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Frontline Forklifts - How the Pandemic Put Increased Demands on Lift Trucks

Below are excerpts from Refrigerated Frozen Foods Magazine's May Special Feature.


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Automation

Of course, another way to minimize risk from fatigued forklift drivers is to remove the driver from the equation. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) have been a steadily growing option for lift trucks in recent years, but their multifaceted value was highlighted by the pandemic.

“AGV’s are immune to external factors such as coronavirus and are capable of running on predictable intervals. With the right power source, autonomous forklifts are capable of running around the clock to keep up with growing demand. This means managers can reliably forecast the capacity of their operations,” says Tamas Pataky, head of product innovation at Stromcore.

However, during the pandemic, speed became a priority with the increased throughput of products, and that’s something AGVs haven’t mastered yet compared to a human operator.

“The challenges that AGV’s still face, according to our clients, is that they are not capable of reaching the speed of operator driven forklifts, and the ROI of these advanced forklifts are a considerable calculation as they are a more expensive upfront option. With advances in technology, and increasing scale in production, the ROI is expected to improve over time,” Pataky says.

To straddle the benefits of automated and manual operation, some lift trucks today are incorporating both options into a single vehicle.


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Batteries and Maintenance

Technology for lithium batteries in forklifts is another area that was evolving before the pandemic, but the need for reliability under intense work conditions and long hours of operation became a crucial component to keep up with cold chain demands.

“As productivity has become an increasingly important factor in cold storage operations, the energy sources in forklifts have become a critical consideration point. When selecting a forklift energy solution in cold storage, end-users have been putting greater focus on rapid charging, limiting maintenance and downtime, and reducing overhead on extraneous battery management activities,” Pataky says.


Lithium batteries made of several parallel modules instead of one single unit can offer insurance against lost productivity if a module fails. “Modularized battery units avoid downtime risks because a failure to a component will impact one module, but the battery can continue operating since it’s powered by the remaining modules,” notes Pataky, who adds that telematics connected to lift truck batteries can offer real-time data for a battery’s performance, and allow managers to solve problems immediately, like disconnecting a malfunctioning module via the cloud so the forklift can continue to operate, and schedule that module for repairs later.


Those same telematics can monitor a fleet of forklifts and allow an operator to be proactive in predicting the maintenance that comes with near constant use in today’s accelerated cold chain.


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