March 2014 | Commentary | Viewpoint

5 Lift Truck Innovations That Will Change Your Warehouse

Tags: Forklifts, Materials Handling

Cheryl Bikowski is Marketing Communications Supervisor, Gamber-Johnson, 855-308-1363

New developments affect the lift truck market every day, and it's only a matter of time before you'll see these features and tools in your own warehouse. Here are five lift truck innovations worth knowing about.

  1. Device mounts. When warehouse managers first tried using tablet computers and other inventory devices on lift trucks, it didn't take long to discover the shortcomings of using lighter devices for heavy tasks. Smaller and less robust devices are susceptible to internal deterioration due to forklift vibration, and tend to fail in less-than-optimal environmental conditions, including extreme heat and cold.

    New mounts are ruggedized and designed to absorb shock and vibration, protecting devices and the critical information they carry. Most lift truck mounts include a holder designed for a specific device, an adaptor and arm to allow angle shift and movement, and the base attached to the cage.

    These specialized mounts allow you to safely attach commercial or industrial grade tablets, two-way radios, and other inventory-enabled devices to your forklift cage. That's good news for warehouse managers who use tablet devices for pick and ship, use bar-code scanning, or employ voice and RFID technology.

  2. Rugged tablet computers. Moving to full-time use of tablet devices in place of bulkier PCs helps speed data collection. Now that rugged tablets suitable for forklift applications are available, you can confidently purchase armored tablets to place on forklifts or other workhorse vehicles where impact, sun, vibration, dirt, and moisture might otherwise spell doom for devices.
  3. Hydrogen fuel cell solutions. In 2007, the University of Chicago's Argonne Laboratory studied fuel cell-powered forklifts to compare their performance against gas-powered models. The study addressed key issues: fuel efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, and fossil fuel use.

    Smaller forklifts performed fairly well with hydrogen fuel cells, but larger forklifts had enclosure and waterproofing issues that presented significant obstacles to adopting the technology, the study found.

    Since that study, the economies of fuel cell solutions for materials handling have become better documented. Hydrogen-powered fuel cell forklift fleets continue to expand in warehouses, distribution centers, and manufacturing facilities as large companies such as BMW, Coca-Cola, and Walmart adopt the technology.

  4. Digital controls. Many lift trucks now feature digital operations panels, which eliminate complicated, cumbersome levers and pulleys. Compared to traditional lift truck control panels, digital controls are easier to read and calibrate, and are contained in a single interface. They also offer better operator control and more efficient battery usage.

    Safety is another benefit of digital innovation. Managing driver speed—and indicating breaches of acceptable speeds—helps prevent equipment and product damage, and protect drivers and floor workers at risk from accidents.

  5. AGVs reduce product and equipment damage. Automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) use one or more controlled wheel-based load carriers to work on defined paths performing specific operations. The vehicles navigate by following buried wires or lines of surface tape such as magnetic or optical strips.

    Replacing traditional lift trucks in many applications, AGVs hold potential to reduce labor costs while improving safety.