Manufacturing Outlook for July 2020

Page 18

MANUFACTURING TIDBITS

AUTONOMOUS FORKLIFTS DURING THE PANDEMIC AUTOMATION AS A RETURN-TO-WORK STRATEGY by TR CUTLER

Realistically an operation with just a few forklifts will replace a unit every 5 – 7 years. A manufacturer currently operating just a few units will exchange the next purchase in 2020 with an autonomous forklift to discover the true value that automation can bring to the operation. Implementing automation as a scalable solution, will allow for an unbiased comparison of autonomous and manual forklift operations. Driverless industrial vehicles are getting so much attention now as a way to automate the processes of transporting, lifting, lowering, putting away, or retrieving loads without a human operator. Fewer than 2% of forklifts sold in North America are automated, yet there has never been a greater need for this technology. Many manufacturers are looking to automate material handling processes because it reduces the potential for COVID-19 exposure by reducing human contact. Though predicted years ago, COVID-19 has made autonomous forklifts an immediate reality for small footprint manufacturing facilities. Autonomous forklifts are a type of automated guided vehicles (AGVs), but that term is more commonly used to describe conveyances that typically (but not always) lack forks and only provide horizontal transportation. Significant growth for this product category was predicted before the pandemic due to a tight labor market in the U.S. Automation was the obvious answer to fill that labor gap, providing continuous 24/7 and consistent performance while mitigating the cost of finding and onboarding new workers. According to Nic Temple VP U.S. Sales at Global AGV, “Some of the key advantages of autonomous forklifts are critical during the pandemics. A single unit offers a dynamic flexibility, scalability, and reliability that may allow compliance with safety requirements avoiding contamination. Automation reduces product damage and alleviates the ergonomic impact of repetitive, physically demanding tasks in today’s highly-complex manufacturing operations. Autonomous forklifts are seeing an increasing demand by essential manufacturers during the pandemic who demand automation for largely repetitive and routine processes. Frequently, instances where product comes off a production line in batches and moves into an attached warehouse is one of the most effective

18

Manufacturing Outlook / July 2020