Robotic forklifts can keep your warehouse running at peak efficiency while reducing your labor challenges

Robotic Autonomous Forklifts

Robotic Autonomous Forklifts Are Revolutionizing Warehouse Work, Now Let’s Talk ROI

Robotic autonomous forklifts are now hard at work in a growing number of warehouses and distribution centers — powered by amazing new technology that enables companies to reduce labor costs, optimize workflow and increase the bottom line.

However, many companies have adopted a wait-and-see approach when it comes to reaping the benefits of robotic forklift technology, impressed by the game-changing capabilities but uncertain whether the added expense would make it a worthwhile investment.

Well, the good news is that as technology continues to evolve, calculations around return on investment (ROI) are now more favorable than ever. In industry-wide conversations about robotic materials handling solutions, the question is no longer whether you can afford to consider integrating robotics into your operation. Instead, the question becomes: Can you afford not to?

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A few key statistics driving the discussion:

  • 65% – In a typical U.S. warehouse, this is the estimated percentage of budget that is spent on labor; and this figure is said to be growing by as much as 3% each year.
  • 36-42% – This is the approximate employee turnover rate throughout the materials handling industry.
  • 70% – This figure represents your potential reduction in overall operating costs, according to industry leader Hyster-Yale.
  • 13 months – This is the estimated minimum time frame to realize ROI for a robotic forklift in a three-shift, round-the-clock operation, according to robotics pioneer Balyo.

The Hyster and Yale brands have teamed with Balyo (based in Paris with a U.S. headquarters in Boston) to offer robotic forklift equipment that stands at the absolute cutting edge of robotic forklift technology.

The MC10-15, a counterbalanced stacker built by Yale and equipped with leading-edge Balyo technology, won 2017 Product of the Year accolades presented by Material Handling Product News. Hyster and Yale also produce a robotic tow tractor and end rider, with plans under way to unveil a robotic reach truck (up to 35 feet high) and a robotic turret truck (up to 55 feet) in late 2018.

This video from Yale offers a quick look at how robotic equipment can work side by side with people, automating repetitive picking tasks and freeing up workers to take on more valuable roles.

Benefits of Robotic Forklifts

As Director of Strategic Accounts at NITCO, which has been a leading Hyster-Yale dealer throughout New England for decades, Marcus Warner has been talking to many clients about the benefits of robotic forklifts. He emphasized a key difference between NITCO’s robotic offerings from Hyster and Yale, and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) that are also on the market today.

He said one chief advantage of the robotic option is that — while AGVs typically require the installation of guidance systems that may include wires, magnets, reflectors, lighting, etc. — the truly robotic, autonomous machines do not require any additional infrastructure in order to do their work.

“We literally just walk the machine through the whole facility,” said Warner, and its onboard computers develop an AutoCAD-like map of the entire space using a simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) algorithm. Once the map is created, each self-guided truck compares, in real time, what its navigation module sees against the stored map, allowing the truck to self-locate, and move along its intended path.

The Hyster and Yale vehicles are equipped with intelligent features that enable them to operate in the same environment alongside people and other vehicles without additional infrastructure. In addition to “cobotics,” the workplace collaboration between people and robotic lift trucks, individual pieces of robotic equipment can be set up to coordinate with each other — essentially to work together.

Warner emphasized that this is not about robots coming from the future to take human jobs. In fact, he and other materials handling industry leaders see robotics as part of the solution to rising labor costs and the ongoing challenges around recruiting and retaining employees.

Along with lowering labor costs, automation can reduce damage to goods, increase worker safety and expand your ability to track the movement of materials throughout your supply chain. Additional potential benefits include:

  • Reduced product damage
  • Reduced facility damage
  • Improved efficiency
  • Improved worker safety
  • Improved workflow flexibility
  • Improved material accountability
Robotic Forklift Return on Investment

Hyster and Yale estimate that their Balyo-equipped robotic lift trucks enable you to achieve full return on your investment in just 12-18 months in a three-shift application or 18-24 months in a two-shift application.

The ability of robotic forklifts to reliably and cost-effectively perform a wide range of repetitive tasks represents a major step forward for the materials handling industry, providing companies with access to next-generation tools that enable them to operate more efficiently and stay ahead of the competition.

So, if you’ve been curious about how your operation might benefit from robotics but have proceeded with caution due to uncertainty about ROI, now is the time to take a closer look. For straightforward advice and a cost-benefit analysis detailing how your company could benefit from robotic forklift technology, contact NITCO today.

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