Crown Equipment explains how forklift connectivity and fleet management is the first step businesses should take in building a truly connected warehouse.
The pressure to reduce costs in the supply chain is relentless. Almost every material handling organisation is evaluating the role of technology in improving warehouse productivity and efficiency, including forklift-based features that are transparent to operators.
Forklift connectivity and fleet management is a strategy that has demonstrated its ability to deliver measurable improvements in warehouse management.
A significant step forward has been made with the availability of cloud-based forklift fleet management systems. Cloud-based deployment minimises the need for additional IT hardware and allows systems to be brought online much faster than on-premise deployment. This also opens up the benefits of forklift fleet management to smaller warehouses.
If an organisation can’t successfully implement forklift fleet management, there is almost no chance it will be successful with more complex technology initiatives such as forklift automation. The corollary is also true: A successful forklift fleet management implementation can serve as the foundation for increased use of warehouse technology in terms of both organisational experience and increased control over key operating metrics.
Through our experience with forklift fleet and operator management implementations, Crown has identified four keys to realising value from the connected forklift.
1. Clear Goals
Forklift fleet management’s versatility – it can be used to monitor a wide range of warehouse metrics – is part of its attraction. But it can also be a drawback if an organisation doesn’t establish clear goals prior to the implementation. An organisation that implements forklift fleet management to solve a specific operating issue is more likely to have success than an organisation that implements forklift fleet management with the plan of determining where it can deliver value post-implementation.
The goals an organisation might consider in relation to forklift fleet management include reducing impacts, increasing equipment utilisation, streamlining compliance, improving operator productivity and reducing service costs.
One of the most effective tools for ensuring continuous improvement is a scorecard that benchmarks the current state and documents initial results. Once initial goals have been achieved, the bar can be raised further and goals can be expanded to create a continuous improvement process.
2. Relevant, Timely Data
In today’s digital world, the challenge is as likely to be too much data as not enough. Forklifts can provide a wealth of data to a management system, including logging each impact and the time, monitoring energy use and battery charge, tracking the time a truck is sitting idle without an operator, and the actual and average travel and lift times for each operator.
The forklift fleet management systems must be designed to present this data to busy managers in a way that makes efficient use of their time while providing the basis for decision making. That requires information to be timely and to have appropriate context. It’s also important that the system includes interactive features that can communicate and record results.
Forklift fleet management systems rely on three types of information delivery to meet these requirements: alerts, a dashboard and detailed reports.
• Alerts: Alerts can be delivered to managers via email, text message or the management dashboard, and provide immediate notification of events that require attention, such as impacts or operating conditions that exceed preset thresholds. Alerts can be a powerful tool in managing change if they are set up properly.
• Management Dashboard: The forklift fleet management dashboard needs to provide managers with a quick overview or snapshot of operating trends within the warehouse. This allows managers to monitor trends and take action before they reach critical levels and trigger an alert. A well-designed dashboard can enable a shift from reactive to proactive management by providing managers a quick visual overview of key operating trends and a clear path for quickly drilling into issues that require attention. The dashboard also needs to address the needs of different members of the management team as forklift fleet management is most effective when multiple managers are engaged with the system.
• Detailed Reports: Based on the information presented by the management dashboard, managers need the ability to drill down to isolate problems. This is where the depth of data provided by a forklift fleet management system becomes important. It should give managers the ability to quickly and accurately isolate root causes of issues such as low utilisation or low productivity related to specific operators.
3. Consistent Management Commitment
Forklift fleet management is a tool that puts the onus for its success squarely on management. It’s tempting with any technology for managers to be engaged during the early stages and then to shift their focus once they believe the technology has been successfully implemented. That’s exactly the wrong approach with forklift fleet management. Engagement with the system needs to grow – not diminish – following startup. If management doesn’t stay engaged with the system and consistently demonstrate that data from the system is being used to evaluate performance, there is little chance for sustainable change.
Often the limitations are departmentally based. The maintenance or safety department, for example, may be excited about the potential of forklift fleet management to drive change but ultimately lack the required level of support from production. The data to drive change is available, but if supervisors don’t hold operators accountable, their behaviour won’t change. Senior management needs to communicate their support of their program, as well as ensure support extends across departments, and departments are working together to achieve defined goals.
4. Site Preparation
Implementation problems based on inadequate site preparation can dampen enthusiasm for new technology and discourage adoption. One of the keys to site preparation is getting all stakeholders involved in the planning process, including affected departments (maintenance, operations and safety, among others) as well as IT.
Early participation by IT can identify potential issues and help ensure the proper infrastructure is in place to support forklift fleet management. IT can also guide the decision about whether data from the system should reside on-site or if a cloud-based implementation is preferred.
In addition, data-sharing processes should be defined and documented to ensure that the right information is shared with the right departments at the right time. These processes may ultimately evolve once the system is in place, but establishing them in the beginning increases the likelihood that forklift fleet management will be used by all departments that can benefit from it.
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