Forklift provider Jungheinrich’s best applications for automotive.

Reducing damage and increasing efficiency in parts handling isn’t just down to packaging or transport methods. Innovations in forklifts can also play a significant part in warehousing and plant operations, reports Marcia MacLeod

With advances in automation and design, choosing the wrong forklift could mean sacrificing picking time, aisle space and battery time for OEMs and suppliers at every stage of their business. Jungheinrich, for example – with automotive customers including Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche – has recently launched products with automotive applications: a warehouse navigation system using automated Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) trucks; an Automated Pallet Mover (APM); and a multi-depth shuttle system.

“The warehouse navigation system is ideal for lineside operations,” emphasises Steve Richmond, director of systems and projects. “Where an OEM needs to supply small quantities of components on a frequent basis, automating the order picking and delivery to the line speeds up the process. Automated warehouse navigation works well for milkruns and for aftermarket operations too, as both of these also involve frequent picking and supply of small numbers of parts.”

Jungheinrich first offered a semi-automated warehouse navigation system in 2010, using VNA vehicles, a system of sensors or transponders on the vehicle, and readers dotted around the warehouse. This has now been enhanced to improve visibility of the truck fleet and give greater control of each unit.

“Users can stop and start the VNA unit at any time,” Richmond explains. “They can lift it to its full height – now 16.5 metres instead of 12 – or stop it at any point in its lift. They can see where any particular vehicle is or view a map of all of their fleet.”

A driver remains in the cab to pick the items, but the vehicle is guided completely by the automated controls. This means drivers can concentrate on picking, not driving. Manual systems are labour intensive, while Jungheinrich estimates that automation can improve efficiency by 25%.

VNA vehicles offer advantages for automotive, as when using ordinary forklifts, the aisles have to be wider and therefore less racking can be installed. Better control of the vehicle saves time and battery life, too.

APMs offer many of the same benefits as warehouse navigation and VNAs, but for shifting whole pallets, rather than individual items. Laser controls and sensors placed around the vehicle and the site give complete coverage of the warehouse. “APMs really come into their own for milkruns,” says Richmond. “They can move pallets around different parts of the facility. It can lift up to 1.8 metres high and can be used with manual forklifts, if desired.”

APMs can also improve picking. They can be driven automatically, but with a picker on foot beside it. As the driver doesn’t have to get on and off the vehicle, he saves time and increases pick speed.

“One customer reckons that a picker using a manual system spends just half his time actually picking and as picking accounts for 43% of the cost of the warehouse operation, anything that can improve productivity naturally cuts costs,” says Richmond.

The third new Jungheinrich vehicle, the multi-depth shuttle system (pictured above), is most suitable for use in lineside buffer zones. “Space is at a premium, larger components are involved and most are fast-moving,” says Richmond. “The OEM can’t afford to run out, but doesn’t want to hold too much stock. The multi-depth shuttle can stack three or four pallets deep and is designed for high volume throughput of a low number of SKUs.”

Any of these forklifts is combined with racking and a ‘shuttle’ piece, which contains sensors to identify the pallet to be moved, its size and the position it needs to be put onto or retrieved from. The truck picks up the shuttle and places it at the front of the rack before the driver picks up the pallet and puts it on the shuttle. The driver can then push a button on a handheld device to instruct the system to ‘shuttle’ the pallet along the rack to make room for another pallet. When a pallet is to be retrieved, it can simply be picked up and removed from the shuttle.

All these systems benefit from being integrated with a good warehouse management system (WMS). “To best serve our customers, we need to look at the entire warehousing process, not just part of it,” Richmond points out. “Although we first developed our own WMS 20 years ago, we are increasingly integrating it with our trucks to provide a total solution.”