The forklift fleet ranks high on any company’s list of valuable assets—and that’s especially true for electric lift trucks, which add high-tech batteries to the mix. Managers must ensure forklifts are safe, batteries are fully charged, and all your equipment is being maintained properly. In other words, you have to manage the fleet, and there’s a broad range of forklift fleet management solutions available to help you do just that.
But which one is right for your business? With today’s constant advances in automation and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions, the fleet management ecosystem is only getting harder to navigate. Here are a few questions to ask as you compare forklift fleet management systems—along with key advice on how to start managing electric lift trucks more efficiently.
What is a forklift fleet management solution?
Crown defines forklift fleet management as “the collection, analysis, and use of relevant fleet information to reduce costs and improve operator and truck productivity.” Any tool that helps with this effort can be considered a fleet management solution, which means you’ll find the term used to describe all sorts of products and services. Depending on the context and the source, a forklift fleet management solution may refer to:
- Full maintenance contracts. Many forklift providers offer maintenance contracts, allowing end-users to outsource service and cost-reduction efforts for their fleets. This is a great strategy for many, but calling it fleet management—which was common a decade ago, and may still come up today—can lead to confusion. Increasingly, that term refers to lift truck fleet management software, or a combination of software and hardware that creates a comprehensive data-collection and reporting system.
- Telematics systems. With the rise of the IIoT, manufacturers and third-party providers are adding more and more sensors to lift trucks and batteries. These sensors transmit real-time operating data to a centralized system that allows managers to monitor all sorts of data points, from idle time to collisions to battery efficiency. You’ll often find this combination of telemetry hardware (sensors) and software (the apps and interfaces that serve data to users) called a forklift fleet management system.
- Forklift battery management solutions. Proper battery rotation is key to running the fleet as efficiently as possible, and strong battery management is essential for optimizing productivity. You can’t separate the power source from the truck, so we also refer to battery management software as a forklift fleet management solution—at least in the context of electric lift trucks. Some of these systems also provide reporting on truck usage, leading to a full-service fleet management solution for electric lift truck managers.
Any combination of these solutions may contribute to cost savings on your forklift fleet, but for electric lift trucks, battery management is essential—and that’s where we recommend fleet owners begin.
What challenges affect your forklift fleet?
Before you even begin to evaluate fleet management tools, collect some data from your operation. Are you running into a lot of forklift downtime? The trouble’s probably in your maintenance program. Do some trucks never leave storage? You might have a bigger fleet than you need. Forklift fleet management software will reveal harder-to-spot inefficiencies, but managers and operators often know what the big problems are already—and that knowledge is your starting point for finding the right solution.
Think of fleet management as a response to specific challenges. Those challenges will vary from one operation to the next. If you simply don’t have the staff to run your own maintenance program, maybe the answer is a service contract with your dealer. (Of course, this introduces a new, ongoing cost, and requires a detailed ROI calculation.) While lift truck maintenance is key to efficient operation, managers of electric forklift fleets often find that the real cost is in the battery room—a mismatch between battery fleet size and truck usage, poor battery rotation, damaged cells due to maintenance failures, and more. These operations need a fleet management solution that addresses battery usage first and foremost.
How costly and/or complex is it to implement the solution?
Telematics systems provide detailed, real-time data on the operation of every truck in your fleet. They include a wide range of sensors to transmit usage data through an IIoT cloud connection. Lift truck telematics systems may include measurement for data points like:
- Travel routes. By adding GPS devices to lift trucks, managers can track the position of every forklift throughout the day. Reporting systems show where trucks move, revealing inefficient routes and potentially unsafe traffic patterns.
- Accident documentation. Along with GPS, shock sensors create immediate logs of lift truck accidents. This allows managers to conduct post-accident reports, identifying operator error or facility layout problems to reduce risk going forward.
- Preventative and predictive maintenance. Heat and vibration sensors embedded in the machinery can alert users when a truck needs repair or routine maintenance. When paired with AI-powered predictive maintenance platforms, they can even identify likely failures before they happen.
- Vehicle access. Onboard software can require users to conduct safety checks before the truck powers on. They can also require user log-ins, preventing unauthorized use and identifying operators consistently.
As you might have guessed, each of these functions requires additional hardware to be built into the lift truck. If you’re not replacing the whole fleet with smart forklifts—a major investment— that requires costly retrofitting. So while telematics remains the future of IIoT-powered forklift fleet management, it’s often best for greenfield facilities. Given the costs, comprehensive telematics systems might not provide the best ROI if your main goals are to right-size fleets and improve efficiency for existing equipment.
Electric fleet operators can get many of these advantages without replacing every truck. Start with battery fleet management and build out from there. Fleet Tracker from BHS is a forklift fleet management system that includes hardware, software, cloud-based mobile apps, and all the data-collection and reporting tools you need to improve asset utilization for the lifetime of the fleet. The system collects data via quick barcode scans, not internal sensors—which means it’s easy to implement without retrofitting equipment.
Is the fleet management tool compatible with existing infrastructure?
Data collection is at the core of forklift fleet management, and not all collection technologies are compatible with the machinery you use to charge, change, and maintain batteries. Fleet Tracker is compatible with all powered side-extraction battery handling systems, from a high-capacity Operator Aboard Battery Extractor System to smaller-scale extraction via Battery Carts and Carriages.
Fleet Tracker’s hardware includes lightweight barcode scanners, touchscreen tablets, and barcodes for assets. Operators log in via the tablet, and the system provides prompts, ensuring ideal battery rotation and adherence to maintenance protocols. Meanwhile, managers can open the cloud-based IIoT Web Portal from anywhere, monitoring use and condition of all fleet assets in real time. They can also dig deeper into the data, running reports on battery usage, truck usage, operator activity, maintenance details, and more. Altogether, Fleet Tracker is a comprehensive and highly scalable battery management solution that provides cost-savings for electric forklift fleets of all sizes.
Does the system manage fleets across multiple facilities?
A battery fleet management system like Next Available Battery (NAB-2000) to monitor charge status, allowing operators to pick the right battery at every change-out. An option like the Intelligent Battery Organizing System (iBOS) does a similar task, with additional monitoring and reporting on battery health. But these systems are tied into individual battery rooms. That’s helpful for a forklift operator or battery room manager—but it doesn’t give corporate or regional managers the broad visibility they need to guide the business as a whole.
Fleet Tracker draws data from every battery room in the system, centralizing it to identify company-wide trends. Are battery room policies lining up with cost-saving goals? Do you need additional battery room staff, or to upgrade equipment? Looking at the whole system can help you make those decisions, and Fleet Tracker provides the information you need.
Is assistance available for decoding system reports?
It’s not always easy to translate all that new information into insight. That’s why Fleet Tracker subscriptions include ongoing consultations with BHS specialists. We’ll help you review advanced diagnostic reports and analyze usage data to help right-size your fleet, invest where it counts, and keep your forklifts running at peak performance.
After all, managing batteries is just one component of this comprehensive forklift fleet management solution. Ultimately, it’s about getting more value out of every forklift, the core of your material handling operation. To learn more about Fleet Tracker and other battery management systems from BHS, call 1.800.BHS.9500.