The Human Factor of Forklift Design

How forklift operators interact with their equipment affects overall warehouse productivity and safety. While many manufacturers tout their designs as ergonomic, human factors is often only given attention during the evaluation stage of product development. To be truly human-centered, operator interests and needs should be defined at conception and revisited throughout the entire product development process.

Integrating a human factors & ergonomics (HF&E) professional into product development reinforces human-centered design thinking. Rather than relying on consultants to evaluate user interaction at the end of the design cycle, integrated HF&E practitioners help ensure that operators are kept in mind throughout the process.

HF&E is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of human behavior, abilities and limitations to ensure systems, jobs, machines, tools and products can be safely, efficiently and comfortably used. HF&E professionals blend elements of psychology, engineering, biomechanics, industrial design, physiology and anthropometry to ensure product, system and process designs consider how people interact with and use technology.

The goal is to create designs conducive to good operator and forklift interactions. The end result is better designed forklifts that improve operator experience to boost productivity and safety while promoting employee well-being. Integrating HF&E expertise into product teams reinforces an operator-centric design approach that elevates user experience. Forklifts are designed holistically with empathy toward operator needs, daily experiences and work environments.

Design with Empathy

HF&E experts solely focus on the operator experience during the entire process. In the early stages of development, HF&E experts can participate in brainstorming new designs or adjustment, helping ensure HF&E considerations are not just post-design evaluation.

Consider a system designed to remotely advance pallet trucks when manually picking stock in warehouses. HF&E knowledge allows engineers and designers to disregard concepts that interfere with picking and focus on integrating the technology into the tools already used in the picking process. Adding an activation button to a glove is both beneficial for and readily accepted by operators.

Understand the Work Context

Much of the design and engineering process is spent behind computers, inside project rooms pouring over designs and specs or building prototypes and design concepts. It can often be difficult to maintain a strong connection to the operator. So designers and engineers often spend time in the field, observing how trucks and operators perform in real-world applications and then incorporate their learning back into their design.

As an integrated part of the product development team, HF&E experts help these individuals review their designs along the way to ensure attention to forklift operator’s work context, physiological needs and cognitive requirements. They watch operators interact with the forklifts to better understand how optimal operation might be impeded. They then work closely with design and engineering to identify solutions. HF&E practitioners often work across product lines to ensure appreciation among different product teams. They often share how similar issues have been addressed with other products.

Work Collaboratively Across Disciplines

During the evaluation phase, give operators a chance to experience the new design and provide feedback. Engineers and designers participate alongside HF&E professionals to observe and learn directly from operators to build dialogue, learn within the team and improve the final design. Here, HF&E experts help promote optimal learning and consideration of operator feedback and quantitative evaluation data. It helps ensure that products are designed with strong consideration to making operators comfortable, productive and safe.

As a fleet or warehouse manager, it is important to know if your forklift manufacturer has integrated human factors & ergonomics practitioners into the design process, not just the evaluation of products. These experts can integrate your feedback into the product development process to enhance the productivity and safety of your entire operation.

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