narrow.

A reach stacker can rotate a container so as to position the door to the back of a truck (which is compulsory by law) without having to double-handle the container. The reach stacker can even handle containers longitudinally (at low stacking heights). The very long side-shift range of the reach stacker enables the unit to balance containers that are out of balance and still retain much of its side-shift ability to perform a safe and fast positioning of the outer balanced container on the stack.


The reach stacker does not have the mast to obstruct the vision of the operator. This is a substantial safety advantage when moving containers around the terminal.


The reach stacker can lower the boom so that its overall height in this position is just approximately 5 metres. This enables the unit to negotiate low doorways, power cables and passing roadways. It also enables the machine to be parked indoors for maintenance. The laden container handler requires extremely high doorways, cannot work where there are power cables, indoors without extremely tall buildings with very tall doors and it requires man-lift to perform any checks or maintenance to the upper part of the mast.


The reach stacker can withdraw its spreader (even with load) over the front tyres. This makes the machine extremely compact when driving in yards. This is not at all possible for the laden container handler as it is not capable of rotating its spreader or load at angles which would allow it to fit into narrow spaces.

Also, due to its far superior stability the reach stacker can safely drive with the container fully lifted such to pass over high stacks and cut turning corners to drive in very narrow drive-ways. This is not possible for the laden container handler. For safety reasons, a laden container handler needs to travel with the container lowered so that the bottom of the container is just above the height of the driver’s eyes.

Overall, the reach stacker is a more efficient machine than the dedicated container handling forklift because the nominal capacity is increased. The operator does not need to be at 90° to the stack to pick up or drop a container and the visibility is higher on the reach stacker making it a more versatile and efficient piece of equipment.