Many lean manufacturers are now pursuing a forklift free environment. The idea of transforming a factory into a forklift-free production site can be an overwhelming thought, but guidance and ongoing solution support can smooth the way for the transformation and generate sustainable productivity improvement.
One of the main concerns with forklifts trucks is safety. The Workplace Safety Advice website estimates 8,000 reported accidents involving the use of forklift trucks in the UK each year with some of these resulting in fatalities.
There are various causes of forklift related accidents, including operator distraction, visibility issues and operator error. In addition to safety concerns, which are the most critical, there are costs for operator training, plant layout restrictions, and possible damage to facilities and parts.
Forklift trucks can be chronically underutilised – the primary function of a forklift is to take advantage of vertical stacking. Yet, if you look at forklift activity, most of the utilisation is driving horizontally, not lifting vertically.
Introducing manually pushed carts using a bump system is a good first step to eliminating forklift traffic in manufacturing. Instead of forklifts being used to lift the load and place product on lineside stations, carts can deliver product hands-free by using motorised rollers or gravity fed systems.
Tuggers are smaller than forklifts and easier to operate. A forklift can typically carry one load of product lineside. When a tugger system is implemented, multiple carts can be stocked, delivering items to various spots along the production line.
Implementing automatic guided vehicles (AGV) is an advanced solution for replacing forklifts. Automatic vehicles eliminate unnecessary touch while increasing throughput and accuracy. They can accommodate an increased complexity of parts, optimise floor space, and decrease accidents.
AGVs have proven safety benefits. Integrated safety fields sense objects that get in front of the vehicle and stop it before impact. Custom-designed load handling frames ensure the AGV only carries loads for which it was designed. Planned routes and safety systems ensure the AGV is interacting with the external environment and personnel safely and predictably.
Forklifts are relatively expensive to purchase or lease, run and maintain. They also have the added cost of training and insuring drivers. Bump carts, tuggers, and AGVs have minimal costs once setup is complete. AGVs save on personnel costs because they have no drivers, and can run routes continuously. This allows for employee reallocation to value-added positions.
Forklift truck alternatives are better equipped to move more than one load of product to the lineside, allowing for more complex routes that get product where it is needed in a timely manner. It is important to set realistic goals because transforming to a forklift-free facility is not an overnight change but a process of continuous improvement.