Forklift automation elevates profit hopes
A forklift flies through the massive warehouse in hunt of a pallet that it then transfers to a truck, crossing other forklifts along its route and then the driver, wait, there’s no driver there.
Amid social anxiety over machines and drones removing “AGVs” or automated guided vehicles from people’s employment, they constitute a transition of new tech from factory production lines to the broader economy.
The pallet is a modest but vital component of the present economy, a wooden platform that enables hand-pulled jacks or motorised forklifts to readily transport all kinds of products around factories, warehouses and shops.
But their most significant benefit, standardisation, leaves them ready for automation as well.
When it comes to automation, cost reduction is the apparent goal for the C-suite, but it’s not the only one.
Online trade brings a price on fast shipment, and many logistics activities are aimed at running around the clock-but that operates only if they can locate the employees that can be hard in some nations like the United States where the labour market is narrow.
This is where AGVs are coming in.
Jean-Luc Thome, CEO of BA Systemes, a medium-sized French company that manufactures AGVs, brings the development pace between 15% and 20% annually.
His is one of many larger companies that use automation to achieve a foothold in the forklift industry, expected to be earning more than US$ 16 billion a year, and that already has the focus of significant competitors like Toyota from Japan and Jungheinrich from Germany.
Other businesses are taking a distinct approach: offering businesses the opportunity to convert their current forklifts at a reduced price than purchasing a fresh automatic one.
That’s Balyo’s tack, centred in the region of Paris.
It has seen revenue jump from € 1 million (US$ 1.1 million) to € 23 million over the previous five years with accessories to automate forklifts for three popular products.
It scored a breakthrough earlier this year when Amazon signed a seven-year deal that would allow it to purchase € 300 million of Baylo machinery and hold up to 29 per cent of the stock.
The agreement will grow Amazon facility automation, which already uses drones for specific duties as the online retailer strives to satisfy client requests rapidly.
The chief executive of Baylo claims the AGV industry is vast.
“Palettes are moved 200 billion times a year, with robots moving less than one per cent,” Fabien Bardinet said.
“If we can automate 30-40% of that in a century, we will have produced significant strides in aspects of security” in stores, he said and enhanced operating circumstances.
A Research and Markets study estimated that the demand for logistics automation would rise from US$ 46 billion in 2018 to over US$ 80 billion in 2023.
WAREHOUSING, IT’S DANGEROUS
For Baylo, safety for both individuals and products is one of the main advantages of automated forklifts.
“Warehousing is hazardous,” Bardinet said, stating that there are about two dozen crashes per year linked to the movement of products in France alone.
As they are kept to a higher level, AGVs can assist enhance safety, he said.
While culture recognises specific human errors, its machine tolerance is null.
“In a customer unit, if one of our forklifts reaches another, it’s a large issue,” Bardinet said.
But it is often regarded as insignificant when a rider brushes his forklift against something.
“You just need to glance at the signs on the ceilings of stores” is widespread to realise such occurrences, he said.
The automatic riding scheme from Baylo, which utilises a laser to inspect its environment, guarantees that forklifts halt whenever an obstruction occurs along its path.
And “powered forklifts always take precedence,” Bardinet introduced.
Last year, revenues of Baylo rose 42 per cent and the firm hopes comparable development this year to exceed EUR 200 million.
For its portion, BA Systemes saw annual growth of around 15 per cent in its company.
It has partnered with Alstef, a French company that utilises cranes to stack pallets for automatic processing and recovery devices to give more comprehensive alternatives to customers.
The companies have helped the French central bank automate its centre serving money transportation companies.