Forklift trucks are at the very heart of the warehouse industry. They can be seen from taking the product from the delivery truck, transferring it into storage, to then placing it back onto the delivery truck. However, the forklift truck as we know it today is slowly changing. The introduction of new mechanical innovations, robots and automation will soon play a huge role in the development of self-driving stackers, forklifts and pallet trucks. Below we explore how automated forklifts work, the pros and cons of using this type of technology in your warehouse, and how close we are to using them in the everyday warehouse business.
How do they work?
Self-driving forklifts are constructed from advanced computer technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI). These combined technologies allow the forklift to track, monitor and to then echo the behaviour of warehouse workers who operate forklifts. They learn how to move and operate. What happens is the automated forklifts will work in exactly the same way as a forklift that is operated by a human. These trucks will be able to lift, stack and move items, just in the same way as a standard forklift.
Automated forklift trucks are able to predict movement and work out the best path for movement in order to navigate the warehouse interior. Each forklift is personalised and will be programmed with data that has been collected over a period of time. This enables it to do a specific job, all without human assistance.
What are the potential advantages?
So, what are the advantages of self-driving pallet trucks and forklifts? Well, there are many advantages that range from increased safety and productivity.
Reduces staff members
These type of forklifts will dramatically reduce the number of skilled workers that are needed to operate the forklifts. This in itself is a double-edged sword. In terms of an advantage, this can help save money as your business may only need one worker to operate a fleet of automated forklifts. Workers will still be needed to carry out any packing duties.
The working environment will instantly become safer, due to the fact that there are fewer workers. Forklift operators will no longer have to sit in the forklift and take precautions to protect their neck and back. There is also no longer the need to bend down and lift heavy pallets, as the self-driving pallet truck will do this for you. This results in safer working practices, and reduction in injury.
Errors are dramatically reduced
Human error is inevitable when operating any type of forklift. Even with the highest level of training, mistakes will happen. This risk is dramatically reduced with the introduction of the automated forklift. This type of forklift truck will be fully programmed to know where it needs to be, what it needs to lift, move and then store items. Unlike a human operator, it won’t get tired, helping to reduce errors.
What are the disadvantages?
Although self-driving forklifts have many unique advantages, there are also a number of disadvantages that need to be carefully considered.
Reduction in productivity
It takes time to get used to this type of technology, in terms of training and safety issues. Although in the long-term this could increase productivity, in the short-term there will be a reduction in productivity while training takes place.
This type of technology does come at a high cost. If you are on a tight budget, are a new company or are only a small set up, then it is probably not in your best interests to use this type of technology.
All technology can go wrong
As with all technology, there will be problems, and this can prove to be expensive. You need to have a contract in place with the supplier who can provide spare parts and any maintenance, which can also be costly. While repair work is being carried out, this can also lead to delays which can incur additional costs.
How close are they from being a reality?
We are slowly moving towards a world where automated forklifts will be at the heart of the warehouse industry. However, we are still a long way off from being able to use this type of technology. Forklifts, as we know them today, really will stand the test of time, and even with the introduction of automated forklifts, we will still need to use them in our warehouses.
The forklift is here to stay
Finally, even when the automated forklift is here to stay, the traditional forklift truck will still be used by smaller companies.
Sadly, we are still a long way from using automated forklifts in the warehouse and construction environments. To explore our range of forklifts, pallet trucks and stackers, then please do browse the Hitec Forklift Trucks website and get in touch with us today.