December 2011 | Commentary | Viewpoint

VMS Lifts Warehouse Labor Productivity

Tags: Forklifts, Logistics I.T., Labor Management

Joe LaFergola is manager of business and information solutions, The Raymond Corporation, 800-235-7200

Tracking lift truck operator time can be a challenge for warehouse managers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires lift truck operators to complete a pre-operation checklist before starting each shift. This inspection involves ensuring that the truck is working properly, and looking for signs of potential problems, such as hydraulic leaks.

A recent study by a major big-box retailer found that most of its operators spend approximately two minutes filling out the pre-operation checklist and up to 15 minutes filing it with the administrator. Multiply this time by the number of lift truck operators at a facility, and filing the checklists is clearly a productivity drain.

Automated Filing

One way warehouse managers can decrease downtime is by using a vehicle management system (VMS), which enables forklift operators to complete and electronically file the OSHA checklist instantly, right at the lift truck.

A VMS offers several benefits in addition to time savings. First, the electronic pre-operation checklist is a paperless system, which saves manual filing time and reduces errors.

Second, the ability to randomize the checklist prevents operators from quickly checking boxes based on memory rather than taking time to properly inspect the lift truck.

Third, electronic record retention and ease of document retrieval enables managers to spend less time doing paperwork and more time managing the warehouse operation.

Finally, VMS solutions prevent unauthorized parties from operating trucks, and act as a "lockout" against using the truck if the pre-operation inspection finds a critical deficiency.

Adding up the Savings

By eliminating the need for the operator to file a paper checklist, the big-box retailer recognized that its VMS created an extra 15 minutes of productive time per operator, per shift.

This 15-minute gain per operator creates a huge financial savings opportunity each year. In a single-shift operation with 25 lift trucks, for example, an operator's wage may be approximately $35 per hour. The 15 minutes per day saved by electronically filing the checklist, multiplied by 250 days of operation and 25 trucks, regains the facility $54,687 in productivity.

Saving 15 minutes per lift truck each day also allows operators to move more pallets per shift. Assuming a truck moves 16 pallet loads per hour, an extra 15 minutes of production means four more loads can be moved per shift.

If operators typically move 16 pallets per hour over the course of four hours of operation, they move 80 pallets in a shift. If operators can instead move 84 pallets per shift, they can increase product moved by five percent per shift.

VMS solutions can provide data that further breaks down important metrics, including key hours (the number of hours the lift truck is turned on), deadman hours (the number of hours the truck is engaged in operation), and travel and lift time. The system should remove the need to perform calculations, and graphically display results that point facility managers in the right direction, enabling better management and facilitating the ability to meet productivity and cost-reduction goals.

Whether it's filing a pre-operation checklist more efficiently, moving more pallets, or saving money through gained time, VMS solutions can help warehouse managers derive more value from their lift truck fleets.