Forklift-Free Success: In and out of Lean Manufacturing

posted on: Wednesday March 27, 2013

Safety issues with the use of lift tricks have prompted a new paradigm in manual material handling (MMH). Consequently, “forklift-free” is no longer a foreign term in MMH, but people still need convincing when it comes to making the switch. While everyone is all for eliminating injury and death caused by forklift accidents, not everyone is confident in the idea that a forklift-free environment is productive. It is true that this idea will work better for some than others. However, many handlers who are against the idea are surprised to see how well it works. Research suggests that the lift-free model works best with lean-manufacturing. Therefore, it behooves companies who are contemplating lean production to consider a forklift-free environment.

Forklift Free InitiativeDSC_6717

Ford’s Cleveland Engine Plant One is an example where employees changed their mind about removing forklifts from their operations.  At first, they predicted it would increase the time it took for them to get their parts to the production line. The tuggers and carts that replaced the lift trucks, however, actually sped up the entire process. Everyone from the superintendent to the material handlers were surprised by how fast the exchange was with the new equipment. It also reduced the number of people unloading parts.

Several resources report that the most glaring benefit of forklift-free models  -other than safety-  is cost reduction. Part of the savings is the boost in safety. Fewer accidents obviously save a company thousands to hundreds of thousands in worker’s compensation, time lost, and other factors associated with injuries. What up to 94% of businesses don’t know is how much forklifts are costing in maintenance. One lift truck supplier estimates that businesses waste $1 billion on unnecessary maintenance costs for their MMH equipment.

According to the Reliable Plant, replacing forklifts result in several other benefits:

  • Reduction of:
    • Inventory
    • Line-side handling equipment
    • Floor space
    • Need for coordination between forklifts and operators
    • Improved:
      • Material flow
      • Cycle efficiency
      • Ergonomics

Lean Manufacturing

Falling profit margins and competition are initiating the switch to lean manufacturing. This idea is not well-suited for every company. Lift trucks are best used for cases and pallets – excess material on the production floor that conflicts with the lean mentality. In lean manufacturing, material is replenished as it is used. Using tugs and carts in this application cuts production costs and reduces inventory. They’ve also been successful in split case picking and direct-to-consumer picking. Tugs and carts make a lot of sense for these applications. If an operation simply must utilize ceiling height, a truck will still be necessary to move material. If inventory need not be stacked in the aisles, a lift-free, lean initiative may be quite successful.

Somewhere In-Between

For those somewhere in between forklift-free and lean manufacturing, small changes may be the best first step to cutting costs. Production lines can still benefit from tuggers and carts even if forklifts are still a part of the operation. In fact, the battery-powered tugs are being used in a very diverse blend of industries. Their ergonomic design and numerous applications both speed up production and improve safety. Not only are cumulative trauma injuries minimized, so are accidents on the warehouse floor.

Even outside the lean manufacturing model, tuggers have been shown to hasten production. This has been most relevant in cases where handlers have to push or pull – be it seventy pounds or thousands of pounds. Tugs don’t just make it easy to move a heavy load. They make it easy to create a bigger load by pulling several carts hooked together like a train. All this material and only one person needed to move it (without fatiguing by the end of the day) make for a slick operation.

If your company is going forklift-free, moving to lean production, or could benefit from more productivity in pushing and pulling jobs, see what a power tugger can do for you. Load Movers Inc produces state-of-the-art powered tugs that have been used in a wide variety of applications. For information, visit their website or Facebook page