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Automated Forklifts Bring Consistency, Productivity to Today’s Warehouse

By: Jared Green, Contributor

No one in business likes uncertainty, especially in the supply chain. Great strides are being made in bringing greater clarity to the supply chain and its operations. However, recent growth in e-commerce and increased demands on warehouses and distribution centers are helping to create operational uncertainties regarding capacity and the workforce. Many companies are realizing that deploying automated technology, such as automated forklifts, can assist in the development of their own operational standards designed to achieve performance consistency needed in today’s challenging supply chain environments.

Navigating A Host of Warehouse Challenges

Operator assist technologies can help reduce the strenuous nature of order picking.

Today’s warehouses and distribution centers face several challenges, including the need to increase throughput to address the expansion of e-commerce, ever-changing consumer demands and major supply chain disruptions. The shortage of workers being felt across the supply chain adds another layer of complexity.

Companies are struggling to recruit new employees, and retain current ones, making it more difficult to address current supply chain challenges. Even those that are successful in recruiting new workers can struggle with getting scheduled staff to consistently report to work. This challenge is compounded by peak demand when additional positions may be needed, and existing workers become exhausted.

As these challenges persist, many companies are turning to new technologies to help manage an often unpredictable supply chain environment. One technology in particular—the automated lift truck—is helping companies enhance productivity and efficiency, attract new workers, and create new growth opportunities for existing staff.

Deploying Automated Forklifts

Sometimes just getting started with automation can be the hardest step in a company’s warehouse automation journey. Many companies believe there is an advantage to wait until the technology is fully mature and all the questions are answered before deploying automated forklifts. Fortunately, that is not the case.

There is no better time to get started with automation than right now. Many of the warehouse challenges mentioned earlier in this article can be either solved—or significantly reduced—with today’s automation technologies. Today’s lift trucks have advanced to the point where they can be adapted to new processes, changing conditions and various warehouse environments.

Getting started now also doesn’t necessarily mean that the technology deployed today will quickly become outdated. Software updates are often used to add new capabilities and functionality which was unavailable when the technology was initially deployed.

There are also lessons and best practices that can be incorporated by observing and learning from the experiences of early adopters. Of course, each warehouse will have its own challenges and issues inherent to the unique operations, processes and applications in place. The best way to address new challenges is to begin planning how to best apply automation in specific situations.

Enhancing Standardization and Productivity

Deploying an automated forklift for pallet putaway and retrieval, such as the Crown R 1000 Series DualMode reach truck shown here, requires standardizing pallet loads.

Regardless of the automation technology and application, most companies will likely need to make changes to their operational processes when introducing new technology. For instance, deploying an automated forklift for pallet putaway and retrieval, such as the Crown R 1000 Series DualMode reach truck, requires standardizing the handling and condition of pallet loads. Palletized materials that are not properly stacked and shrink-wrapped can impede the function of the automated forklift, resulting in exceptions that bring the system to a stop. Uniformity and quality assurance in pallet loads will help facilitate consistent operation and improve efficiency and productivity.

As processes become more standardized, the better automated forklifts will interact with the environment. Identifying and implementing such standardization can positively affect warehouse operations for the long term. In many cases, opportunities to standardize and improve certain processes, like improper shrink wrapping or skewed pallet loads, existed before automation was a consideration. The installation of automation technology serves as the catalyst to address these opportunities with needed adjustments.

Typically, one of the main goals of automation deployment is to increase productivity by reducing or eliminating repetitive tasks while better leveraging the skills and expertise of existing workers to focus on higher-value tasks. In addition, complementary operator assist technologies can help support this goal by creating a more comfortable working environment and enabling higher productivity for workers supported by automation.

For example, low-level order picking is one of the most physically demanding and resource-intensive tasks in the warehouse. It is not uncommon for many order pickers to walk 5-10 miles every shift, bending and stretching to place products on pallets or in storage bins. The introduction of operator assist technologies, such as Crown’s QuickPick Rapid, to this task can help reduce its strenuous nature and enhance employee comfort and productivity. Crown’s QuickPick technology allows operators to maintain a smooth workflow pattern, focusing less on positioning the vehicle and more on the task of picking.

Automation and operator assist technologies can effectively bring a higher level of stability and predictability to your current facility. Ultimately this technology can create a more comfortable and productive work environment. It directly addresses some of the challenges that bring uncertainty to today’s warehouse environments.

Jared Green is Director of Global Sales – Automation & Emerging Technologies for Crown Equipment. Crown produces innovative products that enhance safety, increase productivity and extend product lifespan through award-winning product design, advanced engineering and technology and a commitment to sustainability (www.crown.com). WMHS

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