Crown, one of the world’s largest material handling companies, recently released a white paper on the state of forklift automation.
The paper, which can be downloaded at http://news.crown.com/uk/2013/the-state-of-forklift-automation/ reviews the current state of the technology and outlines the considerations to be addressed prior to adoption.
The white paper notes that “automation is one of the most powerful weapons the industry has in the battle against costs, and while capital equipment budgets may be able to support new projects, many organisations are wondering if now is the right time to make the move to forklift automation.”
“It is increasingly apparent that the topic of forklift automation and the role it can play in the warehouse is on the minds of forward-thinking material handling executives,” said Tim Quellhorst, senior vice president, Crown Equipment. “When you review the state of the technology, and how quickly it is evolving, you see that the answer to that question isn’t always clear. There are benefits to be had today, but there are also risks if expectations are too high or insufficient resources are devoted to the effort.”
Despite the success of automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) in manufacturing, automated vehicles have not been widely adopted in warehousing. Two major reasons for this are that the warehouse environment presents challenges not found in manufacturing, and some early adopters have been disappointed with the amount of support required to keep automated forklifts — forklifts retrofitted with AGV technology — operational. This paper attempts to address these two issues by helping material handling executives understand if the technology is right for their organisation and/or application.
The paper outlines the key challenges associated with automated forklifts today, such as equipment durability, and distributed service responsibility. It also provides four attributes that can serve as the basis for evaluating a warehouse automation system: reliability, flexibility, scalability and safety. The paper concludes with six key questions every organisation should address when determining whether to move forward with the current generation of forklift automation technology or wait for the technology to evolve.