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If you are a forklift operator, then you may already know that your forklift is a beehive of sensors and microprocessors that are present to integrate with brainy technologies including computers, tablets, voice systems and warehouse management systems (WMS).
However, these trucks can also be used as a reconnaissance tool or mobile data collector that can alert you to productivity or efficiency problems within the warehouse.
In many instances, warehouse managers who have tried to use all the data that a forklift can deliver are overwhelmed and often ask for the forklift dealer to receive and process it.
For example, today’s high technology lift trucks can send fault codes to a service technician at the dealer who can come by the warehouse and fix the issue often before a warehouse manager or operator is aware that there even is a problem.
This technology can alert a dealer that a particular lift truck needs to have some brushes replaced, a task that costs maybe $20 plus one hour of labor. However, the lift truck’s operator may be receiving pressure to raise his productivity, so he turns off the technology, resets the fault code and then turn the lift truck back on and resume his work.
The result of this is that a part doesn’t get replaced and further problems for the forklift could result. Instead of a simple replacement of some brushes, the forklift suffers a blown motor that could cost $700 to repair plus labor costs and a lot of downtime.
The moral of this story is instead of ignoring the capability of the technology, lift operators and warehouse managers should take advantage of it to ensure a more efficient operation.
The sensors on the lift truck allow managers to monitor the truck as it picks up and puts down things. In the meantime, it is collecting a whole lot of data that can tell you about the condition of the warehouse. A smart reading of that data can tell managers what changes need to be made to make the warehouse more productive. For example, it can alert you to pinch points throughout the facility.
A working lift can be surveying the warehouse and discover where high traffic points are. Managers can then brainstorm the issue to determine how to layout the facilities to achieve a smoother traffic flow.
The technology can also assist in determining where the blame may lie for a recurring activity. Let’s say, for example, sensors in a lift alert the fleet manager that a truck is experiencing a lot of crashes around 10 a.m. each morning. At first glance, the manager may think the accidents are the fault of the driver of that lift and schedule him for retraining. However, the actual culprit is another lift driver who is unloading and putting heavy materials in the original lift driver’s way. A smart manager who discovers the real cause of the issue can fix it by, say, adjusting the layout of the warehouse providing a clear route for the original lift driver resulting in quicker, more productive activity.
Moreover, if data can be transmitted out of the lift, then commands can also be transmitted in.
The modern lift truck is no longer controlled only be levers and hydraulics. Now, there is a brain centrally located in the lift sending out and receiving data. This permits other technologies to control different functions of the lift.
For example, if the lift is integrated into a warehouse management system, a computer embedded in the lift can capture an incoming command that results in the truck going directly to a specific pick spot. Once the lift arrives, the operator can just press a button and the forks automatically rise to the proper height of a shelf at the fastest speed and stop right in front of a pallet’s opening.
Moreover, the on-board brain can lower the lift’s mast simply by monitoring the forces applied to the forks during the descent. So the lowering speed can be increased safely. The result is improved productivity.
The technology can also monitor wheel spin and traction conditions for a lift working on a slippery floor.
Voice technology that can now be integrated into a lift can be used to permit a picker to guide the lift from a few steps away to a particular pick location. If the truck also has guidance technology supplied by an automatic guided vehicle (AGV), the lift truck can detect and avoid obstructions as it moves.
The microprocessors on the modern lift truck can also work with radio frequency identification (RFID) devices and receive a variety of data that will command it to change the behavior of the lift. RFID devices in the floor of a warehouse can command a lift truck to only lift forks to a certain height when the lift is near low-hanging air ducts or conveyors. It can also decelerate the lift at the end of an aisle or stop the lift.
RFID devices can also track the speed and direction of a lift and position it in three dimensions. If the operator wants to go from one pick location to another he simply apply the gas and the microprocessor will calculate the required speed to travel forward, lower, then elevate the throttle again and end up in the desired spot.
Welcome to the brave new world of the modern forklift