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Forklift free: AMR benefits beyond safety

Tugger Forklift: The Benefits of AMRs Go Well Beyond Safety

June 10, 2021  |  Lindsay Derda

In the final segment of this two-part blog series on safety driving forklift-free initiatives, we uncover the consequential costs associated with manual forklift operator labor and the benefits resulting from implementing driverless autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to facilitate a lean and flexible manufacturing process.

With material handling automation solutions in place, human employees work in tandem with AMRs safely and seamlessly, making the most of complementary strengths. Automating routine and redundant tasks enables workers to focus on more skilled opportunities that require decision making and critical thinking. AMRs create a safer, more productive environment with highly engaged employees working collaboratively alongside mobile robots.

Automation Solutions Drive Cost Efficiency

Beyond safety and lean manufacturing, autonomous material handling systems drive down costs normally incurred from labor wages, medical costs, and training expenses, as well as expenditures suffered from facility, equipment, and unsaleable product damage caused by manually driven forklifts.

Traditional forklift operators represent an added labor cost that can be reduced and more strategically allocated toward cognitive, value-add positions that cannot be automated by machinery. Increasing labor costs combined with the availability of a steady workforce can make it difficult for companies to maintain enough trained forklift operators. High turnover rates also create an expensive training regimen as operators come and go, not to mention the growing labor shortages in the market as the demand for skilled workers steadily increases. 

Manual forklifts are labor-intensive vehicles that are susceptible to accidents caused by human error. Small aisles and tight turns can pose additional challenges for forklift operators, which can lead to safety hazards including employee operator injuries and damaged equipment and products. Rather than subjecting workers to the dangers of forklifts, manufacturers and distribution centers are better off training employees to take on higher value-add positions in which they can leverage collaborative mobile robots to augment their responsibilities.

The consequences of workplace injuries go beyond the individual employer’s cost. To further relay the severity of not just forklift accidents, but the detrimental economic impact of workplace accidents overall, The National Safety Council estimated the following economic losses from work-related injuries in 2019:

  • $171.0 billion total loss
  • $1,100 per worker
  • $1,220,000 per death
  • $42,000 per medically consulted injury

The National Safety Council also reported a loss in productivity in 2019 as a result of workplace injuries:

  • 105,000,000 days lost
  • 70,000,000 days lost due to injuries occurring in 2019 alone
  • 35,000,000 days lost due to injuries in prior years
  • 55,000,000 days lost in future years as a result of workplace injuries that occurred in 2019

Such productivity losses paired with expensive medical and wage payments greatly affect process efficiency.

Further to the bottom line, forklifts transporting palletized goods often result in inadequate material handling, leading to product and pallet damage as well as unsaleable merchandise and delayed order fulfillment. These damages can cost manufacturers billions in lost revenue resulting in a tarnished reputation, poor customer experiences, and wasted productivity due to damage control. 

Automation Benefits with Self-Driving AMRs

Not all accidents or damage result from forklift misuse. Often, supplementary factors, such as physical limitations, training, work stress, perception, and decision-making can affect operators as well as lead to inefficiency. Therefore, reducing exposure to forklifts by deploying driverless AMRs will reduce consequential costs from human error associated with incidents, such as death benefits, medical costs, workers' compensation claims, lost workdays, litigation fees, and fines, among others. 

The growing need for safety has led companies to adopt a more lean forklift usage strategy through AMRs, whereby continuous improvement is made possible. By deploying an autonomous solution in a facility where extensive part movement and heavy lifting are paramount to production, it alleviates the pressure that workers experience when faced with hazardous and physically taxing procedures. With more time to devote to cognitive tasks, AMRs can further enhance productivity at the employee level.  

Take into account that an AMR does not need training, they don’t incur the liability cost typically associated with human labor, and they can work 24/7 without breaks. This enables them to take on more of the heavy lifting around a facility with better accuracy and time efficiency, thus cutting down on annual expenses. In turn, human workers will be able to take on more meaningful—and less hazardous—tasks that automation cannot replace. 

AMRs maximize material handler efficiency, and just as importantly, accuracy. With advanced technology to better operate in manufacturing and warehouse facilities, automation and AMR systems are now the new norm. They make effective solutions for transporting products over long hauls between various pickup and drop-off points. They are also a good option for transporting work in process (WIP) between assembly cells, replenishing work cells with raw materials, and removing finished goods from work areas. With the added benefit of low maintenance costs and little to no downtime needed, AMRs provide a more productive, safe, and cost-efficient facility.

Autonomous vehicles eliminate the concern of running out of parts for production. AMR delivery is predictable and consistent, and it’s important today and into the future, as manufacturers adapt to the disruptions instigated by increasing consumer demand and changes in expectations. AMRs ensure the delivery of the right parts to the right place, every time.

Forklift-Free Environments Streamline Workflow

Ensuring the efficient delivery of the right parts has become somewhat more difficult to maintain, as customization in large volumes of manufactured products is good for sales, but adds complexity to the production process. Throughput can be stifled by order complexity, impacting inventory, lead times, and profits, though the effect is not easily quantified.

Product customizations require specialized options and more part density as well as the equipment to manage these demands with higher frequency. This desire to meet the demands of increased complexity and efficiency while increasing safety and quality are key factors driving the current shift to forklift-free environments. 

Safety and Profitability are Not Mutually Exclusive

The global automated guided vehicle market size was valued at USD 3.39 billion in 2020 and is expected to witness a CAGR of 13% from 2021 to 2028. Adoption of Autonomous tow tractors, pallet trucks, and lift truck AMRs continues to increase due to the many operational, productivity, and safety benefits. 

Now more than ever, given the added cost burdens from liability risks and labor best suited for higher value-add positions, it makes sense for companies to transform their manufacturing and warehouse operations with an AMR system built for lean transformation. Suited for safety and profitability, AMR solutions are driving the future of safer, more productive lean processes that far out-perform traditional forklifts.

Download the Forklift-Free: Reduce Risks and Boost Your Bottom Line eBook to learn more about navigating challenges to achieve safety and profitability goals together.


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