With advances in fork lift truck vision system technology, many warehouse or distribution centre owners and managers are questioning the need to put a man in the air for applications where full pallet load are being picked, says John Maguire, sales and marketing director of Flexi Narrow Aisle.
Thanks to advances in modern forklift operator high definition camera systems, demand for man-up turret trucks is likely to fall so dramatically that the technology could become obsolete within the next five years.
That is the view of John Maguire, sales and marketing director of very narrow aisle articulated forklift truck manufacturer, Flexi Narrow Aisle.
"Man-up turret trucks were developed in the late 1970s to do one thing – stack pallet loads at high lift heights in very narrow aisles," John Maguire explains.
He continues: "With a man-up truck the truck operator sits next to the fork carriage of the truck and is lifted to the level within the racking from where the pallet is to be picked or put away.
"Historically, this ‘man-to-goods’ process was considered essential when lifting at heights of over 9 metres because it gave the truck operator a clear view of the pallet handling process. At that time the poor quality, reliability and high cost of black and white cathode ray tube CCTV screens and cameras meant leaving the man on the ground and stacking remotely was not a practical solution without introducing levels of remote automation that were not cost effective."
However, John Maguire believes that as high definition CCTV camera systems, RFID and data scanning systems have evolved, the man-up turret truck looks increasingly like "yesterday’s technology."
He explains: "When forklift vision systems were first introduced they were expensive and, frankly, didn’t work particularly well. The technology was adopted from systems employed within military vehicles to withstand the vibration of a moving forklift and the images seen in the cab were grainy, black and white and looked like a shot through a ‘fish-eye’ lens!"
"But, today, top quality high definition vision systems which eliminate the need to run multiple cables through the mast are very economical to install.
"These CCTV systems are capable of giving the operator a high definition view of his forks and the load at any height – something that people could only have dreamed of as recently as three years ago. As a result, many warehouse or distribution centre owners and managers are questioning the need to put a man in the air for applications where full pallet load are being picked."
John Maguire continues: "A man-up turret truck’s travel speed in the aisle between picks is greatly diminished when the operator is in an elevated position and this has a significant impact on the actual work cycles that can be achieved – even with complex height and travel speed control systems to help the operator."
"Due to their size, man-up turret trucks are normally restricted to picking and putting away duties within the racking which means additional trucks – usually counterbalanced machines – are required to deliver or collect pallet loads to or from the goods in/goods out marshaling areas to end of aisle pick and deposit (P&D) stations.
"This double handling is extremely time – and, therefore, cost – inefficient."
In an effort to reduce this inefficiency, providers of warehouse management systems (WMS) have developed protocols and interfaces to control double pallet handling movements so product does not get "lost" or misplaced at the incorrect aisle end. However, these systems come at a cost.
One of the most recent additions to the Flexi range – the Flexi HiMAX – allows pallet loads to be stacked to over 14 metres high and employs a high definition LCD CCTV system and laser height selector to ensure that the truck’s operator has a clear view of the job in hand while maintaining a safe and comfortable operating position throughout the course of his or her shift at ground level.
The Flexi Narrow Aisle range of Flexi articulated forklifts also eliminates costly and inefficient double handling because they are designed to operate like a forklift and can deliver pallets directly to the racking location allocated by the WMS in a single operation. A Flexi can therefore not only eliminate a forklift, but also cut direct labour costs by half.
John Maguire concludes: "30 years ago it was felt that the ‘man-up’ truck could provide cost efficient customer order picking. However, it is now seen by many as a very inefficient and costly technology.
"The man-up turret truck has been a feature of warehouse operations for nearly four decades but, for many applications, there are now more time and cost effective alternatives than elevating the man to the goods."