Many material handling warehouse activities these days are being automated, partly due to technology advances and partly due to the very competitive nature of business. Picking, packing, shipping, cross-docking—automation is seemingly taking over all throughout every aspect of the warehouse. But what about material handling on a broader scale?
Technology improvements in automated fork trucks have made them real assets in the warehouse, especially in large warehouses where human workers could be expected to have long walks for picking and put away functions. Unlike conventional Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), more advanced AGVs are not limited to aisles where some kind of floor tape or fixed infrastructure has been installed for directing an AGV. Newer generation of AGVs, such as vision guided vehicles (VGVs), do not require fixed infrastructure, and therefore, can operate on route paths typically handled by human operators.
At a closer look, there are very real benefits to automating these applications using modern automated fork trucks.
In the AGV industry, safety is paramount and a priority. Since automated fork trucks must comply with approved safety standards of the industry, they are well equipped with audio and visual warnings. In addition, automated fork trucks are outfitted with sensors to detect activity in its path, preventing the AGV from colliding with pedestrians or other vehicles. With at least one death occurring weekly due to forklift accidents, the majority of incidents are due to human error. Fortunately, sensors and warning signals on AGVs are not subject to human inattentiveness or irresponsible behavior, which makes them ideal from a safety standpoint.
With an operator controlled vehicle, circumstances such as an operator’s inexperience, unsecured loaded materials, overweight of materials or unstable road surfaces that cause toppling, too often lead to tragic consequences. Safety of workers is one of the major benefits automation offers.
Automation replaces the repetitive labor and changes the way people do their jobs. With automated technology incorporated into the process, warehouse operators become more productive at value added labor and handling more complex tasks.
No infrastructure requirements in the warehouse are associated with automated fork trucks, so they can be introduced to an environment without additional preliminary costs. The potential for utility savings exists in certain warehouse environments.
Automated vehicles can reduce the number of employees needed to adequately man a warehouse, especially during peak seasons, thereby reducing temporary workers and added payroll. Other related expenses such as operator benefits, supervision, hiring costs, operator training, product damage, facility damage, fork truck damage, workmen’s compensation and legal risks among many others, all become costly expenditures with manned vehicles. Then there is the cost of time, when vehicles get damaged and the time that the vehicle is in maintenance. Many of these elements—worker related—affect total cost.
Integration with a WMS
Automated fork trucks can be integrated with an existing Warehouse Management System (WMS) to gain further efficiencies. That means they can be incorporated into the WMS software as resources, and their daily tasks and movements can be directed automatically as a function of the current task list. Automated vehicles integrated with WMS ensure resources are maximized within the operation.
Automation technology is becoming widely adopted because of technology advances and the benefits of automation. For larger warehouses, incorporating automation in fork truck applications will allow warehouse operations to experience these benefits and more.