Facing an intelligent future

Local News
- 17 Mar 2016 ( #761 )
6 min read
Forklifts are evolving from passive tools to intelligent, connected pieces of the supply chain as digitisation and automation become mainstream.

Just last week, German intralogistics specialist STILL launched an autonomous order picker at Logimat in Stuttgart, claiming its iGo neo CX 20 as the first 'production model' autonomous picker.

Linde Material Handling last year launched its range of unmanned industrial trucks developed in cooperation with robotics specialist Balyo.

"The warehouse trucks are able to navigate autonomously in the warehouse without additional infrastructure," Linde head of trade press Heike Oder tells Forkliftaction News. "The trucks can react to obstacles in real time, are scalable and flexibly adjustable to new warehouse layouts. Routes and driveways in the mapped area can be learned quickly and easily. The trucks perform their tasks independently of working hours and provide maximum traffic safety."

The application of Internet of Things (IoT) technology is not limited to automation, but also increasingly enables data integration, using materials handling equipment as data sources.

Jim Gaskell, director of global technology business development at Crown Equipment Corporation, observes that because of its role and close proximity to warehouse activity, the forklift is emerging as one of the primary data collectors in the warehouse. "Crown envisions a connected warehouse in which the forklift becomes not only a roving sensor that reaches parts of the warehouse no other system is reaching, but is also a hub that collects data from various other devices, acts on this data, and consolidates and analyses it for other systems.

Crown's InfoLink
Crown's InfoLink
"We're already doing some of that through the Crown InfoLink wireless fleet and operator management system which gives managers the forklift and operator data they need to make better business decisions and achieve better return on investment," he adds.

Linde connect: offers simular functionality. Oder explains that the hardware components connect customers' vehicles and databases using Bluetooth, WiFi or GPRS. "The hardware's sensors collect data and pass it on. The connect: software gives a clear view of all the fleet data and this means greater traffic safety at customers' premises, better vehicle availability thanks to optimised service, and improved cost-effectiveness on the basis of efficient vehicle usage."

Steven LaFevers, director of aftermarket solutions at Yale Materials Handling Corporation, is seeing more businesses turning to data-driven intelligence to guide decisions that improve efficiency and protect the bottom line. "For lift truck fleets, telemetry programs can produce a wealth of relevant small data insights for quick conversion into actionable business intelligence.

"Historically, telemetry systems were prized as big data repositories. They catalogued equipment and operational information, but didn't necessarily provide consumable and actionable data. Instead, they offered numerous reports and spreadsheets that fleet managers had to sift through and summarise - a tedious and time-consuming task.

"Today, telemetry systems offer effortless access to immediate and actionable data. With the ability to evaluate utilisation and maintenance information alongside expected demand and specific truck applications, fleet managers can make quick and informed decisions about fleet size and composition. This allows them to continuously improve operations and maintain a right-sized fleet composed of equipment tailored to meet their specific operational challenges."

Besides operational efficiency, IoT technology is also playing an increasing role in equipment maintenance.

Linde's Oder reveals that one in four new Linde vehicles is delivered with the connect: solution installed and a growing number of customers are choosing to retrofit their fleets.

RAAMS monitors batteries.
RAAMS monitors batteries.
One popular application of the technology, according to Oder, is monitoring the condition of the vehicle and generating trouble codes for service technicians. "Trucks equipped with connect: hardware can transfer this information, which can be used to detect failures or wear before they affect the truck's performance. Linde is now working on automating the process from transferring trouble codes to ordering and shipping spare parts and scheduling the service technician while at the same time informing the customer about the status of this process."

Greensboro, North Carolina-based ABT Power Management uses IoT two-way communication for its RAAMS battery monitoring system. Product manager Mark Bowman explains that communication-enabled battery data recorders and chargers "allow ABT to reduce or eliminate the battery room footprint, improve forklift uptime and decrease the number of batteries and chargers on site, all for the same truck usage requirements".

Future predictions

For Crown's Gaskell, having devices that can communicate is the first step in realising the potential of the IoT. "The next - and more challenging - step is being able to capture data from devices across the facility, aggregate that data for analysis and enable machines to act on it. It is this aggregation, processing and decision makingwhich transforms the IoT from a collection of isolated devices sending out data into a powerful network that can work in concert to support objectives.

"In the case of the warehouse, forklifts are already doing much of the data collection. Forklifts today are equipped with wireless connectivity, data storage and sensors that allow them to collect information from their own internal systems as well as the environment, and transmit this data to management systems.

"With the cost of sensors going down and the amount of processing power embedded in forklifts continuing to increase, the forklift - the only device in the warehouse that travels to every location in the facility - will be in a position to expand on its current functionality. In addition to moving product, it will become a mobile information technology hub that collects and processes data from products, operators, the environment and other materials handling systems to support unparalleled visibility into warehouse operations and increased automation."

Yale's LaFevers agrees: "Even as materials handling operations face serious pressure to maximise output and efficiency, most facilities do not utilise fleet data to its full potential. A recent survey indicates that while 80% of companies track lift truck fleet data in some way, only 25% track equipment and utilisation by specific drivers.

"Managing a successful lift truck fleet requires paying special attention not only to the equipment, but also the drivers. Assigning utilisation and impact data to individual operators adds an extra layer of accountability for ineffective, unsafe drivers while incentivising high-performing employees, yielding more informed labour management decisions.

"As traditional materials handling environments evolve from burdensome cost centres to competitive assets, integrated wireless asset management and telemetry systems offer a pathway for fleets to join the fully visible, interconnected supply chain of the future," he says.

ABT's Bowman believes customers are not interested in more data, flashy reporting and dashboards. "They want actionable insights from their data. They want real time, on-the-floor alerts so they and their operators can address issues immediately. Customers also expect greater visibility into their lift truck fleet, support equipment and ongoing health of assets."

And his view of the future? "Everything communicates. Enhanced decision making will be at the local level. Power systems (chargers and batteries) will combine with operator and truck data to inform fleet management across both the forklift and the powertrain. A shared data model will provide actionable insights on how to best manage forklift fleets."

This view is clearly shared by Linde's Oder: "Digitalisation and automation are increasing. Industrial trucks will definitely become a part of the value-added chain in a company, communicating among each other, with other machines and people."
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