How artificial intelligence is revolutionising the forklift industry

Once upon a time, self-driving technology was a surreal concept that was only reserved for science fiction movies; it was also presented as something to be feared and a job killer for the working class. However, artificial technology is constantly being developed and the devices we use are slowly changing and improving the way we live. Driverless cars are hot news right now and while developers are making leaps and bounds in their development each day, they’re still not ready and safe enough to go to market for a few years to come.

However, the same can’t be said for the construction industry; automated guided vehicles (AGV) are currently being used in warehouses and factories across the world, especially in Europe. Forklifts, in particular, are essential pieces of equipment that make transporting heavy goods from point A to B so much easier and safer for the user; as fantastic as they are, artificial intelligence will only make these devices more efficient. As the conventional forklifts are manually operated, they can be subject to mistakes caused by human error, which is the biggest cause of work downtime, particularly in the manufacturing and construction industry. Artificial intelligence and self-driving forklifts can do wonders for company productivity, as it can speed up work speed and potentially increase profit margins. However, there are also fears that autonomous work vehicles could pose a safety risk and even put people out of their jobs. Here is a comprehensive guide to the impact of artificial intelligence in the forklift industry and how it can be used to change and revolutionise the building and construction world.

Where is AI being used in the construction industry?

Slowly but surely, technology is beginning to find its niche in the construction industry. While autonomous devices and systems are currently expensive to purchase, they are likely to be a worthwhile investment down the line. It’s estimated that artificial intelligence will lead to profit gains of up to 38% by 2035 and even sooner if bigger and faster technological discoveries are made. As the popularity of artificial intelligence rises and it saturates down into the markets, autonomous devices (such as forklifts) and other systems will gradually become more affordable for construction companies to invest in.

Artificial intelligence is making leaps and bounds in the world of construction; there are a variety of automated devices on the market that are easy to manage and make the running of day to day life so much simpler. AI forklifts use advanced computer technology to stack objects as well as load and unload items from trucks; they’re currently able to perform repetitive tasks and can track human movements and patterns at a basic level, which is crucial if a company is to avoid any collisions and injuries. In terms of speed, they’re efficient machines which is what attracts companies to them in the first place.

Machines aren’t the only aspect of the construction industry to receive an injection of artificial intelligence. AI is also being implemented in project planning, where 3D blueprints can allow builders to envisage how construction will look once it’s completed. Artificial intelligence is also being used in workplaces to monitor staff shortages and to collect data on the number of absences on certain days; it can even assess how the lower numbers will impact work productivity in certain areas.

Benefits of AI in the manufacturing industry

If artificial intelligence isn’t yet at its most advanced stage and incorporating it into the workplace can become expensive, then why bother using it at all? There are a surprising amount of benefits to using self-driving technology; workers will no longer have to shoulder the weight of heavy items when using devices such as pallet trucks.

AI forklifts remove the monotony of the workday as travelling back and forth between shelves and loading trucks can be an arduous task; as time passes, workers can quickly lose interest in the task at hand and become less time-efficient with their transportation. These issues are removed with AI forklifts as they can be programmed to make the same manoeuvres and journeys repeatedly without suffering from the same level of worker fatigue that humans have. The efficient machines undertake simple loading tasks, allowing a company to concentrate more energy and workers to be placed in areas that need it the most.

Artificial intelligence and the safety debate

There’s a surprising level of danger associated with operating a forklift and other construction equipment; a moment of fatigue or lack of concentration can have potentially disastrous consequences for a worker’s health. In 2018 alone, it’s estimated that 22% of all injuries incurred in the construction industry were due to improper use and handling of equipment. Forklifts often have to make long and dangerous journeys over floors with different floor textures; there’s also a risk of danger associated with using forklifts in conjunction with a truck tail lift, as well as transporting goods down steep hills. This is where artificial intelligence can be incredibly useful as intelligent machines can detect unstable floor textures and alter their speed accordingly, to avoid damaging any goods they are transporting; most importantly, these autonomous devices are driverless, meaning that the operator can’t be injured.

The intelligent forklift is also built with sensors that detect human presence, as well as their journey pattern in an attempt to avoid a collision. Currently, AI devices can mimic the movement of workers but not the intentions so are not able to adequately problem solve if a surprising issue should occur; this is problematic if a human injury or fall should occur. Fear of human injury is one of the crucial reasons why AI isn’t widely implemented across the construction industry as the motion detectors are still being developed; there have also been horror stories in the media of driverless cars failing to stop for pedestrians. There is also a question of ethics, as well as practical concerns about compensation if an injury is to occur, because it’s difficult to figure out who is held accountable in a driverless vehicle collision.

The quality of motion sensors and safety mechanisms can only improve in the coming years and getting to grips with operating the vehicles as soon as possible can only be advantageous. Many companies tackle the safety concern by allocating specific routes and areas for the autonomous forklifts and vehicles to operate in; these can be highlighted by markings on the ground. Companies could encourage staff to learn more about the AI devices in their health and safety briefing as well as their risk assessment forms.

What about job security?

Artificial Intelligence has forever been slated as a way for companies to keep costs down by making the jobs of many workers redundant but this argument isn’t as black and white as it seems; while some jobs (like those operating the machines) won’t be necessary, other vacancies will open up in other areas as the construction industry receives a paradigm shift in jobs that are perceived as important.

The time consuming and arduous tasks, such as those which involve operating machines, will be given over to machines and more skilled workers will be required in other areas of the company. It’s possible that the machines could create a lot more jobs that have a significantly higher salary; workers will be needed to re-programme the machines and also fix them if a fault should occur. For the near future, until their safety is guaranteed, workers will be needed to supervise their operation and ensure that the work environment remains as safe as possible while they are in motion.

To make sure these kind of jobs are available to everyone, companies might have to change their policy to ensure that those with fewer qualifications aren’t unjustly put out of a job. Companies could opt to train their employees on-site so that they are able to operate the AI forklifts. There could also be lower job entry requirements in order to combat the surge and abundance of artificial intelligence in the industry.

Future developments

So what does the future hold for AI and self-driving technology in the forklift and construction industry? The reality is that the possibilities are endless. It truly is an area of unharnessed potential that could really improve a company’s profit margin, as well as the happiness of the actual workers who operate there. The self-driving forklifts currently in operation are advanced for their time but engineers and workers will undoubtedly look back in ten years and be amazed at how far technology has progressed.

The technological aim for the future is on precision; it’s hoped that these machines will be able to do much more than transport goods and they will be able to perform tasks with much more accuracy. If an object should fall from a forklift, machines of the future could be able to correct their error and retrieve the dropped goods or maybe even catch them before they hit the ground.

In years to come, it’s hoped that safety won’t even be a concern and that the AI machines are seen as 100% reliable. This will require intelligent sensors that are able to detect a human presence long before a collision should occur; this will also require the machines to have an amazing problem-solving ability and to think more critically as a human would.

It’s hoped that humans can one day work collaboratively with AI devices. Voice recognition is already very advanced but it’s hoped that this will become even more precise; this way, devices will no longer have to be programmed to follow a certain route but can be given directions orally which they can then follow accurately and safely.

AI could also have great implications for a company’s logistics and data; AI could look at internet trends and current stock levels in order to work out how much stock to re-order, as well as which areas can be left to flourish.

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