Are Robots Making Forklift Accessories Redundant?

original Terminator poster

Are we being terminated by machines?

The original Terminator movie made its debut in 1984. An enormous success, the movie was about a war between humans and robots. While everyone loved the movie for its entertainment value, Terminator and similar science fiction films and novels also address some of our darkest fears. Maybe advanced robotics won’t attempt to wipe out the human race altogether, but will they make us all redundant?

At Forklift Accessories, we’re in the business of selling forklift attachments and accessories to real people who use forklifts operated by real humans. If robots take over, we are out of business along with thousands of small to medium sized businesses that can’t afford advanced robotics and tens of thousands of forklift operators. Are we worried? Not really. Here’s why:

The biggest threat to forklift operators comes in the form of Automatic Guided Vehicle Systems (AGVSs). Far from being a futuristic vision, AGVSs have been around since the 1950s. The original versions looked and behaved very much like standard lift trucks. They were powered by the same types of batteries and were designed to be operated on flat, smooth facility floors. The difference was that there was no place for an operator to sit and the vehicles moved across a clearly delineated floor path.

With over half a century of use and improvement behind them, if AGVSs were going to replace forklift operators, they already would have. There’s little they can’t do that a standard forklift can do except think and engineers have been working hard on ways to solve that little problem. They have come a long way and today’s AGVSs can be programmed to do a lot of “thinking,” including doing stock picking by reading RFID (radio frequency identification) chips and other high-tech communications devices.

If any business was going to replace humans with robots, it would be a gigantic warehousing operation like Amazon. With typical warehouses of a million square feet with goods of all sizes and descriptions spread out over a vast area, even Amazon has not found a way to replace humans with robots.

The problem with robots so far has been that they have not been taught to “think on their feet” or to work as part of a team outside of limited parameters. Like the robot played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, they have to be programmed. This is fine in a fully automated environment where, say, a certain part has to be replicated to exacting standards thousands of times per day, but if multiple tasks at random times are required, the robot is no longer a cost-effective replacement for a human even in the most advanced materials handling facility.

Our parent company, Bahrns Material Handling Equipment & Supplies, has been in business for over 40 years and is yet to feel threatened by the robotics industry. Judging from the fact that innovative forklift manufacturers like Toyota are still focusing their R&D on human controlled forklifts, it doesn’t look like other industry leaders think robots will make traditional forklifts and forklift accessories redundant any time soon, either.

Make the most of modern technology. Put some popcorn in the microwave; turn on your HD TV with your remote control unit; and use Video on Demand to watch the original Terminator or one of the sequels. High tech is great, but don’t worry, when you go to work tomorrow, you’ll still be needed and so will your trusty forklifts and forklift accessories.



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