The future is fork-free, but what is it?
Many of the world’s largest manufacturers and Fortune 500 companies continue to make their operations fork-free.
Here’s why you should too…
So, what’s fork-free?
Fork-free is a term used to define production operations that no longer use forklift or lift trucks in their processes.
There are many reasons manufacturers are removing forklifts from their production areas, but the main reason for most EHS Managers is simple – safety.
Forklifts are large, powerful and useful pieces of equipment, designed to LIFT. They require trained, licensed operators to drive, but operating forklift trucks in busy, congested shop floors poses a big safety risk. Often visibility is difficult when moving loads. Couple this with noisy and populated work areas and even a horn or movement sensor isn’t going to remove the risk of collisions.
While forklift manufacturers undoubtedly continue to add safety systems and features to their trucks, forklifts still pose a real safety issue for many manufacturers.
The risk of forklift trucks colliding with pedestrians in busy areas is a big issue in manufacturing and one that many companies are tackling by simply removing forklifts from their shop floors or creating fork-free zones. McCue reports that 36% of forklift-related deaths are pedestrians – showing the extent of the risk that many manufacturers are tackling through fork-free zones (McCue, 2021).
Forklift truck incidents statistics
43% of forklift incidents involve pedestriansData source: NFSD, 2020
1 in 5 UK workplace fatalities are caused by a forklift truck or industrial vehicle
Data source: HSE, 2021
On average 95 people are seriously injured in forklift accidents every day and 1 person is killed in a forklift accident every 4 days in the United States
Data source: McCue, 2021
27 people are killed in forklift truck accidents at work every year in the UK
Data source: RIDDOR, 2021
The cost of forklift misuse – Towing with a forklift, a big NO!
As the name suggests, a forklift is designed to lift, not tow. However, as with many useful tools and pieces of industrial equipment – the forklift tends to be misused or have its’ abilities stretched.
“But most forklifts come with a towing point at the rear!”
This is where people get confused or, try to cut corners and costs. The towing point on a forklift ISN’T to tow a trailer, a train of carts or attempt a 36-point reversing manoeuvre of a flatbed in your warehouse.
It IS to recover the forklift truck in the event of a breakdown.
Most manufacturers and reputable forklift providers advise against using it as a towing unit because units aren’t designed to be used to tow. There are several reasons for this, but the main one is it creates a high tipping risk. This is especially true for models with rear-wheel drive, where front-wheel braking systems can make the units unstable when towing.
You’ve likely heard the horror stories of forklifts tipping – the results of which can be fatal.
There’s an array of material handling equipment on the market from electric tugs, tow tractors and ride-on-tows that are specifically designed for this application, which is another reason many manufacturers are moving to fork-free operations.
No forklifts…now what?
In removing forklift trucks from the shop floor, many manufacturers are adopting systems focused on modularity and mobility. This ranges from simple trolley systems, all the way through to fully automated trolleys and autonomous vehicles. There are an array of solutions on the market available for manufacturers of all shapes and sizes, and of course varying budgets.
Don’t replace one risk with another…
The concept of fork-free presents an array of benefits, but it is critical that operational factors are considered before taking the leap.
For example, removing forklifts from the shop floor and introducing wheeled trolleys will provide flexibility – but then expecting staff to manually push or manoeuvre these trolleys cancels out any potential benefits of fork-free. By doing so, you have ultimately replaced one risk with another. That’s why it’s important to fully assess your processes, existing systems and highlight any potential new equipment needs.
For many manufacturers, when implementing fork-free areas, trolleys and carts are coupled with appropriate handling systems such as electric tugs or tows. This way, you benefit from the shop floor safety improvements of reduced forklift traffic, whilst also introducing an appropriate solution to mobilise your new systems safely.
3 benefits of fork-free and electric tugs
Moving towards fork-free operations presents opportunities to reduce lifting requirements and mobilise goods and sub-assemblies through wheeled tug and trolley systems. This enables you to improve shop floor safety, improve your ability to pivot operations and quickly change production layouts.
Simple, but invaluable – improving safety.
That’s one of the main reasons many manufacturers are switching up their processes and removing forklifts from their shop floor. Swapping your handling systems to electric tugs and trolley systems means you benefit from:
- Reduced risk of collisions with pedestrians
- Improved operator visibility (especially true with remote control tugs)
- Loads stay safely on the ground – meaning reduced risk of falling loads
- Mitigates any potential need for manual handling through mechanised movements
Something we’ve all seen an increased need to be over the last few years is flexible.
Fixed processes and cumbersome equipment reduce your ability to pivot and change your plant configurations – which, in turbulent times, matters.
Replacing forklift operations with tug and trolley systems improves your plants flexibility, modularity, and mobility – meaning equipment can be easily moved as required.
It doesn’t matter if your plant brands their operational thought-processes as lean or any of the other schools of thought, the main aim of the game for most is to reduce waste in your operations.
Wasted material or inventory, waste manpower, defects and over processing – are all types of waste covered under lean thinking. Others include ‘motion’, ‘waiting’ and ‘transport’, all of which a fork-free operation will help you address. Moving to fork-free operations will enable you to reduce excess motion, particularly in the form of lifting. In addition, there will be no more waiting around (downtime!) for a licensed forklift truck driver, with license-free electric tugs, your operations can keep on moving, allowing you to reduce downtime and wasted time.
The future is fork-free, are you ready?
With many of the world’s leading manufacturers investing in fork-free operations, and an array of solutions on the market to help you reap the benefits of mobile and modular operations, now is the perfect time for you to make the switch.