Lift Truck Tips: The soft benefits of lift truck ergonomics
Although difficult to define, operator comfort is more than amenities; it’s about taking every opportunity to help operators enjoy their work.
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There are plenty of big fish to fry in the quest to reduce the cost of each pallet move, manage operational costs and minimize labor expenses. However, savvy fleet managers will recognize that the removal of small obstacles can add up to meaningful improvements. As a result, the value of ergonomic lift truck features has risen from frill to fundamental to one of the goals of productivity, employee retention and cost reduction.
Steve Rogers, senior product marketing consultant for Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America, says efforts to ensure lift truck operator comfort produce returns from two angles. Productivity and revenue boosts make money, while the reduction of risk, strain and related labor costs saves money. Because these benefits are difficult to quantify, Rogers says a customer’s willingness to invest in ergonomic features often depends on the company culture, size and workforce composition.
“Do you use a lot of temporary workers, or do you have an experienced and highly trained workforce that has a lot of say in these sorts of decisions and demands comfort in their equipment?” Rogers asks. “A company culture that is employee-focused might demonstrate that by allowing worker input it can at least make it clear that purchasing decisions were based on the most comfortable lift truck they could find.”
Rogers recognizes that “most comfortable” is entirely subjective, and equipment manufacturers have developed solutions to enable adjustments based on each operator’s preferences. Standard and optional features like the three-way adjustable seats common in cars, lumbar support and two-way adjustable armrests reduce strain, but the perception that an operator can make a lift truck his or her own is almost more valuable. “Comfort,” it turns out, is as much about a cushion’s feel as the worker’s mindset while seated in it. Rogers offers the example of a customer’s response to an integrated USB charging port in the armrest’s storage compartment.
“We spent millions in research and development on this new lift truck, with all sorts of ergonomic features. After a year in the field, we asked the customer what they liked most about it. Of all things, it was that USB port,” Rogers says. “I don’t know if that counts as ergonomic, but it turns the compartment into a smart office, which operators appreciated.”
The convenience of being able to charge a personal cell phone is a perk, but the ability to prevent a trip to the break room for a charged handheld device has a real impact on travel time and productivity.
Inside the lift truck, intelligent electronics are providing less visible benefits for operators. Electric steering can enable dynamic control of tension and the lockout of steering. Programmable to operator or manager preferences, the system might lockout after four full turns to the left or right, or six if the application requires more precision.
Going forward, the connection between operator and equipment will only grow, Rogers says.
“This is all part of what’s coming—which may in fact already be here—which is the combining of man, machine and data,” he says. “Head-mounted systems integrated with the warehouse management system are definitely an ergonomic concern, since they are hands-free, eyes-free, voice-enabled and require less paperwork. These sorts of solutions will augment the human intelligence and standardize processes and information flow.”
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