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Keep Things Moving

Integrating technology and ergonomics increases operator confidence and productivity.

By: Dave Norton, Contributor

The Raymond® 8910 enclosed end-rider pallet truck features intuitive, easy-to-use controls, ergonomically enhanced operator compartment and steering and a deadman pedal requiring less effort to operate. Image courtesy of The Raymond Corporation.

October is National Manufacturing Month, and it is important that we celebrate those who play an essential role in keeping things moving by providing ease and comfort in everyday practices.

With labor challenges and the need to fulfill orders in a timely manner, it is essential that the forklift operators are armed with the right equipment and technology to keep up with the necessary demands facing operations.

No matter which industry or application an organization is in, maintaining a secure and reliable experience for operators requires strong attention to detail. As operations are rising to meet challenges brought on by the supply chain, businesses are working to improve learning opportunities, facility conditions and equipment comfort for the operators who fill orders on the floor each day.

From increased ergonomics to implementing technologies that improve pick time, forklift operators have seen improvements in necessary functions surrounding the industry. According to the 2023 Materials Handling Industry (MHI) Annual Industry Report, out of 2,000 responses from supply chain leaders, 74% “are increasing investment in supply chain technology and innovation,” which provides “operations with speed, accuracy and improved visibility.”

Ongoing educational opportunities

An accessible point of entry into increasing operator confidence is to offer ongoing educational opportunities. The next generation of skilled labor values cutting-edge technology that allows operators to further their craft and strengthen their skills. Companies are interested in a fast, seamless and informational onboarding process to get new talent ready for the floor quicker.

Luckily, new technology can address the needs of both employees and employers. Many manufacturing organizations are using virtual reality (VR) and other innovative technologies as learning tools to attract new employees, including Gen Z and digital-savvy candidates, who may not have otherwise considered this career track.

VR as an instructional tool allows operators to learn the actual equipment and controls they will be using on the floor, but in a simulated environment. In one version of the program, instructors work alongside operators as they go through hands-on instruction modules that build upon principles learned in earlier lessons, providing a consistent experience and reinforcing desired behaviors.

This type of training gives instructors the opportunity to monitor operators’ performance throughout lessons in real time. With this approach, they are able to deliver personalized feedback to aid in operator understanding and learning.

The modules include simulated interferences on the warehouse floor to prepare operators for the unexpected. This helps build familiarity with conditions in the operating environment and allows operators to work through various situations in a controlled setting. With proper preparation, operators can feel more comfortable and confident in their surroundings. Receiving one-on-one coaching through these experiences can help potential candidates lacking industry experience learn the skills needed to excel in a warehouse environment.

Enhanced ergonomics

Implementing products with enhanced ergonomics can help increase operator comfort, while upgraded features improve operator confidence and productivity. When operators work in heavy-duty and high-throughput applications, a comfortable lift truck with intuitive, easy-to-use controls and a roomy operator compartment is essential — especially for long hauls. From extra lighting attachments and spacious operator compartments to USB charging ports, today’s lift trucks are helping operators do their jobs more comfortably and conveniently.

Operator-assist technologies

Once operators feel comfortable in their surrounding environment, it’s time to help them do their job efficiently, which can help increase confidence. Advanced operator-assist technologies and cutting-edge order picking solutions can be added to the base layer of a lift truck to create integrated systems. These tools help companies further increase operator proficiency, accuracy and productivity, providing you with a sustainable competitive advantage while reducing overall operating costs. Below are a few technologies that provide operators with tools that help them in their daily work, so they can successfully pick product more efficiently and with fewer mis-picks and operator errors.

Pick-to-light systems can help reduce picking errors by using LED technology to visually or audibly reinforce product placement for order fulfillment in batch picking applications. It is a tool that provides greater visibility into product placement and can reduce the amount of time that might be spent redoing tasks.

Object detection systems help operators to move freely throughout the warehouse floor and narrow aisles by providing an extra reinforcement tool. If and when the system detects an object that blocks the lift truck’s pathway, the lift truck will remind the operator by decelerating while an audible alarm will sound and a visual cue reading “sensor stop” will display — offering operators additional support.

Location systems can provide operators with optimum paths that consider the lift truck’s height and speed. This option helps operators select the optimum path for their forklifts when entering areas restricted by ceiling height (in accordance with the lift truck), restricted and pedestrian zones, and those with regular congestion. Implementing these solutions allows operators to work more proactively, as they are given options with picking efficiency and timing constraints in mind.

Investing in ergonomic equipment, new technology and operator education allows operators to learn with innovative workplace tools and solidifies a company’s commitment to its workforce while advancing an operator’s skill set. By prioritizing the above, companies can expect to increase employees’ likelihood of staying in a position long term, improve overall operator well-being and show their dedication to celebrating the operators who keep the world moving. WMHS

Dave Norton is vice president of customer solutions and support at The Raymond Corporation, a leading global provider of best-in-class material handling products and intelligent intralogistics. Raymond’s solutions optimize and transform operations through automation and deliver actionable insights. The company’s electric lift trucks are engineered to achieve higher performance and increased efficiency. Learn more at www.raymondcorp.com/about-us

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