Many companies wanting to explore lean solutions feel the need to pursue forklift free status. The idea of transforming a plant into a forklift free production site can be an overwhelming thought, but guidance and ongoing solution support can smooth the transformation to generate sustainable productivity improvements.
Why go Forklift Free?
One of the main concerns with forklifts is safety. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that each year in the United States, nearly 100 workers are killed and another 20,000 are seriously injured in forklift related incidents.
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.
Forklifts also suffer from chronic underutilization for their intended task – the primary function of a forklift is to take advantage of vertical stacking. Yet, if you look at forklift activity, most of the utilization is from driving horizontally, not lifting vertically.
A good first step in eliminating forklift traffic in your facility would be to implement manually pushed carts using a bump system for hands free delivery. Instead of forklifts being used to lift the load and place product on line-side stations, these carts can deliver, hands-free, by using either motorized rollers or gravity fed systems.
Tuggers are smaller than forklifts and easier to operate. A typical forklift can only carry one load of product line-side. When a tugger system is implemented, multiple carts can be stocked, delivering items to various spots along the production line.
A more advanced solution for replacing forklifts is implementing automatic guided vehicles (AGV) such as the Daifuku Webb SmartCart® or the Seegrid GT10. These automatic vehicles eliminate unnecessary touch, increase throughput and accuracy, accommodate increased complexity of parts, optimize floor space, and decrease safety incidents.
Forklift Free Benefits
AGVs offer proven safety benefits relative to forklifts. Integrated safety fields sense objects that get in front of the vehicle and stop before impact. Purpose designed load handling frames mean that the AGV is always carrying a load for which it was designed in a safe manner. 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/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 alternatives are better equipped to move more than one load of product to the line-side, allowing for more complex routes that get product where it needs to be in a timely manner.
There are many supporting reasons to go forklift free, but the decision is a big one to be considered carefully. When transforming to a forklift free facility, remember this is a long process, and not a quick changeover. It is important to set realistic goals, and start small.