Jim Gaskell, director of global Insite-brand products for New Bremen-based Crown Equipment Corp, recently participated in a panel discussion on connectivity and the "Internet of Things" at the three-day Techweek Chicago 2013 conference.
In seeking to expand that discussion, Forkliftaction.com News
posed questions to Gaskell about key issues for the materials handling industry.
Here are Gaskell's responses:
Current state of forklift technology
Technology trends such as connectivity, big data and smart products are shaping the future of materials handling and forklift technology. As a result, forklifts are quickly becoming one of the most advanced pieces of equipment that touch every part of the warehouse. Generally speaking, forklifts being produced today are more advanced than any truck seen in the warehouse as little as 10 years ago. Today's forklifts have more computing power and feature a number of advanced technologies that are enhancing the performance and efficiency of the trucks.
The explosion of technology in consumer products and automobiles is fuelling many inquiries from our customers. They're looking for proven technologies that will provide measureable return on investment. They are seeking opportunities in forms of energy management, sustainability, cloud computing and various forms of automation.
At Crown, we are keeping a close eye on developments in other industries - such as aviation, healthcare, automotive and construction - that will help shape the future of materials handling and forklift technology.
Technology advancements in the pipeline
As we look to the future, we see forklifts that contain more advanced on-board technology that will improve operator productivity and enable connectivity and automation. We also see increased forklift connectivity that provides greater visibility into warehouse environment, operator productivity and product movement.
I think we'll see transformative products, but it's rare that a complicated solution is a lasting solution. We'll see technologies making life simpler and more connected for our customers.
As an example, take connection to the warehouse management systems. How do vehicles connect to those, and what advantages do they offer? That's an area that'll be further developed during the next five to 10 years. Customers will become more comfortable allowing more wireless traffic in their facilities and more interaction with their business systems. Today that's pretty difficult because it is the backbone of their operation. So finding ways to make that connection of great value rather than great risk will be really important.
Advancements en route to the commercial market
While customers are looking for technologies that will help them better utilise their forklifts, the realities of real-world applications tend to slow the adoption rate of new technology to more realistic timeframes given customer parameters such as budget, needs and existing infrastructure.
Take forklift automation as an example. This type of technology and the role it can play in the warehouse, is on the minds of many forward-thinking materials handling executives. 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.
While early adopters evaluate the potential of forklift automation in real-world conditions, there are several issues that need to be addressed, such as sensor durability and distributed service responsibility.
The good news is that forklift manufacturers continue to make significant investments in research and development to move the technology forward.