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Lift Truck Tips: Improve productivity with data-driven operator training

How active and passive solutions can modify operator behavior and cut costs.
By Josh Bond, Associate Editor
October 01, 2012

Lift truck owners are often challenged to increase productivity without hiring people and without purchasing equipment. Joe LaFergola, manager of business information solutions for The Raymond Corp., says end-users who recognize the need to optimize processes can find efficiencies in their lift truck fleets by focusing on the operators—the employees most connected to the fleet.

Targeted and ongoing operator training initiatives can be made more effective by capturing and acting upon operator data, says LaFergola. Customers using this approach will find increased productivity, reduced equipment and product damage, and improved safety and compliance.

“Poor or minimal operator training impacts productivity,” says LaFergola, who recommends all fleet managers adopt some simple and effective training strategies. Start with good operator training programs that include pedestrian safety components, he says, and have a good maintenance program, which by definition requires an attentive operator. Incentive programs for top performing or most improved operators also reduce damage and ensure good habits are formed over time.

Beyond these universal goals, LaFergola suggests fleet owners consider a vehicle management system (VMS) of some kind, which can be configured with a variety of modules from impact meters to unique operator identification systems. VMS systems can provide details about processes that a labor management system cannot, he says.

“A labor management system will tell you how long a task takes and allow you to plan a process around those task durations,” says LaFergola. “With more granular data, a customer might find the task for which 30 seconds had been allotted actually takes 27 seconds. That’s a 10% reduction, and those efficiencies add up quickly once they are identified.”

One customer reduced impacts by 88% with a VMS system, he says. After logging 45 impact alerts in the first full month of the implementation, the customer provided targeted—as opposed to blanket—training over the next five months and reduced the monthly number of impact alerts to five. “Targeted training is key,” says LaFergola. “Instead of taking a highly productive operator out of the loop for training they don’t need, go to the source of the problem.”

Integration with vehicle-mounted lights or horns mean behavior modification is built-in, says LaFergola. “Even if it’s a mild bump that results in no damage, a horn will sound or a light will flash to tell the operator, ‘that was a little too hard.’”

VMS data can also be used as a gateway to ensure an operator has the appropriate certification or to ensure thorough completion of pre-shift inspections. Operators who complete an online inspection will see random questions. This prevents an operator from memorizing a paper checklist and “pencil-whipping” through it to get to work more quickly. A 15-second delay between questions gives the operator every reason to actually perform each check, and the benefit of wireless filing more than compensates for the time spent fully completing the inspection.

“Customers think they have these best practices in place, but they often have no way to validate that rules are being followed,” says LaFergola. “Don’t implement programs just to implement programs. Pursue outcomes.”

Read more Lift Truck Tips.

Equipment 101: Lift truck basics
Lift trucks have come a long way since their introduction in the materials handling arena in the 1920s. Today, they are smarter and stronger, and still the indispensable workhorses in our warehouses and distribution centers.

About the Author

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Josh Bond
Associate Editor

Josh Bond is an associate editor to Modern. Josh was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and contributing editor, has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce.


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