The world of forklift trucks is starting to heat up. While once this space was dominated by a handful of major industrial giants, new and innovative manufacturers are starting to look at the industry and are bringing with them a range of new designs and gizmos that will change the face of forklifts forever. This has forced established players to up their game to compete, all of which means exciting times are ahead for forklift truck buyers. So what can we expect from the forklift truck of the future?
Hydrogen fuel cells
Hydrogen fuel cell technology generates electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen to create a chemical reaction which is then converted into electric energy. This energy is then stored and used to drive a conventional electric motor along with the hydraulics and auxiliary systems. The only byproduct of this process is H2O (pure water) so no CO2 is released into the atmosphere. The benefit of this technology is not only an environmental one, however; range is increased by as much as 120% compared to using conventional batteries and charging only takes 5-10 mins compared to several hours for NiCad batteries.
Driverless technology is not a future technology, it’s here today. Toyota released a range of Automatic Guided Vehicles in August of 2017. Driverless technology not only promises efficiency and productivity gains but increased safety as well. Currently, AGV trucks are fitted with sensors to monitor other trucks and people movements. But the next generation of these vehicles will be fitted with advanced vision and AI systems to detect and predict human behaviour, helping to reduce accidents in the workplace.
While AGV trucks are not yet able to replace all forklift truck activities, they are perfect for environments where repetitive movements are common. So pick and pack, storage and production environments are likely to see the biggest benefit of AGV machines. This will have a dramatic effect on the materials handling jobs market, so employers are advised to start thinking about retraining current forklift truck drivers in other areas before these changes take effect.
There are up to 8000 forklift accidents each year, with the vast majority of these down to user error. So any technology that helps prevent death or injury in the workplace will be welcomed by the industry. Toyota is leading the way here with its System of Active Stability (SAS) system which uses a number of sensors to monitor the trucks’ movements combined with a swing lock cylinder which temporarily locks the swinging motion of the rear axle making it virtually impossible to tip over the truck during normal operation. Toyota claims the system can counteract mis-operation, helping to reduce accidents in the workplace.
This may sound like something from Top Gun but head up displays in forklift trucks could help reduce accidents when reversing. Still Lift Trucks launched a concept earlier this year which links a head up display to a rear-facing camera. The display is automatically turned on when the driver selects reverse, while simultaneously reversing the controls allowing the driver to remain looking forwards while driving backwards. This innovative system helps to reduce the strain on neck muscles, keeping the driver more alert and reducing the risk of accidents.
Remote lift technology
QuickPick Remote Lift technology from Crown allows operators to work more efficiently without sacrificing safety. The system uses an in-hand control device which allows the operator to lift the forks to the perfect operating height from outside the vehicle. The forks are automatically raised to the optimum working height for the operator, which minimises the risk of back injury and allows for more efficient loading and unloading times. It also reduces the amount of time required to walk to the back of the stacker to position the forks manually.
The above examples are just some of the exciting innovations that are coming to a forklift truck near you in the very near future. They also highlight just how imaginative engineers can be when it comes to thinking up new ideas to help bring the humble forklift truck into the 21st-century automated economy.
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