The Future of the Forklift Industry

Category: Equipment and Solutions

man operating a yellow forklift in a warehouse

The forklift industry has steadily risen for years following the Great Recession, and job postings nearly doubled from 2014 to 2018. Industrial truck and tractor operators number around 640,000 as of 2020, and this pool will grow in the next decade.

While the forklift technology and industry have stayed relatively consistent, there are major design changes and innovations on the horizon. New, intelligent forklift designs are creating units that promote safety and efficiency, which is the real future of the industry.

The companies that can adapt to changes and provide services faster are likely to be leading the charge into the future. So what do those changes look like? What can we expect for the future?

Forklift Industry Future Outlook

It’s impossible to predict the exact future of the forklift industry and which changes will make the most significant impact, but we can make some strong forecasts going forward. We’ll look at automation, robots and employment outlook to help determine what the future may hold for workers and equipment in this sector.

Tracking industry news can give forklift operators a clearer picture of what their industry’s future may look like and how they need to adapt as things change. Altogether, many are optimistic about the outlook for the industry and believe that automation will work together with robots to propel the forklift industry into new growth.

1. Automation

Experts across many industries believe new investments into robotics won’t steal jobs, but rather create new ones. Forklift operators aren’t being replaced anytime soon and will more realistically work with automated forklifts for a more productive, less risky work environment.

Forklift automation helps eliminate risk factors that would otherwise be present. Integrating robotics into the industry allows businesses to handle market fluctuations better and retain employees, which is partly why more companies are turning to automation.

The improvements in automated guided vehicle (AGV) technology have helped this equipment reduce product damage from forklifts, which is a significant factor driving the shift to automation. Updated guidance technologies give robotics free rein when operating rather than being subjected to a fixed path. Of course, the upfront costs of investing in automation have turned off some owners, but lower prices in sensors allow more businesses to invest in these machines.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) already automates injury report forms, and Toyota continues to take advantage of their automatic guided vehicles to keep production lines efficient. Automation continues its integration in the workplace, and the examples so far have led to fewer injuries while increasing productivity.

image of boxes stored in warehouse with an overlay of text to describe factors to consider when making forklifts part of operations

2. Robots

Driverless forklifts continue to be a topic of conversation for the industry and what it means for the outlook of forklift operators. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated some of the growth in robotics use with the recent labor shortage and will continue through 2021.

While that opens the door for a robotic forklift, there’s no reason to panic. Driverless forklifts have been around for decades. While recent technological advances make for a better machine, these forklifts are still not mass-produced enough to make a real impact in the manufacturing industry. As of 2019, there were 5,000 units deployed in the U.S., which make up a small portion of the total workforce.

Implementing these machines into an assembly line isn’t as simple as buying and setting up the equipment. There are many points to ponder for those considering making driverless forklifts part of their operations. Basic factors to consider include:

  • Cost justification
  • Equipment adaptability
  • Human oversight

All of these considerations go beyond what a driverless forklift does. That’s because many times, an operator does more than unload pallets. Often, tasks like labeling pallets and reviewing the incoming products for damages or shortages are part of the overlooked duties of their job. It’s best not to make assumptions about a robot’s fit within a warehouse, since the transition can be complex and involve unexpected parts. Staff will need training in other areas, and the artificial intelligence (AI) for these machines isn’t perfected yet.

3. Employee Outlook

While forklift operators aren’t in danger of losing their jobs shortly, robotic forklift trucks will eventually become the norm for businesses. This means warehouses will need operators with different skill sets because human workers are essential to making these machines operate efficiently.

The immediate outlook is positive for forklift operators, with growth expected throughout the 2020s. Retail giants like Amazon still have a massive need for warehouse workers, and so do other industries like grocery stores and logistics companies.

A recent Phantom-Mitsubishi deal led to forklift driving turning into an office job. This is just one example of how companies continue to solve problems that benefit everyone in the future creatively. Having a human staff on standby to oversee any potential accidents or properly navigate a dangerous environment combines the best of both worlds.

What Does All This Mean?

Knowing where the forklift industry is headed is only part of the equation — now it’s time to put the pieces together. It’s likely that electric forklifts will soon become the dominant type in the industry because of their long service life and cost savings. These machines’ positive impact on manufacturers and the environment is harder to ignore every year for owners.

Self-driving forklifts are on the rise and continue to evolve, but global companies are still years from using them consistently. AGV forklift cost is a significant factor determining how accelerated the demand for these machines will be. However your forklift fleet may need to change in the coming years, RAKA is a trusted partner to help you adapt.

Rent or Buy Forklifts With RAKA

Change is inevitable, and the industries that rely on forklifts are no exception. The focus shouldn’t be on stopping or mitigating industry changes, but rather adapting to them with solutions that provide value through the years.

No matter what changes we see, the market will remain highly competitive, with businesses trying to offer the best services at the lowest cost. If you’re looking for high-quality, new and used material handling equipment to buy or rent, look no further than RAKA. Equipment excellence is synonymous with the RAKA name, proven by decades of service in the Omaha area.

Looking to rent or buy equipmentContact us to get started with our experienced staff today!

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