In the Industrial Age of the Internet the ‘Smart’ Forklift Will Reign

Just about every product and object in today’s connected world has sensors and micro-chips tapping them into the cloud. Products are multi-faceted and being used for multiple purposes. These objects now have some amount of intelligence. This is one definition of ‘The internet of things’— it is the network of physical objects or "things" embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enables these objects to collect and exchange data.

Forklifts have always been the workhorses of the warehouse or distribution center, it was a ‘dumb’ machine that the operator controlled entirely. Today’s forklifts are intelligent and sensor-enabled—connected. The ‘smart’ machines allow access to diagnostics that control servicing schedules, speed controls, collision detection and fork speed optimization.

Safety is always a number one concern with forklift use as the rate of accidents is so high. Speed controls are one new advantage of the ‘smart’ forklift. One such development is that of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags installed in the floor. These tags will let a forklift know that certain areas in a warehouse are more heavily trafficked by people and will slow the forklift down to a predetermined speed. Another advent is the use of pickers utilizing voice systems. They can control the forklift (without a human driver) they can lift pallets to different heights, and make trips around the warehouse for various tasks.

Intelligent forklifts are outfitted with WiFi and GPS location systems. This saves time because drivers no longer have to scan the location to prove they have either picked up or dropped the load. These, however, are new technologies and the warehouse control systems (WCS) that are in place are not usually up to date. Warehouse management will have to do work with designers, architects and engineers to pave a new system that can utilize and maximize these time saving and safety measures made possible by the connected forklift.

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