Telematics: A Vital Piece of Your Forklift Automation Strategy

Dual mode tow tractor operating in autonomous mode in manufacturing setting

In today’s ever-changing business environment, no one needs to be convinced of the important role data can play. Whether it’s gathered for identifying opportunities for efficiency gains or increasing productivity and safety, data utilization is impacting every industry and permeating our lives.

One of the main difficulties many supply chain and forklift fleet managers have regarding data is that they often feel like they are drowning in the overwhelming amount available. They struggle to identify and prioritize the data they need and understand how to use it to meet business objectives.  As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to evolve and supply chains become more connected, we are continually creating and uncovering new pockets of data that can be gathered and analyzed.

Fortunately, gathering and identifying relevant data is much simpler than it once was. There are many systems and technologies available that can help. This includes Crown’s InfoLink® operator and fleet management system that uses telematics to provide insight into the performance and utilization of connected equipment, people and processes.

The secret to realizing tangible supply chain benefits through telematics, and the data and communications it provides, is to establish clear goals that align with your company’s business priorities and identify the data that will help you achieve those goals.

Telematics and Forklift Automation

The implementation of forklift automation doesn’t dismiss the need for gathering and understanding data; on the contrary, telematic systems like Crown’s InfoLink can play a vital role in the implementation of forklift automation. They can inform the automation strategy, measure its performance and help ensure its success.

Traditionally, the use of these systems has been operator- and equipment-centric, providing insight into the performance of both. While there are options for connecting them to warehouse management systems (WMS), the practice is not as common as one might think. However, when connected to other warehouse systems, forklift telematics can provide a more holistic picture of warehouse activity. This becomes even more important as more automated and semi-automated vehicles are added to a fleet.

One approach to forklift automation that is gaining a lot of attention is dual mode technology that enables forklifts to switch between manual and automated operations to accommodate dynamic changes in the production plan.

With a dual mode forklift, such as Crown’s DualMode R reach truck and DualMode T tow tractor, travel between fixed points can be automated, freeing up an operator to focus on other tasks. Should the forklift encounter an obstacle in the set path, such as a pallet in an aisle, a trained forklift operator could quickly switch the vehicle into manual mode to navigate around the obstacle. It can then be returned to automated mode to continue to its destination, thus maintaining the flow of the system.

Naturally, when the forklift is in automated mode, it is on a prescribed set of missions that are being directed by a traffic manager connected to the WMS. Information on when and where it is switched to manual mode to deal with a non-scripted event also needs to be captured. Otherwise the vehicle’s low performance on “high manual traffic days” might be difficult to understand and resolve. Tracking by the fleet management system provides the necessary information to solve the problem.

Additionally, it can often be easier to access vehicle alerts and location information through the telematics system rather than through the traffic manager. This can be done either by accessing the information through the system’s user interface dashboard or receiving an alert on a mobile device. For instance, if the forklift’s travel path is blocked while it is in automated mode, an alert can be sent to a mobile device that would provide the reason for the vehicle stoppage along with its location.

Independently, automation and telematics systems can provide many benefits. However, when used in a cohesive strategy, they can combine data in meaningful ways to provide a holistic view of warehouse operations to help achieve equipment utilization and automation goals.

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