There are two schools of thought on the future of forklifts. Some believe that forklifts will continue to be in production and demand will be stronger than ever, but some believe that forklifts will eventually become obsolete. What role will the forklift play in the future then?
With the increase in sales of forklifts over the last few years, many believe that forklifts are here to stay and that it will still remain an essential tool in the warehouse. They foresee a technological advancement in the forklift – from the human-operated forklift to the automated intelligent forklift. This new breed of forklift can be programmed to pick specific pallets and deliver them faster and safer than human-operated forklifts. RFID tags can be placed in high traffic areas signaling the forklift to slow down and not to exceed a set speed. Several ergonomic risk factors such as awkward neck and back postures and climbing up and down the forklift itself throughout the warehouse will be eliminated. The automated forklift can help in manual material handling as well. For mixed-pallet picking, the automated forklift will pull the pallet from shelving and bring it down into the optimal manual material handling zone for the operator to then transfer products, thereby eliminating the need for operators to pick products from the ground or above the shoulders. Additionally, automated forklifts are outfitted with a real-time location system that eliminates the need for frequent manual scanning of the load.
However, others believe that forklifts will eventually become obsolete as warehouses are moving to more automated storage and retrieval system. As this technology and robotics improve, it has become faster and cheaper to make use of this automation in the warehouse. Using barcodes and scanners (or similar technologies), these robots can accurately select inventory, or entire pallets of products, move them to a new location, and update information in the inventory system. This equipment can interface directly with Production, Shipping and Inventory systems. Technology in the warehouse can now instantly receive a customer order, find the correct shelf or bin, pull the necessary number of items, and place them with other ordered items for shipping. Once the packing is complete, an Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) can take the box to the truck. Forklifts won’t be needed in any part of the process since AGVs are basically self-driving forklifts.
Though we will not be sure of what role forklifts will play in the future, there is no need to worry yet. While automated picking systems may have started replacing the forklift in some warehouses, forklifts are not likely to vanish from the warehouse tomorrow, especially not in smaller warehouses. Industry players still foresee forklifts containing more advanced on-board technology that will improve operator productivity and enable connectivity and automation. This will also see increased forklift connectivity that provides greater visibility into warehouse environment, operator productivity and product movement.