The Forklift Boss Blog

Blog posts from Marshall Cromer, "The Forklift Boss". Follow us for information on forklift safety, available parts, & upcoming technologies shaping the future of material handling!

Oct 29, 2019

What You Should Know About Self-Driving Forklifts

In the future, forklifts will drive themselves. By "future" I mean, "in the next 2 years."

Self-Driving Forklifts have outpaced their automobile counterparts. While we're still waiting on a safe, fully self-driving car…the self-driving forklift is already here.

Self-Driving Forklifts

I had a presentation this month on AGVs – Automated Guided Vehicles. The technology's impressive...and advanced. Really advanced. Forklifts, stackers, and walkies that move & store product 100% on their own. I'll refer to all of these as "Self-Driving Forklifts" for this newsletter.

Self-Driving Forklifts give us plenty of benefits. In fact, they solve problems with which our industry has struggled for years.

Problems Self-Driving Forklifts Solve

  • Skilled Labor Shortage. I don't have to tell you about this one! The demand for skilled warehouse labor, including forklift operators, just keeps growing. Self-Driving Forklifts help you keep up with demand.

  • High TCO on Forklift Purchases. What's the most expensive part of owning & operating a forklift? That's right, its operator. Using self-driving forklifts lowers operator costs—though they won't remove the costs entirely. You'll still need operators for other tasks, as I'll discuss in a moment.

  • Supply Chain Delays. Self-driving forklifts operate on a constant, steady basis all day long. Just one Self-Driving Forklift can reduce/eliminate delays on the warehouse floor.

  • Maintaining 24-Hour Operation. What if you could keep 10 forklifts running 24 hours a day, every day, without anyone on night shifts?

  • Warehouse Accident Prevention. We have to consider safety no matter the forklift type. Self-Driving Forklifts have multiple safety technologies built in, from obstacle detection to laser guidance systems. They're built to stay safe.
Self-Driving Forklift Safety
Self-Driving Forklift Safety Technology

What Self-Driving Forklifts – and Automation In General – Mean for the Warehousing Industry

A recent report from a DC think tank said 36 million Americans have "high exposure" to automation. It can replace the majority (70% and up) of their work tasks.

By 2025, they estimate that 50,000 warehouses will use robots in their processes – 4 million of them.

Does that mean automation's a big threat to the warehousing industry? "The robots took our jobs" kind of threat?

It depends on the job. Basically, the threat automation poses to a job comes down to the tasks required by that job. Automation threatens the routine, predictable, repeatable day-to-day tasks. Jobs with tasks that require creativity, analysis, and response to unpredictable circumstances remain secure.

To some degree, this does put the role of Forklift Operator at risk. However, it's not all bad.

Demand for operators will decrease industry-wide as automation spreads. That's just reality. However, operators have plenty of opportunity remaining to them. They'll also have new opportunities created by the use of Self-Driving Forklifts.

Here are some examples of needed roles, both old and new:

  1. MANUAL FORKLIFT OPERATION. For routes/product that Self-Driving Forklifts can't handle safely. As long as we have warehouses, we'll still need operators in some capacity.

  2. MANAGING SELF-DRIVING FORKLIFTS. Even AI isn't perfect. Someone will have to tackle remote monitoring & control for all those Self-Driving Forklifts.
    1. The forklifts have to "learn" safe routes in the warehouse. Which can change at any time.
    2. You're keeping co-workers safe at the same time.
    3. This may require some retraining, but that's a minor cost.
    4. Self-Driving Forklift Management will become an important and very much needed skill within the next 3-5 years.
  3. SERVICE/REPAIR FOR SELF-DRIVING FORKLIFTS. These new trucks have totally different systems inside—tracking, communications, etc. Technicians who service them (with a little retraining) will never run out of work.

Self-Driving Forklifts Won't Destroy the Warehousing Job Market—But They Will Change It

Will Self-Driving Forklifts trigger mass forklift operator layoffs? I don't think so.

Yes, automation has gotten MUCH better, and can replace many tasks in the warehousing industry. Still, we'll need our workers for overall warehouse operation, safety, and those tasks a Self-Driving Forklift just can't do.

You can find out more about AGVs at MCFA.com.

Until next month!

-Marshall Cromer, The Forklift Boss
Cromer Material Handling

Deal of the Month

2019 Jungheinrich Stand-Up DOTM

NEW 2019 JUNGHEINRICH ELECTRIC STAND-UP – $36,000

It's not quite self-driving, but it is electric! Our November Deal of the Month is a Jungheinrich ETG216 electric stand up end control/docker.

This Jungheinrich has a 3500# capacity, three-stage mast, and side shifter. It's brand new, in perfect shape. Run it for two shifts on one battery charge.

The price: only $36,000. We only have one of these, so don't wait on it!

To pick up this brand-new Jungheinrich stand-up, call Cromer at 800.974.5438 and ask for the October Deal of the Month.