Intelligent Forklifts and the Internet of Things

Posted by: admin on October 30, 2018

Intelligent Forklifts and the Internet of Things

The Internet of things, or IoT, refers to the billions of devices throughout the world that collect and share data through the Internet. Called by some the ‘fourth industrial revolution”, the IoT merges the digital and physical worlds by letting devices to communicate intelligently with each other without humans involved.

While still in its early stages, the Internet of Things is huge and is growing rapidly. There are already more than 8 billion IoT devices in use worldwide. Industry analysts predict that by 2020, the number of connected devices will be more than 20 billion. Most of the devices already connected are things like smart TVs, thermostats or home security systems – and, of course, Alexa, Siri and other digital home assistants!

Internet of Things technology is also being used to improve operations across industry sectors. One example is how modern warehouses are being run with IoT.

The demand for warehouse space by giant online retailers is huge. Amazon, Walmart, Target and the others all need large amounts of space to receive, store, pick, package and ship their products to consumers. For these businesses to remain competitive, customer orders need to be filled and shipped promptly. To achieve this, warehouses need be run more efficiently. Smart forklifts are helping to provide the solutions.

Internet of Things technology helps streamline warehouse procedures. It does so by bringing workers and forklifts together through the facility’s enterprise resource planning, or ERP system. Using intelligent, self-driving forklifts to unload, store, pick and ship items is one example of how companies are using IoT to streamline warehouse operations. In addition to using warehouse space more efficiently, smart forklifts save time and money by completing routine tasks quickly, while also holding down labor costs.

About Intelligent Forklifts

Sensors, onboard intelligence, and radio frequency identification (RFID) are at the heart of today’s smart forklifts. Intelligent forklifts use these to automate tasks that were performed by human workers before. They also provide better control over inventories and make the workplace safer.

Labor is a big expense in warehouse operations. Using self-driving smart forklifts lets warehouses operate around the clock with less human involvement. This is one of the ways IoT helps to keep labor costs low.

Here are some other features where intelligent forklifts save time and keep the workplace safe when integrated into a business’s warehouse control system (WCS) and warehouse management system (WMS):

  • Automatically alerting the WMS when the vehicle needs servicing or repairing
  • Using robotics to limit driving speeds in areas of the warehouse where there’s a lot of foot traffic
  • Avoiding collision by using anti-slip technology to automatically improve traction on slippery floors
  • Detecting potential hazards to avoid collisions that could injure workers and damage equipment and inventory
  • Raising, positioning and lowering the lift’s forks much faster and more safely than by a human operator

Other Uses for Smart Forklifts

Picking items to fill mixed case orders has been a slow and inefficient process until now. Intelligent forklifts have made the task much simpler. The warehouse management system sends a signal to a smart forklift telling it to go to a picking location to get an item. The signal also includes how high up the rack the item is stored. When the operator pushes a button on the lift’s console, IoT lets the lift travel at the maximum safe speed. While the smart lift is in transit to the pick location, the forks are adjusted to the optimum height for the picker to safely and efficiently remove the item from the rack. This reduces risks of injury to the picker, such as pulled muscles and back injuries. It also eliminates the need to climb up and down the forklift at each stop. When a picker uses a voice system, the smart lift will go to the dock where the pallet or pallets will be unloaded and shipped.

Most intelligent forklifts also include real-time location systems. These allow the operator to pick up or drop off an order without having to scan the location to confirm that the right pallet has been picked up or delivered. This can be used both in bulk warehouses where pallets are stacked on top of each other or in warehouses with rack storage systems.

The Internet of Things will continue to evolve and change the way businesses are run. We know that intelligent forklifts are here to stay and will reduce or eliminate the need for humans to operate them. There will, however, always be a need for humans in warehouses. Technicians will be needed to see that smart forklifts are operating safely, and to adjust or repair them when needed. Entry-level warehouse workers will also be needed to fill customer orders. Stowers will be supported by intelligent forklifts to keep shelves full. Pickers will also be needed to pull items for filling orders. Packers will be needed to put the pulled items in boxes for shipping to customers. Even if IoT and intelligent forklifts will play increasingly bigger roles in warehouse operations, there will always be a need for certified human workers.

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