Technology and discipline help heat up productivity

Given their higher operating costs, cold storage environments stand to benefit most from fleet management best practices.

By ·

The advances in lift truck technology are impressive enough in ambient spaces. In cold storage environments, however, modern features like telematics, electronic controls and power-saving upgrades are even more critical to controlling costs and maximizing productivity.

The equipment, labor, storage space and just about every facet of a cold facility is more expensive than ambient warehouses and DCs. Each shred of savings is precious, and forklift manufacturers have made very specific adjustments to optimize equipment for cold environments. That said, the real onus is on the facility and fleet managers to develop the specifications and ongoing reinforcement of best practices to ensure the best outcomes.

According to Todd Scott, national account manager for UniCarriers Americas, telematics are a foundational step to fleet performance improvement. Lately, a more incremental approach to capturing fleet data has cut down on analysis paralysis.

“Sometimes it takes an accident to prompt change, but a lot of customers are motivated by electronic pre-shift checklists,” Scott says. “It’s a simple but important benefit, and safety departments see a lot of value there. From there, it’s easy to advance to fleet analytics, what equipment you have and where. Finally, you begin to move into operator management.”

In cold storage, equipment maintenance is more important, and the latest electronic pre-shift checklists will actually require the operator to engage various controls. This prevents an operator from “pencil-whipping” the checklist.

Telematics give the ability to measure usage of each lift truck, including details like how many hours someone is standing on the platform or not, when and how the forks are raised or lowered, travel time, idle time and more.

“If you need more throughput in a freezer, you could have an equipment problem, such as too few, or you might have an operator problem,” Scott says. “When you can see the minutes and hours of their day to measure an operator’s productivity, it’s so much more complete a picture than just measuring how many cases they moved.”

An operator “problem” could require training or remediation, but performance variations might be a result of shortcomings in the process or equipment. Because operator comfort is critical in the cold, something as simple as an insulated or heated pad to stand on can make a world of difference. Also, equipment that requires heaters merely to keep componentry at ideal temperatures places an undue strain on the battery, which is also tasked with powering computers, scanners, printers and more. In addition to using equipment designed to resist -20 degrees without heaters, there are benefits if you can keep trucks used in cold and ambient environments separate.

“Smaller fleets have no choice but to use equipment in both areas, but there are distinct advantages to keeping fleets separate,” Scott says. “If there is a dedicated cold fleet, you can run thinner oil to provide less resistance, meaning the lift truck will move faster and get better battery runtime. But you don’t want thinner oil in an ambient environment, so when you commit to that you really need to keep equipment segregated.”

About the Author

Josh Bond, Senior Editor
Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.

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