Forklift Fleets that Manage Themselves?

Advancements in forklift fleet technology have allowed fleet managers to leave much of the numbers crunching to cheap, high-speed electronics like smart phones and tablets. And the trend is expected to become even more widespread as digital technology improves.

Lew Manci, director of product development for Crown Equipment, said forklift fleet management is moving toward “the Internet of things”, in which forklifts can be connected wirelessly to smart phones and mobile computers. These devices can then communicate key data with each other without human intervention, freeing up fleet managers to focus on more important tasks.

And that’s only the beginning, Manci said.

“Crown envisions a connected  warehouse in which the forklift becomes not only a roving sensor that reaches parts of the warehouse no other system is reaching, but also a hub that collects data from various other devices, acts on this data, and consolidates and analyzes it for other systems,” Manci told Food Logistics. “We’re already doing some of that through the Crown Insite products that deliver actionable data from forklifts, like the number of impacts and the amount of time the truck is in use, to help warehouse managers improve productivity, efficiency and safety. Following the trucks’ movements through indoor GPS or location tracking is an evolution of that technology.”

New Applications for Automated Guided Vehicles

Google currently is working to to develop a driverless car and Nissan engineers hope to have their Autonomous Drive component available to the public by 2020.

In materials handlinng, a similar technology is automatic guided vehicles (AGVs). But Manci warned that these driverless miniforklifts may not be able to respond to rapidly changing warehouse conditions the way human drivers can. But that type of application could be right around the corner.

“Warehouses are dynamic environments and present a number of challenges for AGVs,” Manci said. “Things change quickly: One day you have pallets of goods on the warehouse floor, the next day the aisle is clear. Today, situations in the warehouse such as pallets being left in aisles or a damaged pallet needing moved require human intervention.”

“Advances from companies like Google and Nissan, coupled with advances in lower cost sensing and robotic computing technologies, will allow for more autonomous AGVs that can better respond to the ever-changing warehouse environment,” said Manci.

Use of Robotics in Warehouses to Increase

Similarly, advancements in robotics are making applications in material handling more cost-effective, Manci said.

“Material Handling has been a challenging application for robotics because of the variability in products and tasks in the typical warehouse,” Manci said. “However, advancements in machine vision, artificial intelligence, sensors and actuators, along with lower cost microprocessors and memory, are resulting in more practical robotic solutions. Robotic palletizing and depalletizing are becoming more commonplace.”

“Relative to mobility, Amazon’s acquisition of Kiva and Daifuku’s acquisition of Wynright demonstrate the potential of mobile robotics in the (distribution center). Although there’s not anything specific I can share at this time, Crown envisions increased integration of robotics for picking and improved interaction among operators, forklifts and robotic systems,” said Manci.




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