With technology advancing, the signals for greater adoption of robotic solutions for materials handling are clear. However, as with any new technology, safety is a critical element in this move to adoption. This is especially true with workflows that feature humans working in close proximity to their robotic counterparts.
Answering the question of safety on the path to adoption requires understanding robotic lift truck functionality and how their work can affect the roles of human counterparts. Ahead of National Forklift Safety Day on 14th June 2022 in the UK (and some other countries), Hyster discusses mobile robotics and safety.
Mobile Robots and Safety
Traditional automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) require guidance infrastructure like embedded wire, reflectors, or magnetic tape to navigate fixed pathways. However, today’s robotic materials handling solutions are capable of moving through indoor logistics environments without navigation infrastructure or an operator.
The consistent, strong performance of navigation technology and programming of site-specific rules enable robots to adapt to surroundings and real-time conditions, while strictly following safety protocols. This capability helps reduce the risk of accidents, collisions, or other safety incidents, including when compared to lift trucks with human operators.
High turnover is common in logistics, and with inexperience among operators comes increased risk. Most health and safety governing bodies will advise that many forklift accidents could be avoided through better adherence to standardised training and safety procedures. By comparison, robotic solutions deployed on the shop floor perform according to their programming from day one – without the extensive training required to bring new lift truck operators to a satisfactory level of skill and experience.
While robots are predictable – they always follow safety procedures and can be programmed for site-specific rules of the road – people are not. And with humans working more frequently in closer proximity to robots, training everyone who enters the facility on how to safely interact with robots is especially important. This is echoed by the theme for the UK’s National Forklift Safety Day 2022: Operator Training – Essential for a Safe Working Environment.
As a robotic lift truck fulfils needs throughout a facility, several features also help it serve as a good steward of a safe working environment.
Robotic lift trucks adhere without exception to the site’s “rules of the road,” such as maximum speed or minimum distance from pedestrians, other equipment, facility infrastructure, and more. Where workers can be distracted by what they’re carrying, colleagues, or environmental factors, robotic lift trucks are not prone to such diversions, relying on environmental sensors to detect and avoid obstacles.
Management software can direct robotic lift trucks to take predetermined routes to avoid heavy traffic areas. For operations with multiple robotic lift trucks in use, this ability to manage routes to help avoid bottlenecks is especially valuable, both for efficiency and safety-orientated benefits.
A reduction in congestion can allow pedestrians and manually operated lift trucks to navigate without delay or incident more easily. That seamless traffic flow is especially valuable as businesses ramp up storage capacity and output during seasonal peaks and other demand fluctuations.
Worker safety in a pandemic
While robotic lift truck solutions offer significant operational benefits in the normal course of business, they’ve also been uniquely valuable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robotics help operations respond to demand without increasing headcount while helping reduce worker-to-worker contact that can risk virus transmission. For example, a robotic lift truck that transfers products between locations allows workers to remain relatively stationary or contained to a particular area as they work, helping maintain a safe social distance.
Introducing Hyster Robotics to your operation
Advancements in underlying technologies have made robotic lift trucks increasingly attractive. These technologies enable solutions that reliably practice facility traffic protocols, allowing them to drive productivity and work according to safety guidelines. Though as with any tool, training workers on how to properly interact with them is just as essential.
Once employees are thoroughly trained on proper protocol, putting Hyster robotics to work in your operation can also help free up workers to focus on roles that keep them more mindful and engaged.