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Forklift free: Driving safety and efficiency with autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) for warehousing, manufacturing, and distribution facilities

Forklift-Free: Driving Safety and Efficiency

June 8, 2021  |  Lindsay Derda

In part one of this two-part blog series, we cover manually driven forklifts, otherwise known as powered industrial trucks, and the inherent dangers that these vehicles pose. Despite ever-present safety regulations in the workplace, forklift accidents are one of the most common categories involved in workplace fatalities.

According to Safety in Numbers, there is a 1 in 10 chance that a manual forklift will be involved in an accident each year with 1 out of every 6 workplace deaths being manual forklift-related. For facilities where these vehicles are commonly utilized, this can result in severe setbacks that can easily be avoided by using automated material handling solutions to move product from one area to another. 

Automating reaps benefits that go beyond safety, especially for manufacturing and warehousing facilities that incorporate autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) into the lean production process. In facilities using manual forklifts for horizontal transport, a mobile robot like an automated tow tractor with dollies, trains, or carts can easily be assimilated into the process to reduce risks and move the right amount of product for Just-In-Time (JIT) delivery. 

AMRs Drive Benefits

Safety and lean initiatives drive momentum for AMR systems. Although safety training and legislation are instrumental in managing some degree of risks associated with manually driven forklifts, statistics reveal numerous accidents occur every year, providing reason to adopt a safer, more effective material handling system. This motivation towards forklift free paves the way to adopting AMRs as a more efficient form of transport, resulting in benefits that go beyond safety and profitability.

To protect workers, agencies in the United States and abroad, such as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and EU-OSHA, provide analysis, research, and prevention information, which policy makers use to regulate workplace safety and health. Various groups focus on standardized training and encourage continuous process improvements in workplace safety.

Even with legislation and training enforcement, there is no evidence that these preventative methodologies ensure verifiable best practices and safe behaviors among forklift operators globally. In highly dynamic, fast-paced facilities, humans can easily be distracted, fatigued, or not have full visibility when operating a vehicle. Companies concerned with forklift safety are proactively seeking alternative solutions with automated guided vehicles (AGVs), AMRs, and forklift-free environments.

Forklift Incidents Bring Cause for Safety Initiatives

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that manual forklifts have resulted in more than 8,140 non-fatal injuries involving days away from work in 2019, and this continues to climb year after year. Additionally, according to Optimum Safety Management and Safety in Numbers:

  • Of the 855,900 forklifts in operation in the U.S., 11% will be involved in an accident
  • 42% of forklift accidents occur from vehicle overturn
  • 90% of forklifts will be involved in at least one injury or fatality during its service life

From 2017 to 2018, forklift accidents cost employers an average $41,000 in workers’ compensation claims, depending on the incident type and injury, with costs ranging as low as $23,250 and as high as $78,466, as reported by The National Safety Council. In addition to those costs, according to OSHA as of January 2021, unsafe working environments can lead to OSHA citations resulting in maximum penalties ranging from $13,653 to $136,532 per violation.

There are a number of reasons why a forklift accident can occur. One such reason being a distracted forklift driver. Visibility is also an issue as operators don't often have a clear overhead view. Rough terrain, improper handling, and simple human error are all factors that can lead to forklift overturns and accidental run-ins with pedestrians or objects.

Proper training, forklift safety protocols, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) have not eliminated the dangers that forklifts impose. For that reason, automation in materials handling continues to gain momentum in the drive for a safer process in manufacturingwarehousing, and logistics facilities.

Complex Environments Require Safe and Reliable AMR Solutions

Reliability and safety are essential for material handling. With various automation solutions available today, it’s important to select a vendor who prioritizes safety, providing proven solutions that will protect your workforce while boosting productivity. 

Automated technologies, like our Seegrid Palion AMRsincluding Palion Lift, Palion Pallet Truck, and Palion Tow Tractor—provide a simple, flexible, and affordable solution that is easily integrated into existing processes to keep production running smoothly and aisles free from excess product, producing a more profitable business.

With more than 5 million production miles driven and zero personnel safety incidents, Seegrid is the market leader in robust navigation, going above and beyond ANSI B56.5 safety standards, as well as satisfying all applicable safety requirements of ANSI/RIA R15.08.

Our sensor coverage is simply unmatched in the AMR industry. Palion AMRs, like the new Palion Tow Tractor Series 8, feature Smart Path technology, including two 3D LiDAR sensors positioned to provide overlapping fields of view to detect objects in the front of the robot, as well as providing additional coverage on both sides of the robot. Combined with a safety-rated laser scanner sensor to protect personnel, Palion AMRs reduce speed and come to an immediate, complete stop when a person or object is detected. By fusing sensor data, Palion AMRs have an enhanced understanding of their environment with the ability to comprehend and make decisions across a greater number of situations.

Forklift-Free Environments Boost Lean Efficiency

Coupling automated material handling systems with lean principles is a step in the right direction for a more efficient operation. However, to really drive improvement and augment a lean operation system, this means enforcing a forklift-free environment and implementing a properly designed AMR solution. Fundamentally, this model eliminates waste and non-efficient processes, ensuring quality products are available on time by removing non-value added activities, safely and accurately. 

Properly designed automated systems can reduce manual forklift traffic, creating immediate lean process improvement. In the case of long-haul transport, an autonomous tow tractor solution with dollies, trains, or carts can easily move the right amount of product for JIT delivery, keeping inventory levels low and aisles free from excess product. Ultimately, this process eliminates waste and enables a smoother flow of materials, thus streamlining the production workflow and creating a safe, productive, and lean process.

In part 2 of this 2-part series on forklift-free environments, learn how safety and profitability are not mutually exclusive.

Download the Driving Forklift Safety with AMRs Infographic to discover how leading companies are improving safety and efficiency. 


Read More:
AGV Safety Future of Automation Benefits of Automation