In the past, we’ve written a number of articles on the connected warehouse, including the e-book “Achieving Material Handling Connectivity,” which presented the idea of a connected facility where individual assets don’t just complete their work independently. In a connected world, these assets communicate with each other and with other equipment. They capture data that can be shared with other warehouse systems and technologies to help improve productivity, efficiency and safety.
As technology, sensors and software continue to evolve, we are moving closer to the vision of a fully integrated supply chain where facilities, systems and equipment are interconnected. Data analytics has also become more sophisticated, enabling companies to better identify and utilize the growing amount of data to better understand their operations and strategically approach decisions that work toward specific operational objectives, such as greater productivity and safety.
And these advances could not have come at a better time. The supply chain is experiencing unprecedented disruptions and shortages. Companies are reacting to dynamic customer behaviors and struggling with supply chain resiliency. As a result, warehouses and distribution centers are being asked to increase productivity with limited resources while dealing with a changing workforce.
Connected technology and forklift telematics can be a powerful tool to help ensure forklifts are performing as designed. A wealth of data can be gathered from forklift telematics systems including data on operator performance, equipment status and health within the warehouse, providing a better understanding of when, where and how the fleet is operating.
A Connected Service Experience
One area where greater connectivity and forklift telematics are already delivering value is in service and maintenance programs and they’re poised to deliver even more. Currently, connected service dispatchers and technicians, armed with advanced technology and increased connectivity, are helping make forklift service calls smarter and more proactive.
There are telematics systems and monitoring devices available today that collect and deliver a wealth of data on the health, performance and status of forklifts and batteries. Data analytics are being used to unlock the potential of all this information, which includes everything from truck event codes, battery event codes and impact alerts to planned maintenance and unexpected disruptions, providing holistic insight into the overall health of the vehicle.
For instance, today telematics are helping track the maintenance history for each lift truck to support its ability to meet targeted productivity levels. They are tracking every maintenance issue with the battery and truck, including the cost of each repair or service and work orders for all planned and unplanned maintenance. The information is used to help determine the planned maintenance-to-breakdown repair ratio, identify trends, and take a more proactive approach to repairs that addresses issues properly and efficiently. The benefit is not only an enhanced service and maintenance program but also a shortened mean time to repair (MTTR) and reduced downtime.
Another benefit of today’s telematics systems is providing data to help reduce the amount of abuse forklifts sustain throughout the workday. Companies are monitoring impacts above a certain threshold, which traditionally have been difficult to track. Forklift telematics systems collect the data to help create an accurate picture of how, when and where the impacts occur. Using this data, managers can identify areas of the facility where impacts are most likely to occur and operators who are most likely to be involved. By dealing with these root causes, organizations can potentially reduce facility and product damage and help ensure forklifts continue to perform as designed, contributing to a safer working environment.
Proactive Service and Dispatch
Greater connectivity allows organizations looking to go beyond some of these basic opportunities and benefits to transition to a more proactive service and maintenance program.
The service provider may use historical data to help diagnose potential causes of issues before the service technician arrives on site. The same data may also be used to understand equipment operating trends and schedule service and maintenance to anticipate and avoid unplanned issues and downtime. If historical data shows a particular part wears out on a forklift after a certain number of operating hours, managers can schedule replacements accordingly. This leads to the creation of a proactive, planned replacement product life cycle formula unique to their organization.
This new proactive service mindset even means certain forklifts can now schedule their own service calls. “Proactive dispatch,” available with certain telematics systems, means you no longer have to wait on the lift truck operator or warehouse manager to identify an issue and request service. The lift truck knows it is unhealthy and issues the request, enabling the service provider to alert you to the issue, offer potential solutions and schedule the service call at your convenience. This can lead to substantial savings and increased uptime.
In this instance, the telematics system monitors the forklift data in real-time and relays information to the service provider. Potential service issues are identified to help avoid unexpected downtime and repairs. This can accelerate diagnosis and repair, further boosting productivity and uptime.
For example, let’s say an electric forklift has an event code that can be intercepted and analyzed by the forklift OEM. If appropriate, an alert is sent to the dealer service dispatcher through the OEM’s service cloud, along with information on the top issues that can cause this (based on historical data gathered). The dispatcher then decides which service tech is best suited for the service call based on availability, on-hand replacement parts and skill set. The customer is contacted to advise them of the issue and once the service call is approved and scheduled, the service technician arrives with potential solutions already identified to expedite the repair. The information is added to the pool of data associated with the event code to identify both the cause and the solution, supplementing the knowledge base available for future analysis.
The Operator Still Plays a Critical Role
A connected service experience does not eliminate or minimize the role of operators. They are still responsible for conducting pre-shift inspections and identifying any safety or performance concerns. These inspections are still an important part of assessing forklift mechanical health. Of course, a connected forklift can help ensure operators appropriately complete the inspections. It can provide visual guidance to operators, regardless of experience level, regarding the various components and systems to be evaluated to help less experienced operators correctly complete the inspection.
As greater connectivity and sophisticated data analytics gather more information on forklift performance and operation, managers can use that insight to evolve their maintenance and service programs. This helps ensure forklifts operate at the productivity, performance and safety levels needed to keep today’s supply chains moving forward.