AI-Powered Awareness of the Environment is the Key To Forklift Productivity

- 30 Jun 2022 ( #1083 )
4 min read

The ubiquitous forklift - both essential workhorse and leading safety threat - therefore immediately presents itself as the first and most practical beachhead from where to start improving safety and security in the industrial workplace. -MH Substack 19-05-2022 

In a previous post, I posited the Forklift as the logical “tip of the spear” for introducing AI into industrial workspaces for both practical and economic reasons.  Some well-funded, large-scale projects will design custom forklifts, self-loading shelving, or robotic solutions to bring AI smarts and sensors into their workspace. Most businesses, however, will be looking for a solution they can meld with their existing equipment for a minimum of disruption, immediate benefits and a longer-term fit.

AI-powered Driver Safety System (DSS) for Forklifts

An AI-powered Driver Safety System on a forklift starts by improving driver safety, but goes well beyond that role in providing benefits to both the people who physically interact in and around the workspace of the smart forklift and also management. As the touchpoint where the physical workplace experience starts to become data, the flow of AI-assisted gains begins to grow exponentially from here.

Benefits For The AI Assisted Forklift Operator

Some people have a cup of coffee in the morning to boost their work performance. Most people hope to have adequate rest before beginning their next shift. Workplace fatigue is a very real part of every job, but on the warehouse floor, being tired impacts both productivity and safety.

AI, in conjunction with a video camera sensor that detects signs of fatigue, can alert forklift operators when it's time to take a break. When we begin to tire, our cognitive abilities decrease and we often don’t recognize either our diminishing productivity or gradually impaired judgment in dangerous situations. When we’re tired we also often unwittingly commit other dangerous behaviors.

AI-assisted solutions like the VIA Mobile360 Forklift Safety System detect signs of driver fatigue but also monitor those other potentially unproductive or dangerous driver behaviors. 

The use of your smartphone, for example, is dangerous when operating any moving vehicle but in the modern world, many people have an almost Pavlovian response to incoming phone notifications and pick up their devices for distracting calls and messages almost unconsciously. People are genuinely often unaware they are committing this type of unsafe behavior and a prompt to remind them might be a better way to manage the situation than a time-consuming management intervention.

Other dangerous behaviors like smoking while operating heavy equipment, particularly in hazardous environments, don’t improve driving accuracy or efficiency either and can also be detected.

Armed with the same data that can help alert operators, management can also take steps or create policies to improve employee welfare. Understanding the safe or optimal length and time for employee shifts and when to schedule breaks could dramatically improve productivity and safety.

Drastic changes in employee behavior might also be crucial in instigating a more serious management response, or ideally, a proactive one. 

Imagine a scenario where an employee has been nodding off on the job during a shift. If the situation persisted or warranted it, a management intervention might help prevent an accident. Think of the time, money, and hassle for everyone that could be avoided if accidents were averted before they occurred.

Continuous distractions or participation in lengthy phone calls and text messaging sessions not only reduces workplace productivity but might also be a sign of a larger underlying problem. Perhaps the employee who never takes calls is suddenly taking many on one or several days in the middle of their work hours?  It could be that this employee just needs their manager to ask IS EVERYTHING OK? They might have home-life issues for which HR could step in with solutions. In an industry looking for answers to employee retention difficulties, it might surprise everyone how flexible the options can be for a skilled, well-trained, and experienced staff member who just needs a little bit of understanding. Imagine how valued the employee will feel?

The AI-Assisted Solution and The Human Application Link

It starts to become clear that how humans configure, approach, and apply the data gleaned from AI-assisted solutions is an important part of deriving value from them. Going beyond the welfare of forklift operators' immediate safety to material benefits for the other employees in the workspace and the logistics management teams is a topic that needs a much deeper dive.


This post was originally published on 26-05-2022 by Tim Brown at The Future and Now of Materials Handling substack.


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