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Other Voices: Forklift Fleet and Operator Management: Start by Defining Your Objectives

By Jim Gaskell
Director of global Insite products, Crown Equipment
June 07, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following column by Jim Gaskell, director of global Insite products, Crown Equipment , is part of Modern’s new Other Voices column. The series, published on Wednesdays, will feature ideas, opinions and insights from end users, analysts, systems integraters and OEMs. Click on the link to learn about submitting a column for consideration.

Warehouse and material handling managers continue to face pressure to reduce costs and improve operations. Collecting information generated at the forklift level and analyzing that information on a server can help managers optimize productivity and identify opportunities to eliminate inefficiencies associated with forklift fleet and operator management.

Access to meaningful information helps managers gain new visibility into operations to answer critical questions, such as:
• How much is being spent on the fleet each year?
• Are costs distributed evenly or are some trucks accounting for an unreasonably high percentage of costs?
• Is the fleet sized properly to ensure adequate capacity without having too many idle trucks?
• Are all trucks and operators achieving similar levels of productivity?
• Are certain operators or locations accounting for a higher-than-average number of impacts?

Concerns about the cost and complexities of establishing a fleet and operator management program have kept some organizations from moving forward with implementation. Fortunately, a fleet and operator management program is not an all-or-nothing proposition as there are multiple paths to implementation. Meaningful information can be collected with minimal investment, and savings achieved from initial efforts can be used to fund future investments that expand the program scope and value.
To understand the correct path for your organization, you first need to define your priority objectives.

Defining Objectives
A fleet and operator management program may positively impact three of the major challenges faced by forklift operations managers. These are:
• Containing fleet costs
• Optimizing operator and forklift productivity
• Ensuring compliance with workplace regulations

Containing fleet costs
A comprehensive service program can give significant insight into costs and control of those costs. For organizations with a primary interest in cost containment, service management represents an ideal opportunity to take the first steps toward fleet management.

Forklift maintenance creates the opportunity to collect information on truck operation and represents a major component of total costs. Unfortunately, many organizations are not positioned to take advantage of this opportunity because service is fragmented across multiple providers. Centralizing service management using a single network of providers with common pricing and consolidated reporting creates the foundation for a comprehensive fleet management program with minimal capital investment.

The availability of this information, such as service costs per vehicle, provides up-to-date, objective support for management decisions and provides visibility into fleet costs. For example, fleet information can identify when repair costs outweigh equipment usefulness. Operating hours for individual trucks and the total fleet can be analyzed to help guide decisions on fleet size and resource allocation.

Optimizing operator and forklift productivity
An investment in forklift-mounted management terminals or computers capable of transmitting information from the truck to a central management system provides real-time information from the forklift, which the system can use to optimize operator and forklift productivity.

Wireless communication technology can be used to monitor operations, including truck and operator status, to ensure forklifts and operators are performing within established productivity standards. It can also serve as the basis for a continuous improvement program focused on performance and operational efficiencies.

Essential information provided by the system can include assets in operation and their status, operator productivity, the number of impacts by operators and much more. This information can be analyzed by the server to provide a fleet-level view of operations that can be used to gauge performance against established productivity goals.

Ensuring compliance with workplace regulations
These wireless management systems can also play a role in compliance management through impact monitoring and access control.

Management terminals or computers can support compliance with OSHA inspection and training because they can control access to a vehicle. Access can be limited to operators with the required certification, and inspection checklists can be integrated into the management console to guide operators through the inspection process.

The system captures the time spent on inspections and compares it to standard times to ensure inspections are being performed with proper attention to detail but without wasted time. Further, the system saves checklists for easy access to support compliance management. 

As the management system collects information on truck operation, it can also track operator training requirements and preventive maintenance activity based on actual operating hours. It can even send notifications of upcoming training and maintenance requirements.

Regardless of the identified objectives, taking initial steps will put your facility and business on a path to a meaningful forklift fleet and operator management program. Once on this path, the business can expand its use of forklift and operator information to enhance productivity efficiency.

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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. Contact Bob Trebilcock.


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