Maintenance benefits just the tip of the iceberg

One of the areas in a manufacturing environment that deserves attention is the fleet of forklifts used in and around the facility.


In a large plant, forklift management systems can consolidate fragmanted operations in service management and can automation processes. Courtesy: Crown EquipmentOne of the biggest challenges plant managers face on a daily basis is equipment maintenance and the potential costly downtime that can be caused when a piece of vital equipment goes down. While most of the attention is given to equipment on the line, one of the areas in a manufacturing environment that deserves attention is the fleet of forklifts used in and around the facility. One significant forklift impact or unplanned maintenance issue could slow production or even bring it to a halt.

A good forklift fleet management system can minimize downtime and make it more predictable through consistent planned maintenance, as well as provide valuable data on how and when your forklifts are being used. However, if you do not take the right approach with your system, there is the risk that the amount of data you collect will quickly become overwhelming. This can prevent you from taking full advantage of the opportunity, causing you to either “turn off” the system or utilize only one or two features that deliver a minimal return on investment (ROI).

Fleet management benefits

Forklift fleet management consists of the collection, analysis, and use of relevant fleet information to help reduce costs and improve operator and forklift productivity. Convenient access on any device—PC, phone, or tablet—to meaningful information provides visibility into operations that can help answer critical questions, such as:

  • How much is being spent on the fleet maintenance each year?
  • Are costs distributed evenly or are some trucks accounting for a high percentage of costs?
  • Is the fleet sized properly to ensure efficient performance?
  • Are all trucks and operators achieving similar levels of productivity?
  • Are certain operators or locations accounting for a higher-than-average number of impacts?

In addition, forklift fleet management systems can consolidate fragmented operations in service management and can automate processes, such as collecting compliance information, to improve operational efficiency and consistency. The information provided by the system, if utilized properly, also can provide a window into operator performance. Through operator log-ins and important productivity metrics around travel time, lift time, and idle time, you can measure and benchmark individual operators and groups.

Unfortunately, many companies that implement fleet management systems do not utilize them to full potential, and thus never realize many of these benefits. One of the main reasons is that while they have the data they need, they often are unable or unwilling to take the necessary steps to effect real change.

Below are four suggestions that better position plant managers to effect real change with the data collected by your forklift fleet management system.

1. Have a plan in place to act on the data

While most organizations put significant effort toward planning the implementation of their system, many don’t give enough thought to what comes next. Most do a good job of identifying the objectives they want to achieve, which typically fall within three categories: reducing fleet costs, optimizing operator and truck productivity, and improving compliance with workplace regulations.

Unfortunately, they often fail to achieve those objectives because they don’t have a plan in place to institute accountability. They’re also ill-prepared to take the necessary action to make improvements.

To realize success, you need to have in place the resources, support (internal and external) and commitment to make decisions and take action based on what the data is telling you. And you need to make sure the data gets to the right people. That’s why it’s also important you choose a system and service provider that enables you to consolidate the data and deliver it to the people who need it in a way that is useful and supports decision making.

2. Take a phased approach to implementation

Fortunately, with most fleet management systems it is possible, and often easier, to focus on specific aspects of the data through a phased implementation approach. A phased approach, focused on a specific facility, truck type, or high-priority objective, is an ideal way to realize tangible results and gain internal support. You can also use the savings achieved from initial efforts to fund future investments that expand the scope and value of the program.

For instance, Steelcase, a leading global office furniture manufacturer, initially implemented a fleet management system for 25 forklifts at a single facility as part of a pilot program that spanned six months. The company credited the system with giving it the insight it needed to take many of the steps required to better allocate and utilize the forklifts in the facility. With the completion of the pilot program, the company quickly expanded the implementation to include five additional facilities.

A well-planned, phased implementation approach can help minimize the often daunting challenges many companies encounter after implementing a system—in many cases, allowing them to identify and address potential issues on a small scale in advance of a full implementation. This approach also allows you to tackle operational and business objectives separately based on your need to realize short- or long-term ROI.

3. Focus on operational objectives for more immediate ROI

One approach for a phased implementation would be to focus on operational objectives first. These objectives, usually “low-hanging fruit,” are often the initial reason companies consider a forklift fleet management system. Objectives usually revolve around compliance management, licensing issues, and impact detection. 

For instance, some systems allow you to control access to the forklift, thus supporting compliance with OSHA inspections and training and licensing requirements. Managers can limit access to operators with the required certification and integrate an inspection checklist to guide operators through the inspection process. The system then saves the completed checklists for easy access later. The impact monitoring feature found on many systems analyzes impact events and allows them to be easily audited to determine responsibility and frequency. Ongoing monitoring makes it easier to identify operators that require additional training or locations in the facility that are accounting for a high percentage of impacts.

For certain operational objectives, such as impact detection, the benchmarking of data is important to get an accurate picture of your operations. The timeframe for the benchmarking is something that your service provider should be able to help you pinpoint.

4. Tackle business objectives for more long-term ROI

Once you are proficient with operational objectives and seeing real improvement and ROI, you can move on to long-term business objectives.

Business objectives, which usually revolve around fleet utilization, operator and truck productivity, and the size of your forklift fleet, require a more in-depth analysis of the data and a higher level of commitment and management time devoted to the task.

Unlike operational objectives, business objectives can involve significant changes to your operations based on what the data tell you. As a result, the ROI for these types of objectives is going to take more time to realize compared to ROI associated with operational objectives.

For example, without the visibility delivered by the system, plant managers may not even know how many forklifts are in operation or sitting idle at any given time, let alone utilization and productivity levels. Armed with this information, you can make real decisions about the number and types of forklifts you have and better manage your resources.

The system also allows plant managers to monitor forklift idle time with an operator present on the forklift. Armed with this type of insight, managers can often determine whether it is an issue with operator behavior, the forklifts, training, or processes in the operation.

Getting the most from your system

The technology is available today to provide insight into your operations. However, to get the most out of your fleet management system, you need to remember that it’s not about how much data you can collect, but rather the type of data and what you do with it.

While there can be challenges to effectively implementing forklift fleet management systems, working with the right partner and developing a phased approach to implementation helps you focus on making meaningful changes to your operation and realizing short- and long-term return on your investment.

Jim Gaskell is director of global Crown Insite  products for Crown Equipment.

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