Online shoppers are increasingly demanding fast delivery times and goods delivered to their doorsteps within hours of tapping to confirm a purchase on a smartphone. That means more and more loads need to be handled quickly and by fewer people, and inside the warehouses where these products are stored and picked, there is a surge in demand for electric-powered forklifts to move goods quickly and the people who operate them.
We now live in a world where we can click a button and have something delivered to our door in a matter of hours. Fast delivery is just part of the picture and customers also expect to be able to return goods quickly and easily which also adds to the demand for materials handling equipment. Distribution centres rely on forklifts to fulfil growing domestic and international demand, and all of this is being fuelled by online shopping trends. The fast turnover of warehouse stock is driving investment in forklift trucks across the UK and in all manner of sectors.
A changing supply chain
High street stores and shopping outlets used to be the distribution centres for almost every consumer product you could think of. The rise of online shopping is increasingly bypassing the need for bricks and mortar stores and the way in which consumers are now demanding ever-increasing choices when browsing for products means that retailers must now stock more products than they could ever fit into a traditional store. This has shifted the way in which supply chains are designed and pushed stock holding out into massive warehouses and distribution centres situated close to major transport links and population centres.
All of the things we buy online – and in ever greater numbers – need to be stored, packed, picked and posted to the end customer. So there is a much greater onus upon warehouse efficiency and productivity to move goods faster than ever, and in a way which reduces energy consumption. If you take a look around your house and consider a raft of recent purchases you have made, almost all of them will have been touched by a forklift at some point during their journey to your home. And all this will have been done with precision and speed, not to mention efficiency.
Forklifts that meet the need for flexibility
Continued growth in the online retail market then means that shorter delivery and return times are now a feature of everyday life. This is driving a need for scalability to meet seasonal and unexpected sales peaks and means that flexibility is required in every aspect of warehouse operations, including the deployment of forklifts. Space within warehouses is crucial to store more and more products meaning aisles have become narrower and stock needs to be stored at height.
Tighter spaces within distribution centres have meant an increase in demand for the likes of flexi and narrow aisle forklift trucks. Flexi and narrow aisle forklifts are specially designed to work in confined spaces and are particularly manoeuvrable meaning they can seriously boost productivity and the usable space within a warehouse.
The demand for warehouse real estate has never been higher. This is being driven by the continued boom in ecommerce and indeed changes to supply chains, so many companies are opting to reconfigure the space they already possess. This makes the need for flexible forklifts which can work efficiently in smaller spaces all the more important and is changing the way forklifts are used in these centres.
The growing need for forklift efficiency
Efficiently moving crates and pallets around massive warehouses is now more than ever critical to a retailer’s business planning. Retail margins are slim and shipping costs ever increasing, for example as offers of free or one-hour delivery continue to rise in popularity. Such delivery options are increasingly used to gain a competitive edge. This means that companies are constantly striving to take costs out of the supply chain.
Forklifts must be more efficient to run than ever before to boost productivity. This can be achieved by maximising energy efficiency and by ensuring forklifts are more productive and more flexible in the operations that they can perform. Enabling trucks and operators to reach goods in narrow aisles and at height maximises the amount of storage available and so increases efficiency within the supply chain. Smaller, and more agile and capable forklifts are in high demand because of these demands.
Inside the warehouse
The likes of Amazon fulfil customer orders with rigorous speed and efficiency from the point of order to final delivery. Inside the warehouse, the process begins with a delivery truck being unloaded by an electric forklift. Once the goods are unloaded, each item is scanned and moved once more by a forklift to designated storage bays.
Pickers are then employed to retrieve goods in order to fulfil customer orders and are moved by a forklift to conveyors which transport items to the packing area. Once the goods are packed, a forklift will scoop up the shipments and move them towards trucking bays where they are loaded and ready for delivery. Computers keep track of every item and today’s customers increasingly expect to be able to track their order in real time.
Improvements in battery technology
Just as electric vehicles which take to the roads have benefited enormously from advances in battery technology in the last few years, electric forklifts are now able to operate for far longer on a single charge.
It was only recently that indoor materials handling equipment needed to be powered by large, heavy batteries that required frequent recharging. Now electric forklift trucks are an essential feature of the modern warehouse, both to meet regulatory clean air requirements and provide an optimal solution for moving goods from an efficiency and cost perspective.
Today’s lithium-ion batteries allow forklifts to run two to three times longer than previous batteries. Trucks are increasingly being fitted with telematics equipment enabling operators and planners to monitor the vehicle’s performance and movements in real time and adjust settings or perform on-the-spot maintenance as required.
Recent efficiency improvements in electric forklifts now mean they can be operated without surrendering any of the performance of each unit. Technological advances have also improved the durability of electric forklifts which makes them a much sounder business investment than in the past.
Rise in demand for forklift operators
Rapid order turnarounds have created a surge in demand for skilled and experienced forklift operators. Forklift drivers are a crucial element within any supply chain. If forklifts are in demand then so too are the people required to operate them. Operating a forklift requires a high level of skill and aptitude. Driving a forklift is not an easy job and differs markedly from other roles within a warehouse.
Training for such operators must be thorough to ensure health and safety requirements are met and to enable goods to be handled quickly and with precision. Some firms have begun trialling Virtual Reality technologies as a way to quickly and effectively train forklift drivers. The training can be done anywhere where there is an internet connection meaning employees don’t have to travel to training centres or join a waiting list for in-demand training.
Technology continues to change the way forklifts are used. Barcode scanners and data gathering on the movement of goods ensures information flows throughout the supply chain. Logistics and materials handling has never been more crucial in today’s fast-moving, online retail world. That means that the forklift, and the people who drive them, have never been more in important or in more demand.