The e-commerce boom means more companies are looking to optimise their warehouse operations – and the forklift truck has become an increasingly integral part of their strategy. The workhorse of the modern warehouse, the forklift, is evolving and keeping pace with business operators’ changing practices and expectations.
While future warehouse technology is changing all the time – including becoming more automated to increase efficiency – there will always be a role for forklift trucks. They are a familiar sight in warehouses and a vital part of the whole process.
Whether they’re used for taking new products off the truck for storage, moving items to a different shelving area in the warehouse, collecting products to compile an order, or putting them onto a vehicle for delivery, forklift trucks are irreplaceable when it comes to warehouse operations.
What are the most popular forklift trucks?
According to the Lift Truck Acquisition and Usage Study carried out jointly by Modern Materials Handling and the Peerless Research Group, many warehouse operators use a combination of different types of forklift trucks to fulfil their requirements.
The most commonly used type of truck is the electric-powered rider forklift – including counterbalance, stand-up and sit-down – used by 64% of companies. Close behind is the electric-powered, narrow-aisle forklift – such as order pickers, turret trucks, side-loaders, stackers and reach trucks – used by 52% of businesses.
A further 49% of companies use electric-powered pallet trucks, 41% use Class 4 internal combustion-powered counterbalance lift trucks and 26% use Class 5 IC-powered forklift trucks with pneumatic tyres.
The other types of forklifts – used less frequently in warehouses – include IC and electric-powered Class 6 rider-type tow tractors and Class 7 rough-terrain lift trucks.
What industries are forklifts used in?
Forklift trucks are used in many sectors, including warehouses, distribution centres, manufacturing facilities, wholesalers, retailers, third-party logistics providers and transportation services.
In looking to the future, 62% of companies are planning to buy or lease new forklift trucks within the next two years. Of the businesses planning to acquire new forklifts, 66% are doing so to replace their existing vehicles, while 34% are adding more trucks to their current fleet.
Regardless of indicators pointing to greater warehouse automation in the future, it is apparent the forklift truck will continue to play a key role, as far as business owners are concerned.
Are warehouse operators planning for automation?
According to joint research by technology advisory firm ARC Advisory Group and DC Velocity magazine, warehouse executives currently have to change priorities, practices, and expectations. A massive 96% of survey respondents are preparing to increase warehouse automation over the next three years.
It is widely expected to become a desirable option to alternative manual practices. However, the current sluggish economic climate may slow down the adoption of new technology for some warehouse operators.
While 79% of respondents considered it “likely” they would be able to invest in some new tech for their warehouse over the next three years, one-fifth felt it was unlikely their budget would stretch to such investment.
Despite financial constraints, warehouse automation is being viewed positively in terms of creating a more efficient operating environment, reducing labour costs, combating labour shortages and increasing productivity.
Other supporting factors include the perceived lower costs in operating the warehouse and improved scalability – making it easier to scale the business up or down – depending on the changing economic trends.
How much is the warehouse automation market worth?
Separate research by ARC – the Warehouse Automation and Control Market Study – on the future of warehouse automation indicates the global market is worth more than $10 billion in annual spending. The market encompasses a broad range of offerings – so the question is, which are the warehouse operators most likely to adopt?
The emerging technologies include the most popular – conveyors and sorting systems – a staple of warehouse automation that can be deployed alongside other existing systems. Over the next three years, around two-thirds of survey respondents said they expected to invest in conveyors and sorting systems.
The second most popular technology is shuttle systems, which meet many warehouses’ needs by providing high throughput, greater storage density, and scalability. There’s also a high level of take-up expectation for stacker cranes and traditional AGVs, suggesting well-established technology will continue to meet the needs of modern warehouses too.
What is the emerging warehouse automation tech?
When it comes to the future of warehouse management systems, several emerging technologies are not yet widely installed, but adoption is steadily growing. Warehouse operators say they might take up this technology over the next three years, but it is less popular to date than the best-sellers, such as the conveyors and sorting systems.
Almost half (49%) of respondents are looking at investing in a shuttle system comprising hybrid robot solutions. There is also a market expectation for the adoption of robotic case picking.
Market analysts believe the impact of Covid-19 has been profound on the warehouse automation market. The pandemic has led to a rapid increase in e-commerce and the need for more warehouse space to fulfil demand. Industry giants such as Amazon are moving towards more automated storage and retrieval processes in their warehouses.
How will warehouse automation affect forklifts?
Robots using barcodes and scanners, or similar technology, can accurately select pallets of products, arrange their removal to a different location, and update the inventory system’s data. The process can be carried out efficiently and quickly.
However, forklifts will continue to play their role in warehouses of the future, according to a report by tech experts Delmia. Automation technology is likely to be more limited in smaller warehouses, where forklifts are vital to operations.
Just over one-fifth (21%) of companies say they’re evaluating new types of forklift trucks, including remote control or dual-mode options. In 2017, only 11% of companies were considering this type of technology, so the trend will probably continue to grow in line with the increased use of autonomous technology.
Here at West Mercia Forklifts, we have a premier range of forklifts, including the leading Doosan range, supplying local businesses at highly competitive prices. We also provide professional hire, repairs, servicing and maintenance services. Contact our team for a chat today on every aspect of your business’s forklift needs.