Taking a Phased Approach to Warehouse Connectivity

In a previous post, we explored why greater connectivity in the warehouse was important. Now we’ll look at how to get started on your journey to a connected facility.

Crown experts have led and participated in numerous technology implementations to promote greater connectivity that includes the forklift. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, and the issues and challenges involved. We understand the challenges that may cause implementations to falter or encounter roadblocks.

Based on that experience and insight, we recommend companies take a phased approach to implementation; one that is based on clear, strategic business objectives and builds on each accomplishment to get to the next objective.

Here are five steps to adopting a phased approach.

1. Understanding goals and objectives

You’re not going to implement new technology just because it’s being hyped as the next big thing. You have business objectives you need to accomplish. If new technology can help you achieve those objectives, you should consider it. If it can’t, don’t waste your time.

Warehouse connectivity, and the data it captures, can support a range of objectives, including increased efficiency, enhanced safety, improved productivity and optimised utilisation and uptime. Prioritising and focusing on a couple of key objectives during the early stages will help ensure everyone involved knows exactly what you’re trying to accomplish, and that the data being collected supports those priorities. That doesn’t mean abandoning all other benefits. Once you realize initial objectives, the program can—and should—be expanded.

2. Assessing your current state of connectivity

Now that you have clear business objectives, you need to assess your current state of connectivity. There are three components to consider:

  • Warehouse network infrastructure. You will need either a cellular or wireless network to move data to the management system. Cellular can be implemented faster but limits the amount of data that can be collected. It may be suitable as an interim solution or for very small fleets, but Wi-Fi is preferable in most cases. Your equipment provider can help determine the appropriate specifications for your Wi-Fi system, as well as other warehouse communication requirements.
  • Forklift fleet. Any forklift can be equipped with a communication device that allows hours and impacts to be communicated. But when the connected device can access truck operating data and event codes, the true potential of forklift connectivity is unlocked. It isn’t necessary for all trucks to be communication-ready at the beginning of a project. Over time you can add more communication-ready trucks, increasing the depth of data collected across the fleet.
  • Software. Forklift fleet and operator management systems serve as the central repository for equipment operating data. They should include an easy-to-navigate interface that provides a dashboard view of operations while enabling users to drill down into specific metrics. In order to eventually share this data with other warehouse systems, and vice versa, you need to ensure consistency in how information is captured across systems.

3. Allocating budget and resources

Your project budget will depend on the number of forklifts being connected and your current state of connectivity. Connectivity is an inherently scalable proposition and we are seeing more customers with just a handful of trucks implementing effective connectivity solutions.

Part of the reason for this is the emergence of off-premises, or cloud-based, hosting of the software and subscription-based pricing systems. They reduce the IT resources required to support implementation because it isn’t necessary to set up and maintain a server on-site. They also reduce initial investment, which may allow you to fund the initiative from your operating budget, rather than going through an exhausting capital equipment approval process.

4. Managing data and measuring progress

Starting your connectivity journey with a single facility allows you to develop best practices—and begin to realize ROI – while ensuring data quality before expanding the program. During this initial stage, you’ll want to focus on the basics: automating the inspection process, reducing impacts and right-sizing the fleet based on accurate utilisation data.

You can then expand in two ways: rolling out the technology to other sites and diving deeper into the data. The longer the system is in operation, the more historical data you’ll have to serve as a basis for optimisation. It isn’t always necessary to know exactly how you’ll use all the data you are collecting right away, but it’s still worth collecting.

5. Integrating Systems and Software

The value forklift fleet and operator management systems deliver is magnified when their data is integrated with data from other systems, including enterprise resource planning, warehouse or work order management, labor management and human resources.

This integration can typically be achieved quickly thanks to the development of standard application programming interfaces (APIs). They provide a ready-made way for different software programs to share data without the need for custom programming. Make sure your solution provider can deliver data analytics services that includes custom API integration.

A phased approach to implementation, based on clear objectives and careful planning, is critical to the success of your connectivity initiative. Demonstrating the value of the system through basic accomplishments creates internal buy-in and provides the confidence to tackle more complex challenges.

For more information on creating a connected facility, download Crown’s e-book, Achieving Material Handling Connectivity.

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