The daily pressure that warehouse managers face to improve picking accuracy, increase productivity and lower overall costs can be overwhelming. The demand to make warehouse improvements continues to grow and many businesses need to find new means to meet their warehouse efficiency goals.
It is no big surprise that making minor improvements to material handling efficiency in your warehouse can have major improvements to your bottom line. With the use of transponder technology, you can experience efficiency gains and a productivity increase of up to 25%.
While aisle size, warehouse layout and order picking methods are all factors that impact warehouse productivity, the lift truck and the equipped navigation system also plays a major role in warehouse efficiency.
Warehouse Navigation Options
At the moment, warehouse operators have three options to choose from for reaching their destinations in a warehouse. Each system has advantages and disadvantages.
- Manual systems – fully operated by the lift truck operator. Manual systems are both productive and flexible, but can have high labor costs and are typically low in efficiency and accuracy.
- Fully-automated selections – Automated Storage / Retrieval Systems (AS/RS), mini load or unit load, or Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) solutions. Fully-automated navigation systems can be much more efficient and accurate, but have high upfront costs, can become outdated and remain inflexible to the face of rapid and uncertain change.
- Hybrid Systems – Also known as flexible systems. These are semi-automated navigation systems that aim to take the best of both manual systems and fully-automated selections with fewer disadvantages.
Hybrid Warehouse Navigation – How It WorksHybrid warehouse navigation systems utilize Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to support a semi-automated approach to reaching destinations within the warehouse. Transponders are set-up throughout the floor of a warehouse at set distances and communicate with RFID readers under the forklift to identify warehouse aisles, distances and racking locations. Supplied with this information, the lift truck knows where to go and the most efficient way of getting there.
Maximum Flexibility – Minimum MaintenanceFlexibility for changes in the warehouse is a main consideration in developing transponder technology. In the past, commands to the forklift restricted the user through the position of magnets. Today, Hybrid Warehouse Navigation offers total freedom. If racking changes are made in the warehouse aisle, the transponders can be reprogrammed to adapt to the new rack configuration.
Hybrid Warehouse Navigation OptionsWarehouse managers have three selections when it comes to Flexible or Hybrid Warehouse Navigation technology.
1. Indoor GPS
- Utilizes a network of ground-based transmitters to communicate with the lift truck fleet
- Currently only tracks location
- More accurate tracking accuracy than satellite-based GPS systems
- Capable of being used both indoors or outdoors
Conclusion: The indoor GPS system accurately tracks lift truck location. However, for collection of performance data, further integration of systems is necessary.
2. 2-D Bar Code Tracking System
- Uses ceiling mounted tiles and lift truck mounted cameras to determine position within a warehouse
- Accuracy within inches
- Advanced integration between the navigation system and the lift truck can provide travel path information to the lift truck operator
- Due to the high quantity of tiles needed at the ceiling level, the upfront costs of installation can be expensive
Conclusion: 2-D bar code tracking systems are suitable for wide aisle and VNA applications. However, the required ceiling mounted tiles and truck-mounted hardware can make this a high-cost option for some applications.
3. RFID Transponder System
- The navigation system’s floor-embedded “transponders” communicate with RFID readers mounted onboard the lift truck to precisely determine the lift truck location and automatically adjust performance to match location requirements
- Lift height, travel direction, travel speed, and auxiliary and ancillary lift truck functions can all be controlled – for maximum efficiency and productivity
- Transponder-based navigation systems result in the highest levels of picking accuracy
- When coupled with Warehouse Management Systems, communication, scanning, or operator data entry can be eliminated
- All pick up and deposit information is delivered by the Warehouse Management System via wireless RF terminals
Conclusion: RFID transponder warehouse navigation systems are a proven alternative for warehouse managers in VNA environments. These systems are ideal for increasing efficiency and productivity in warehouses.
How RFID-Based Warehouse Navigation Systems Work
The Warehouse Management System sends an order to the Radio Frequency terminal on the lift truck, providing instructions on the next pallet or case to be put away or picked up. Utilizing the sensors and transponders on the forklift, it knows where it is in the aisle and where it needs to go. The lift truck operator simply needs to turn the throttle in the direction that truck has to travel, which is provided on the display panel.
The lift truck will drive forward (or backward) automatically, lift or lower to the proper height and stop at the correct pallet location. Once the pallet is picked, a confirmation is sent to the Warehouse Management System and the lift truck is ready for the next order.
A Few More Facts
- RFID Warehouse Navigation systems are a semi-automated approach to reaching pallet positions within the aisles of a warehouse
- Lift trucks have the ability to enter a warehouse aisle in either direction
- Forklift operators always have the ability to manually move the forklift – parameters are set in the system by a service engineer
- To see an example of a customer using Lift Truck Warehouse Navigation, check out our Richardson Milling customer testimonial
For additional information on warehouse navigation technology and how it can be used to improve the efficiency of your warehouse, contact your local lift truck dealer. Our dealers are trained and knowledgeable to guide you through RFID technology and demonstrate how it can increase your business' warehouse productivity by up to 25%.
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