Forklifts keep your warehouse moving. Learn about the trends that will keep your forklifts moving better.
A century ago, when the forklift first appeared on warehouse floors, it was an elegant solution to a simple problem: how do we move heavy things over our heads?
Today, more heavy things than ever need to be organized inside of the more complex warehouse. And as e-commerce grows, global retailers are investing in multi-channel sales approaches to offer today’s consumers a real-time, seamless experience.
That has led to the development of more maneuverable and technologically advanced—even autonomous—forklifts.
Material handling machines have become safer, more powerful, and more efficient, and the supply chain industry has benefitted from it.
What is the next step toward a future-forward, productive forklift workforce? Here are seven trends that are either available today or are on their way to a forklift near you.
Battery technology has come a long way in the past decade, which means that if you’re a floor manager, your fleet can now operate for an entire shift without downtime for recharging.
Battery-powered trucks are increasingly replacing gasoline-powered forklifts, and charging times are going down.
Lithium-ion batteries are an alluring mix of ultra lightweight and high-energy density. But Navigant Research has projected the dominance of conventional lead-acid batteries in the lift truck market to continue through 2020 at the latest. Also, lithium is a limited resource, only located in remote regions.
Electric counterbalance lift trucks and lead-acid forklifts are considered to be sister technologies: while contemporary lift truck design depends on the weight of a traditional battery to provide the counterbalance to loads, manufacturers have yet to find more efficient power and essential counterbalance than that of a lead-acid battery.
Ensuring the best battery life possible on forklifts is dictated by how efficiently the forklift makes use of energy. Important advances in areas like tire technology are also helping to maximize the work from electric forklift fleets.
Low Resistance and Non-Marking Tires
As forklift tires undergo the most wear, they are a key element of fleet management programs. With real-time information and hard data, businesses can determine just how much they spend on forklift fleets’ tires.
In turn, rubber compounds are a massive area where technology and science help formulate new opportunities for success.
By carefully formulating new tire compounds, equipment vendors improve the life of tires and cut lost energy from machines, which translates into an overall longer battery life.
Risks of contamination in food service jobs and the cost of stripping tire rubber from your warehouse floors can both be avoided with new non-marking rubber tires. The tires can be made without the root cause of both risks: carbon black.
Companies are looking to improve facilities, improve floor conditions, and skip the added nuisance of getting black rubber dust onto any materials they are distributing. As an added bonus, rental fleet companies can equip their forklifts so they can be used for any application without offering renters any downgrades in performance.
SafetyAlong with the aforementioned safety risks that can be completely nullified with smarter tire design, operator safety is now being heavily scrutinized.
Take vibration and noise generated by tires. Keep in mind, forklifts have no suspension, so little can isolate operators from tire vibration or its effects. It’s more critical than ever to design tires to handle the intensity, life, and energy requirements on modern forklift fleets.
Do you know if you’re overloading your machines when moving larger parcels? If so, it could lead to frequent breakdowns and higher maintenance costs.
To solve this issue, installing scales can help reduce lost product and mechanical stress on your fleet. With modern tracking software, you can additionally track how much inventory you’ve moved in each load by communicating with your scale. In turn, it becomes easier to calculate productivity and efficiency.
Ensuring your machines aren’t overloaded can significantly reduce the chances of dangerous lift failures in the future.
The Internet of Forklifts
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway, and forklifts are no exception to the trend. In fact, intelligent forklifts could have serious implications for distribution centers in a good way.
With newly equipped tech like RFID sensors, objects are able to communicate directly with work or electronic management systems (WMS or EMS). Tracking and information collection is simplified and RFID enable speedier decision making regarding good transport. From here, lifts can essentially take charge of all complex procedures and operators would only be required to make minimal inputs.
For example, a lift would identify the parcel it was carrying—simply by barcode or weight—and know where to store it and at what height. It could then pilot itself to that location, store the item at the press of a button, and even be wary of moving too quickly if loads are heavy.
Overall, the IoT not only helps with goods management, but paired with real-time data only encourages preparation, data-driven upgrades, and a better ability to hone operational efficiency, therefore becoming more sustainable for businesses.
Engineers are constantly working toward developing more compact standards for forklifts. We’ve witnessed significant advances with the implementation of things like inboard wheel mounting, but the specific focus is on reducing footprint without increasing tire size.
The major challenge at hand? Managing heat buildup. Considering each and every one of the moving parts involved in a forklift and then cramming them into a small space full of electronics, things will undoubtedly get hot.
That is not a good way to ensure machines last for their expected service life, so heat management solutions are urgently needed to make way for smaller footprints.
On the Verge of Revolution
Fascinating new technologies are eminent and it’s not just advances in forklifts. The entire warehouse environment is expected to become automated and informed by the Industrial IoT. To stay competitive, incorporating these trends can help take the proactive steps needed to become a forward-facing, smarter workforce.
Megan Wild specializes in construction and manufacturing equipment. She’s written for sites like Engineering, Procore, Construction Equipment Guide, and more. In her spare time, you can find her catching up on long reads in the newspaper over a cup of coffee. Follow her on Twitter @Megan_Wild.