September 10, 2013

Could a lift truck become the "brain" of your DC operation?

With the right technology in place, lift trucks could function as mobile data hubs, predicts one industry exec.

By Toby Gooley

Could a lift truck become the "brain" of your DC operation? According to some experts, "smart" lift trucks could soon be able to function as mobile data hubs connecting various information systems in a facility.

Technology that allows lift trucks to communicate with remote diagnostic, navigation, and monitoring systems already exists. One example: remote diagnostic systems that let lift trucks send a fault message to a service provider; a technician shows up with the necessary part because the **italic{forklift} called, not because someone made a phone call, said Crown Equipment Corp.'s Jim Gaskell. Gaskell is director of global Insite products, the forklift maker's suite of data collection and fleet optimization products.

An even greater opportunity lies in taking advantage of the lift truck's role as "a tool for navigating the entire warehouse," Gaskell said in an interview. The trucks' movements and operators' tasks are directed by software like warehouse management systems (WMS) that integrates with other business functions, such as order management, labor management, and finance. What if you connected the lift truck to systems and devices beyond the WMS, and used the resulting data to better manage the warehouse as a whole?

For instance, a lift truck could interface with a facility's energy management system to ensure that battery charging is done economically. Gaskell also sees a day when forklifts could function as the center of communication networks that revolve around mobile devices. For instance, cell phones have capabilities that could potentially be harnessed for warehouse applications. Consider that authorities have the capability to send an "Amber Alert" to smartphones in a specific geographic area, and that Google Maps reads cell phones and knows how fast they're traveling. "Is there a way to extend that to warehouse operations?" Gaskell asked.

Because warehouses and DCs are filled with systems and equipment made by many different manufacturers, proper connectivity and integration would be stumbling blocks to development. "But you can't discount it," he said. "Who knows where it might lead?"

About the Author

Toby Gooley
Contributing Editor
Contributing Editor Toby Gooley is a freelance writer and editor specializing in supply chain, logistics, material handling, and international trade. She previously was Senior Editor at DC VELOCITY and Editor of DCV's sister publication, CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly. Prior to joining AGiLE Business Media in 2007, she spent 20 years at Logistics Management magazine as Managing Editor and Senior Editor covering international trade and transportation. Prior to that she was an export traffic manager for 10 years. She holds a B.A. in Asian Studies from Cornell University.

More articles by Toby Gooley

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