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Seamless Tugger Cart Integration: 7 Reasons to Prioritize Safety and Workflow

Proper tugger cart integration can yield considerable improvements in safety, efficiency and costs.

By: Emily NortonContributor

Because of their compact size, tuggers can move quickly, giving workers in their vicinity less time to respond. © PNG – stock.adobe.com

Tugger carts are becoming increasingly popular among manufacturers and warehouses. These fast, flexible and easily automatable forklift alternatives have many advantages over other material handling systems, but their real-world success depends on their implementation.

Safety and workflow considerations should be at the top of manufacturers’ minds when integrating tuggers into their operations. Prioritizing these factors will ensure the carts deliver as much value as possible. Here are seven reasons why.

1. TUGGERS INTRODUCE UNIQUE SAFETY CONCERNS

The most straightforward reason to prioritize safety is tugger carts can create new hazards. While these systems are generally safer than larger, less controllable alternatives like forklifts, they are not hazard-free.

Tuggers may move much faster than other material handling equipment, thanks to their compact size. Consequently, they may be harder to see coming, leaving workers less time to respond. Long trains of carts may be difficult to control, making collisions more likely.

Failure to recognize and adapt to these new hazards may lead to an uptick in injuries. Workplaces must consider any necessary safety training, train length limits or warning signals they can implement to avoid this.

2. EFFICIENCY AND SAFETY GO HAND-IN-HAND

Safety concerns should be a priority not only for employees’ well-being but also for their productivity implications. A safer work environment is a more efficient one.

It may be tempting to have tuggers pull as much as possible at once to minimize travel time. However, these longer trains and increased mass may make collisions more likely and more damaging. The resulting injuries — and the lost productivity accompanying them — may take more time out of the workweek than running more trips with fewer incidents.

Injuries do not have to cause downtime to hinder productivity, either. Carts with poor ergonomics may require workers to bend or lean to pick up materials, leading to musculoskeletal disorders. While these injuries may not create disruption, they will cause workers to move slowly.

3. TUGGER SAFETY AFFECTS COSTS

Similarly, a safer tugger cart system will reduce long-term expenses. According to OSHA, direct workers’ compensation costs alone cost businesses $1 billion per week in 2021.1 However, that does not include losses from lost productivity or slowed performance. The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates the total cost of work-related injuries in 2022 was $167 billion, and resulted in a total of 108,000,000 lost days of work.2

In addition to preventing injuries, tuggers should be a cost-saving measure. When they work as intended, their modularity and speed let manufacturers increase output and adapt to changing demands with fewer disruptions. However, if organizations do not design their tugger workflows around worker safety, the resulting issues will limit these savings.

Minimizing collisions through better warehouse visibility, shorter cart trains and warning lights will prevent expensive disruptions. Ergonomically friendly carts will let employees work more comfortably, leading to higher output and lower relative costs.

4. INNOVATION ONLY WORKS WHEN WORKERS UNDERSTAND IT

Effective tugger cart integration must also consider the impact on existing workflows. It is easy to oversimplify these effects by assuming easily automatable, flexible material handling systems will streamline operations. However, this streamlining is only as effective as employees’ ability to adapt to it.

The more automated a tugger system is, the more crucial it is to consider how people will work with it. As efficient as automation is, it can cause more delays and disruptions if they are not comfortable working around it or it drastically changes existing processes. Remember — human-robot collaboration is often more efficient than automation alone.3

Extensive preparation and training may be necessary to ensure the workforce can adapt to the new system. That adaptation will be easier if the new tugger-based solution keeps convenience at the forefront.

5. SOME WORKFLOWS POSE LIMITATIONS

Similarly, some facilities may need help to accommodate some tugger cart setups. Manufacturers can avoid difficulties if they account for these limitations, improving the solution’s ROI.

Crowded aisles are a common barrier to effective tugger cart implementation. Many warehouses try to store as much as possible, but overcrowding typically results in decreased productivity and delayed shipping, thanks to SKU mix-ups, transport issues and blocked aisles.4 Tuggers may increase these woes in these situations, as cart trains will be unable to move efficiently through the facility.

There are two primary steps in accounting for these workflow limitations. First, organizations must predict potential run-ins to see how they must change existing workflows to let tuggers work efficiently. Secondly, they must identify which aspects are unavoidable and necessitate a change in the tugger system itself, such as using a smaller model or rotating carts.

6. TUGGER BENEFITS ARE NOT CONSISTENT

It is also worth considering that tugger carts’ advantages do not apply evenly across an enterprise. Some aspects of the workflow will see more gains than others and this disparity will vary between brands.

Given these uneven benefits, tugger integration must center around existing workflows. Managers should consider where they will see the most benefit and which areas do not have as much to gain from these new tools. Implementing them in the former first while leaving the latter less disrupted will even out costs for a faster ROI.

Any innovation entails initial disruption. Manufacturers can minimize the downsides of that disruption by slowly adapting the workflow to the new solution instead of changing it all at once.

7. TECHNOLOGIES CHANGE, BUT PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE

Finally, tugger cart integration must prioritize safety and workflow because technology will continuously evolve. New cart types, storage technologies or automation opportunities may alter ideal material handling setups, requiring further change. However, human needs for safety, ergonomics and training will always remain.

Overlooking the human element will lead businesses to redesign their workflows around technology that will inevitably change. When it does, they must redesign everything again, creating significant repeated disruptions. By contrast, if these designs focus on making things safe, practical and easy to learn for workers, they will minimize that disruption and ensure ongoing productivity.

Consider how 75% of manufacturers say retaining a quality workforce is still their biggest challenge despite rapid recent technological innovations according to a recent study by the National Association of Manufacturers.5 The industry will always need people in one form or another, so it cannot overlook their needs when adopting new technologies like tuggers.

FOLLOW THESE GUIDELINES FOR SEAMLESS TUGGER CART INTEGRATION

Proper tugger cart integration can yield considerable improvements in efficiency and costs. Achieving these benefits to their fullest extent is only possible when manufacturers center their implementation around safety and workflow considerations. A human-centric design will unlock any technology’s full potential. WMHS

Emily Newton has eight years of creating logistics and supply chain articles under her belt. She loves helping people stay informed about industry trends. Her work in Global Trade Magazine and Parcel, showcases her ability to identify newsworthy stories. When Emily isn’t writing, she enjoys building lego sets.


  1. 1 www.osha.gov/businesscase
  2. 2 https://tinyurl.com/44tkmm22
  3. 3 https://revolutionized.com/reduce-downtime/
  4. 4 https://tinyurl.com/u2mxyjkr
  5. 5 https://tinyurl.com/4yrv7hw3

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