Material handling has a profound effect on many operations’ productivity. And even more specifically, forklifts critically impact how goods are moved from one place to the next in warehouses, distribution centers, loading docks, and beyond.
Without an efficient process in place, companies won’t see their desired results, which is why it’s important to match the right forklift equipment to the right task and to the right environment. To achieve this, while getting the most out of material handling and personnel investment, requires identifying and incorporating several key factors.
Selecting the right forklift
This begins with figuring out the right material handling equipment for a particular application. One of the first steps in this process is establishing what the load is and what will be lifted or transported. The weight, dimensions and whether or not the load is palletized are all important factors.
Another equally important criterion is the operating environment. Does the forklift need to be used indoors, outdoors or both? While most forklifts are engineered for either indoor or outdoor applications, there are trucks like the UniCarriers Platinum II® Nomad that have the ability to move loads seamlessly from the aisles to outdoor surfaces. A truck like this one is a popular choice for rental operations due to its versatility. Other considerations for an operating environment are surface condition, aisle width, rack height, type of racking and whether there is an available infrastructure for fueling or recharging. One thing that may make all these considerations challenging is a customer’s need for today vs. the need for the future because materials and/or environments may change over time.
Workspace design and operator comfort
The layout and design of a workspace play a pivotal role in productivity. A poor warehouse layout can cause bottlenecks and increase the risk of injury and accidents. If the work environment cannot be altered, then customers should choose a forklift that can work seamlessly within it. This includes identifying the right forklift for criteria such as aisle width and lift heights.
In addition, choosing to invest in ergonomic features will enhance operator satisfaction and well-being and is a large contributor to optimal uptime because it makes it easier for the operator to continue his or her shift. Standard features and options such as fingertip controls, mirrors, suspension and swivel seats can help boost productivity for times when the operator needs to drive the forklift for a long period of time.
Forklift customers are seeing an uptick in their productivity from the adoption of the latest technologies. According to Ed Johannesen, director of manufacturing engineering and facilities at UniCarriers Americas (UCA), automation continues to become more pervasive and typically has a strong payback for difficult and repetitive jobs. However, workers needed to support automation are different than typical laborers.
“The type of person needed to carry out automation functions is a problem solver and someone who has a level of comfort with technology. If you’re able to find workers with this skill set, then a 50% or more increase in productivity is not uncommon,” Johannesen said.
Carl Modesette, director of product engineering for UCA, points out that more customers are discovering the benefits of automation. “People are starting to understand that automation ROI isn’t one dimensional with cost savings, but that incorporating automation is helping improve safety as well as productivity.”
“And while it’s true that some automated machines move more slowly than manned machines, they also don’t take breaks and can work 24/7, providing consistent, reliable, productive and safe results,” Modesette adds.
In addition to automation, artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the latest technology advances being integrated in material handling and can be used for predictive maintenance. Through AI, fleet owners are able to watch usage patterns to suggest replacements or repairs before they become larger failures or issues. This allows owners to increase product life, as well as limit downtime.
With AI and automation, etc., customers are realizing the advantages of completely customizing their material handling system and equipment. By tailoring and optimizing the piece of equipment specifically to the desired application, they are able to significantly impact efficiency and productivity.
Forklift attachments and accessories
Beyond the forklifts themselves, certain attachments and accessories help yield more efficiency in the workplace. Laser fork guides and fork/mast cameras offer assistance at high lift heights to provide accurate and efficient pallet handling within the racks. According to Mark McGee, supervisor for modifications engineering at UCA, this provides increased confidence when positioning the load and prevents damage to the product from improper fork alignment.
To make the weighing process more efficient, UCA has incorporated legal-for-trade scales that can be integrated into the customer’s truck-based onboard terminals.
Impact of a safe work environment
In many cases, a safe environment directly affects to how productive an operation is. Accidents may cause downtime for equipment and operators and thereby impact productivity.
Advances like blue lights, red zone lights and human detection sensors can help improve operator awareness. In particular, boundary lights give operators constant feedback on the profile of the truck, while also providing pedestrians and other operating forklifts a zone to avoid. The zone helps prevent obstacle collisions and gives the operator confidence the pedestrians and other forklifts are keeping enough distance for them to continue working.
With all this said, it’s still important to measure how productive your operation is. Using reporting metrics like loads per unit time and figuring out the ratio of driving and/or lifting hours to overall hour meter hours can help fleet owners find areas of improvement within their operation to be as efficient as possible.
By taking these factors into account, companies can see an uptick in their operations’ productivity.