Lift truck computing: Practicality reigns supreme

New operating systems and form factors aside, forklift computing gear needs to match conditions and save time for operators.

The computing gear on lift truck fleets has seen its share in innovations in recent years. The Android operating system (OS) has stepped in to dominate the segment, while new scan engines on tethered or wearable scanners can read bar codes at longer distances.

Such technology changes all should work toward a couple of common goals, say mobile device suppliers. They must be designed with the harsh operating conditions trucks need to work in and/or they should save time for operators.

Think of bar code labels such as shipping labels for outbound goods or pallets being crossdocked. Rather than centralizing the printing of bar codes, wireless thermal printers can be mounted to lift trucks to enable printing of bar codes on demand, says Nick D’Alessio, senior business development manager at Brother Mobile Solutions.

D’Alessio says Brother’s 4-inch-wide thermal printer often gets mounted to lift trucks to avoid the need to deal with batches of preprinted labels and give the flexibility to reprint labels or generate them on demand for fast-evolving situations like crossdocking a load of goods. An empty round trip to fetch labels, he says, is a time waster.

“We use [truck-mounted printers] at our own Brother warehouse in Tennessee, which is 1.5 million square feet,” D’Alessio says. “If you’ve got to go to a specific location where label printing happens to get a label, that can be long ride, so by mobilizing the printing, along with the rest of the computing, you can drive time efficiencies.”

Some facilities, including a major beverage manufacturer’s, says D’Alessio, have even mounted a larger 8-inch thermal printer on forklifts to enable printing of larger documents like packing slips, though the 4-inch sized printer suits most bar code labeling needs. Printers with dual radio capability, he adds, allow for either Bluetooth connectivity or Wi-Fi connectivity to warehouse management systems (WMS) or other host systems.

In terms of the computers for lift trucks, either a rugged tablet or a traditional fixed-mount computer can be a good fit, depending on workflow needs and environmental conditions, notes Mark Wheeler, director of supply chain solutions at Zebra Technologies.

Tablets work well for off-truck flexibility, but for conditions like cracked or rugged floors, or cold storage and freezer work, the traditional fixed-mount computer continues to shine because they typically have a high degree of shock vibration built in and have features like an integrated, heated keyboard instead of a touchscreen.

In cold storage environments, Wheeler explains, those heated keyboards prevent condensation from freezing and causing issues, and the physical keyboard is easier to use while wearing gloves. “Any environment where you don’t want to be completely dependent on capacitive touch working well is well suited to a vehicle mount computer with an integrated keyboard, so it tends to be selected for use by gloved operators, when dealing with condensation, or in food production where there are wash-down processes.”

Wheeler also sees a move toward mobile printers on lift trucks, primarily to save time. Another area of time savings is from newer tethered or wearable bar code scanners with scan engines capable of reading labels on pallets or storage locations at greater distances than in the past, which speeds up data collection. Zebra’s latest scan engines for tethered scanners can now read out to 70 feet, and its wearable scanner to about 40 feet.

Tablets have been making some inroads on vehicle mount computers, adds Wheeler, thanks to their flexibility off the truck and ease of a touchscreen to navigate systems like WMS with a graphical interface, but vehicle mount models are often chosen for the harshest environments.

A vehicle mount is also ready to take power from the truck, rather than having to add a power converter. Rugged tablets can be a good fit for some situations, and can run on Windows, but vehicle mount models such as Zebra’s VC8300 continue to appeal to operations that want an Android computer capable of dealing with harsh conditions.

“There are different variations to workflows that influence choice, but generally with lift truck computing, the thinking is: Give me something that is going to work reliably day in and day out, so that I don’t have to worry about having a truck down because a device went down,” Wheeler says. “It’s got to be extremely reliable and rugged.” 

Article Topics

Lift Truck Tips
Magazine Archive
Mobile & Wireless
Lift Trucks
Brother Mobile Solutions
Lift Trucks
Mobile Computing
Zebra Technologies
   All topics

Brother Mobile Solutions News & Resources

Lift truck computing: Practicality reigns supreme
Lift Truck Acquisition & Usage Study
The next wave of mobile printing
Datalogic and Brother Mobile Solutions expand alliance

Latest in Materials Handling

Raymond out to inspire next generation via its virtual Manufacturing Day event
SME announces 2023 College of Fellows
Transforming the factory
Missouri S&T to break ground on Protoplex, celebrate Manufacturing Day
PLA opens Northwest Arkansas pallet management facility
Pallet supplier Millwood opens new location in Lordstown, Ohio
Warehouse automation provider stow Group launches Movu Robotics brand
More Materials Handling

About the Author

Roberto Michel's avatar
Roberto Michel
Roberto Michel, senior editor for Modern, has covered manufacturing and supply chain management trends since 1996, mainly as a former staff editor and former contributor at Manufacturing Business Technology. He has been a contributor to Modern since 2004. He has worked on numerous show dailies, including at ProMat, the North American Material Handling Logistics show, and National Manufacturing Week. You can reach him at: [email protected].
Follow Modern Materials Handling on FaceBook

Subscribe to Materials Handling Magazine

Subscribe today!
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
Subscribe today. It's FREE.
Find out what the world's most innovative companies are doing to improve productivity in their plants and distribution centers.
Start your FREE subscription today.

September 2023 Modern Materials Handling

Providers of automated packaging and carton right-sizing solutions have thrived by offering systems that deliver on labor and parcel shipment savings— now they’re looking to further evolve by looking to use lighter materials and support flexible “box-first” workflows.

Latest Resources

Improve safety and ergonomics with code-compliant stairs
Providing OSHA- and IBC-compliant code-compliant stairs is the first step to ensuring safe access to equipment, platforms or other floors in your facility.
Outside the Box: Why parcel shippers are suddenly focusing on packing
Optimal Parcel Packing For Cost
More resources

Latest Resources

2023 Automation Study: Usage & Implementation of Warehouse/DC Automation Solutions
2023 Automation Study: Usage & Implementation of Warehouse/DC Automation Solutions
This research was conducted by Peerless Research Group on behalf of Modern Materials Handling to assess usage and purchase intentions forautomation systems...
How Your Storage Practices Can Affect Your Pest Control Program
How Your Storage Practices Can Affect Your Pest Control Program
Discover how your storage practices could be affecting your pest control program and how to prevent pest infestations in your business. Join...

Warehousing Outlook 2023
Warehousing Outlook 2023
2023 is here, and so are new warehousing trends.
Extend the Life of Brownfield Warehouses
Extend the Life of Brownfield Warehouses
Today’s robotic and data-driven automation systems can minimize disruptions and improve the life and productivity of warehouse operations.
Power Supply in Overhead Cranes: Energy Chains vs. Festoons
Power Supply in Overhead Cranes: Energy Chains vs. Festoons
Download this white paper to learn more about how both systems compare.