When you consider the challenges of operating a forklift in a confined space and the general safety dangers posed by lift trucks in the work environment, then it’s well worth considering the latest technologies to improve safety.
Proximity Warning using RFID, forklift truck mounted cameras and Real Time Location Systems (RTLS) are among the most progressive and impactful technologies to be applied to the health and safety field.
RFID Proximity Warning
Radio frequency identification, more commonly known as RFID, describes small electronic chips with antennas that can be attached to an object. Although originally used to track livestock, RFID has since found its way into manufacturing and logistics industries worldwide – and with good reason. RFID tags allow businesses to track the location and movement of any physical item they choose such as stock, equipment or even employees.
Despite regular training of both pedestrians and operators, accidents involving workplace vehicles are still a significant risk. In a noisy warehouse, employees fixated on a task can accidentally find themselves in the path of a forklift, perhaps operated by an individual with a high stack of pallets and therefore a restricted view. A potentially dangerous situation can be mitigated with the careful use of RFID.
An RFID ‘reader’ is attached to the vehicle and can be set to pick up signals from active RFID tags. Meanwhile each employee carries an RFID tag, often as a wearable accessory that does not interfere with his or her work. If the employee passes inside the range of the RFID reader on the vehicle, this triggers a loud alarm or flashes a warning light to get the employee’s attention and prompt them to move out of harm’s way. Alternatively, this could be extended to a fully automated system where the vehicle’s brakes are applied if they detect an employee is too close.
Although RFID works well for basic proximity monitoring, it is not always accurate enough for more advanced monitoring. For example, proximity detection cannot know if the employee is simply in an office close to the vehicle or safely behind a barrier, so it can lead to frequent false alarms.
The proximity system is a great way of providing entry level warning but with the limitation of not detecting the precise location, direction of the pedestrian or other forklift trucks. This is where real-time location systems come to the fore.
RTLS in the workplace
Real-time location systems (RTLS) offer much more sophisticated geolocation technology, providing more in-depth data for monitoring. RTLS automatically track the locations of chosen objects in real time and build on the capabilities of RFID.
RTLS tags can be attached to objects and people, enabling you to track and monitor their precise location continuously, not just when they come near a truck-mounted reader. As every tag continuously reports its location, you can collate a much more accurate picture of exactly where those objects are at any time across the workplace. This is particularly valuable when protecting employees in a dangerous environment.
For example, if an employee needs immediate assistance they can push a call button connected to their tag. The accuracy of the tag means that even if that employee moves location, responders can find them quickly.
What sets RTLS apart is its sophistication above and beyond RFID. Knowing the exact location of employees or vehicles can help warehouse and logistics managers build real-time visibility of resources any time they want, enabling them to quickly identify bottlenecks and redistribute resources as needed. Data is continually collected and therefore can be used to review overall flow and productivity to help with capacity planning and response management.
RTLS is also a great tool to improve the ongoing safety within warehouses. Should an incident occur, you can use the data collected to thoroughly assess what happened. You can also view employee driving habits, such as the speed they travel at whilst on a truck, both at the time of the accident and historically. If a driver regularly speeds around corners or has multiple incidents / collisions logged, you can use the data in reports or subsequent actions against the employee. Warehouse managers can also analyse collected data when reviewing repeated incidents, helping identify and eliminate black spots and prevent future accidents from occurring.
Forklift Camera technology
In-cab camera systems can provide an effective way of improving forklift safety. They can be fitted to any type of forklift truck, including reach and counterbalance models.
With increasing racking heights, it can be exceedingly difficult for operators to assess how far away the truck is from the pallet. Operating a forklift that has poor visibility can result in lifting the wrong load or incorrect engagement of the load with predictably dangerous results.
If lifting to high levels, a fork-positioning camera enables the operator to accurately pick up loads. This doesn’t only improve safety, but greatly increases productivity while also reducing fork wear and pallet damage. Similarly, rear view cameras are an excellent means of providing the operator with a more complete view of his or her surroundings, therefore greatly improving safety.
Together, RFID, RTLS and camera technology offer some of the most advanced workplace monitoring to improve employee safety in active, changing, and potentially dangerous, environments.
Vero offers a comprehensive range of solutions to help companies improve safety within their warehouses / manufacturing plants and more. Additional information on Vero Solutions’ RTLS safety system can be found here.