When it comes to the digital transformation of warehouse operations, perhaps no other piece of equipment demonstrates the technological advancements made in the industry better than forklifts.
Now, it may not seem the most obvious thing to point to when looking for how technology has impacted the supply chain.
But, in reality, forklifts have perhaps undergone one of the biggest transformations from a simple piece of equipment – totally reliant on a user and only used to move heavy items – to essentially mobile offices.
Modern forklifts are now able to carry out many of the warehouse operations in terms of locating, monitoring and scanning the movement of stock and resources throughout a warehouse.
All of this is helping to streamline warehouse operations, saving both time and money, and is a fundamental function of the modern supply network, which needs to be much more flexible than in previous years.
But, how exactly has materials handling equipment (MHE) changed over the years? And how have these vehicles become a much more important part of operations?
Vehicle mounted tracking and monitoring
In the past, much of the tracking and monitoring of items within a warehouse has been done from within a central office, with forklifts only brought into the scenario once managers have located an item and need it to be picked up and delivered to a loading bay.
Even then, drivers would have to remember the location of the item within the warehouse, locate it and take it to a loading bay, and only then would any mistakes be identified, such as bringing the wrong item.
Vehicle mounted computers now mean that forklift drivers can access the same desktop information received in an office directly to their vehicle, allowing them to be notified of incoming items or items which need to be picked up.
Drivers can carry out inventory management and asset tracking tasks from within the forklift, allowing them to remain in their vehicles on the warehouse floor for longer, and rapidly react to requests.
Due to the fast-paced nature of a modern warehouse, with items needing to be located and shipped to other locations more quickly to manage the rise of next-day or same-day delivery, being able to accurately track the movement of items around the warehouse is vital.
In the past, items could only be tracked when picked up and then dropped off at the end location, there was no visibility of location in between.
Even then it required scanning to be carried out correctly in the first place, and if an item was misscanned, mislabelled or misplaced it could disappear within the warehouse, and be very difficult to track down.
RFID tracking, with sensors attached to forklifts, provides continual item monitoring, with vehicle mounted computers allowing drivers to locate items directly from their vehicle, rather than relying on directions from a warehouse manager in an office.
Mobile printing and scanning
Again, the historical problem within warehouse operations is that much of the scanning and tracking could only be done after a driver had delivered an item to a particular location, either its storage space or a loading dock.
When the item was in transit it was essentially invisible, only emerging again when it was delivered to its eventual location.
Today, drivers can carry out the scanning themselves with handheld devices.
Linked to a central system, which can be accessed from a mounted computer, drivers can identify and scan items themselves, even from distance, ensuring they are picking up and delivering the correct item and improving efficiency.
Similarly, if items or pallets are missing labels, or have been labelled incorrectly, drivers are able to sort these problems out themselves, rather than flagging the problem with the warehouse manager and then wasting time while items are delivered, identified, relabelled and then moved again.
Flexibility and adaptability have become the hallmarks of modern warehouse and supply chain operations.
With the need for items to be moved across longer distances, to more varied locations and within tighter timeframes, the ability to streamline every aspect of the process has become essential.
Forklifts are now far from the heavy load movers they once were and have become a symbol of just how far technology has pushed the modern supply chain in the right direction.
This article was originally published here.