New Forklift Safety Technologies

By Brian Colburn, Contributor

We live in some pretty incredible times; things that were not even imagined 30 years ago are now coming true. I can remember back in the 1990s when we thought it was a big deal strobe lights were offered in new colors or back-up alarms had auto-adjusting volume levels.

One area that has seen the most change is forklift monitoring systems. I remember the ridiculous little “black boxes” of the early 1990s, which we found disconnected all over the place. Many of them were attached with Velcro and were nothing more than bump boxes. When operators hit things, they went off. Fast operators could flee the scene and management was left wondering who crashed the forklift that was alarming back in the warehouse! Flash forward to 2020 and you have two groups selling systems: 1) neutral third parties, such as PowerFleet, Gemone and others; and 2) OEM systems, such as those offered by Hyster/Yale, Crown, Raymond and more.

Besides the basic things most systems have done for years, like:

  • Access control by PIN code or employee badge
  • Electronic, customizable pre-shift checklist
  • Impact monitoring using very precise and easily adjustable settings
  • Tracking maintenance, utilization, truck hours and training expirations
  • Smart seatbelts which ensure operators are always secured

Some of the systems can also do some really cool “other” things too:

  • Camera and DVR systems which use up to four cameras to visually record everything a forklift does, every minute of every day. These systems act like an in-plant security camera, but onboard the forklift. They can also record, save and email management so they can instantly see accidents and deal with them. Want to prevent forklift accidents? Seeing them seconds after they happen and using that footage to keep it from happening again is pretty cool.
  • Speed control/monitoring. Most electric trucks have had speed control a long time, but there are huge numbers of IC units in the country that have no way to keep operators at safe speeds. Some systems can now either restrict speed, or monitor and warn of overspeed, even on old forklifts.
  • Overload prevention and built in scales. Several of the systems now offer options that warn forklift operators if they are exceeding the rated capacity of the forklift. Some also provide the operator the exact weight of the load.

Another area of safety, which has grown by leaps and bounds, is pedestrian safety. Thirty years ago, a big, convex aisle mirror or a plastic STOP sign was about the extent of it. Today, companies like Alert Safety Products use special sensors to trigger LED lights built right into mirrors, warning people as they come out of restrooms, across aisles, etc. These warning systems have gone from passive (someone must look at them to be useful) to active (getting people’s attention when it’s needed).

PEDESTRIAN WARNINGS

A number of companies also make pedestrian warning devices that mount on forklifts. These devices typically use things such as radar, ultrasound, RF or cameras to help keep forklift operators from hitting pedestrians. The downfall has been two-fold. First, they create a lot of false warnings. Forklifts, by their nature, get pretty close to a lot of non-human obstacles in the normal course of business. The systems can produce so many false warnings that operators tire of the constant sounds and simply start to ignore them. The second problem is that most systems require both the forklift and pedestrian carry some type of warning device. It may not be a problem mounting devices on 100 forklifts, but try equipping 2,000 pedestrians with a device of any type in a large manufacturing plant! Not only is it costly, it is nearly impossible to manage. If even one of those people are not carrying their “triggering device,” then they all are at risk.

The latest system by Blaxtair seems to have the answers. They use stereoscopic cameras with artificial intelligence to identify people and warn forklift operators. The system can be configured to warn only of pedestrians or it can also be calibrated to warn of objects in very close proximity. Both zones are adjustable to the truck type and application, working on everything from counterbalanced riders to VNA. The forklift operators receive both visual and auditory warnings, and with the approval of the particular forklift manufacturer, it can also automatically engage the brakes.

We live in an amazing world. It’s hard to tell what types of technology we’ll see in the next 30 years, but I can’t wait! WMHS

About the Author

Brian Colburn is with Forklift Training Systems, a leader in forklift safety training and products. www.forklifttrainingsystems.com