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Gert Jensen

Vice President of Sales in USA & Canada

Global AGV

1 Rating

AUTOMATED GUIDED VEHICLE Efficient manufacturing starts with autonomous forklifts

Nov 11, 2020

Manufacturing journalist, Thomas R Cutler interviewed Gert Jensen, Vice President of Sales in USA & Canada, Global AGV, where he discusses the increasing trend of manufacturers shifting to autonomous forklifts during COVID-19 pandemic and how can companies cost-justify the migration away from manned forklifts. Excerpts from the interview…

Why are manufacturers shifting to autonomous forklifts?

Manufacturers are shifting to autonomous forklifts for a variety of reasons. Places we find active pain for manufacturers are in finding and retaining qualified staff to drive forklifts. COVID increases absenteeism from reliable workers. Active pain is seen in several segments including food manufacturing. Shelf-life constrains and delaying the manufacturing process due to closures or reduced staff translates into product spoilage. Forklifts also represent a high risk of damage to the facility and product as well as people. Most manufacturers need human workers to focus on high productivity functions such as quality assurance and optimal throughput. Automating pallet handling allows manufacturers to focus people on quality and safety where they add the most value.

What COVID mitigation is possible by using autonomous forklifts in manufacturing plants?

Autonomous forklifts ensure optimal operations without interruptions. People are not needed to move pallets, so fewer people are in the facility allowing for social distancing. In areas where it is difficult to find labour, autonomous forklifts keep manufacturing plants afloat.

Is there a threshold of pallets moved to indicate which manufacturers should look at autonomous forklifts?

A higher injury or incidence rate using standard forklifts in manufacturing often drives the decision to purchase an autonomous forklift. Food manufacturing is typically moving pallets in horizontal transportation and that is a sweet spot for Global AGV. Food manufacturing tends to have tighter profit margins and there is less room for error. An accident can be catastrophic not only for the individuals involved but also for the business.

Who should not look at autonomous forklifts?

Products not placed on a pallet could be a problem. Trouble areas might include material paths across temperature controlled and uncontrolled environments; this can lead to condensation that would affect the scanners and life of the electronics. If the floor is consistently wet or oily it could cause slippage of the wheels. We determine the suitability of autonomous forklift technology to prevent potential pitfalls.

Since nearly half of all manufacturers are purchasing a handful of autonomous forklifts, how do companies cost-justify the migration away from manned forklifts?

With nearly half of manufacturers testing single autonomous forklifts during COVID to adhere to strict social distancing, the benefits become obvious; equipment operates 24/7 and the A to B pragmatic solution is creating highly efficient manufacturers. For large manufacturers, about 20% looking to invest in large fleets of 50-100+ units, deployment of mobile technologies for intralogistics such as 3PLs (third party logistics) makes sense. For everyone else, a single autonomous forklift is where the journey begins.

AI (artificial intelligence) and Deep Learning will be on the factory floors worldwide by 2030, but for many small manufacturers working to cope with COVID consequences, replacing a manned forklift with an autonomous forklift allows for a “baby step” into the future state while adhering to the imminent demands of social distancing. Getting decision-makers in SMEs to start with a single autonomous forklift is the first step in the process; the operations and facility managers understand that a single autonomous forklift is actually a good thing to improve quality, eliminate waste, and reduce costs.

Are autonomous forklifts the logical way for small manufacturers to tiptoe into higher technologies? Is buy-in of this simple value proposition (moving product from A to B without a forklift driver) a good way to get started?

In general, the high technology trends will provide value in time to a variety of industries and products…but the top and immediate priority is dealing with employee safety, particularly during COVID.

As manufacturers seek to improve production processes, there are many considerations. Facing an array of technologies that promises to help reach future state Value Stream Mapping (VSM) goals, small manufacturers must carefully evaluate options.

Are autonomous forklifts the transition to a future state identified in value stream mapping?

Yes. It is a great first step. There are some real potential benefits that AGV technology can bring to support specific industries. The challenges in e-commerce fulfillment are different than in a packaging plant, yet both are good candidates for an autonomous forklift. Global AGV aims to target simple and intuitive interfaces to allow autonomous forklifts to be made accessible by the 49% of the market that has nine or fewer forklifts in a small fleet.

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