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Improving productivity of forklift trucks in warehouses

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Controlling forklift trucks in and around distribution centres is an important issue for warehousing and logistics organisations. Hyster-Yale Materials Handling, one of the world’s leading suppliers on forklift trucks and materials handling equipment, devised an innovative way to improve the control of trucks using RFID.

Working with CoreRFID, it created a system that identifies a truck’s location within a warehouse and uses it to control its operation. The system acts as a driver aid, helping to reduce accidents, increase productivity and providing a more relaxed operation.

“The RFID based location system enables more intelligent driver assist features than competitive products. CoreRFID has been instrumental in helping us to create and supply it.”

– Ron Farr, Manager Warehouse Solutions, Hyster-Yale

Location – the key to effective driver aids

From years of experience, Hyster-Yale understands the factors that cause truck down-time and reduce productivity. Trucks have to operate in locations where speed
restrictions apply and load handling limits have to be observed. Distribution and logistics companies are looking to increase productivity while providing an ergonomic workplace for operators. Driver aids provide many of these features.

Modern trucks have on-board electronics to assist the operator, but to be most effective these systems depend on knowing the truck’s location. Various methods had been tried and RFID has proved the best solution to date.

Hyster-Yale chose CoreRFID as its technology partner. Installations started in 2013 and the two companies have worked together ever since.

Observing speed limits and lifting restrictions

The system uses RFID tags installed in the warehouse floor and readers on trucks which are linked to on-board control systems. The tags can be sensed at distances of 50cm or so, providing a more accurate location than would be possible with GPS.

The information allows a truck to uniquely identify an aisle within a warehouse and determine speed-controlled areas and areas of lifting limits (for example to avoid the lifting fork striking roof beams). The system can set limits or enable or disable truck functions.

Hyster-Yale designed the system for easy installation, reflecting the common problems of their users. Slow-down zones can be used in areas of restricted visibility, where exiting an aisle, or where there are uneven floors or narrow access, for example. The system is supported by a PC-based application that can work with the various tags to set the control areas and the limits.

CoreRFID worked with Hyster-Yale to identify the most appropriate RFID technology – in this case low frequency EM4200 compatible tags.

The benefits of RFID

Hyster-Yale cites a number of benefits over earlier systems using magnetic sensors or reflective tags. The RFID approach has a lower installation cost compared with magnets, and has the potential for lower whole-life costs through reduced floor damage, fewer mechanical shocks to trucks, flexibility for future re-configuration of warehouses, plus the ability to add further features with software updates.

The system also avoids the problem with reflective tags which can be inadvertently covered up. Unlike other systems, RFID solution works by reading the tag information and then defining all of the parameters for that aisle – so in the unlikely event the truck doesn’t see the tag, it remains in a restricted mode.