Do we need Forklifts at all?

 Forklifts in Manufacturing: Less is More to Eliminating  Buy None 

When one talks of productivity, it is important to carefully consider how to define productivity, then how to measure it, and finally, how to achieve it. Productivity does not simply mean to produce but to produce in abundance.  In the manufacturing sector, one of the key elements is material handling. Whether the material movement is done manually or through an automated process, it presents challenges to workers and management. Forklift management, is one such challenge.

With forklifts, it is hard to know if you have too few or too many or just the right number. Irrespective of the number, it is important to keep track of what each forklift is doing always. Especially, because the operational cost of a single forklift is much higher than its cost price. For example, if a forklift costs Rs. X, the operational cost can be as high as Rs. 1.5X per year. And despite this excessive cost, it is common that managers are not aware of how many forklifts are being used simultaneously, or if the forklifts are being used at capacity.

In, “How Many Forklifts Is Too Many?” (published in MHLNews), Dave Blanchard writes how everybody seem enamoured by the latest material handling equipment. He refers to the ProMat Show 2017, which may result in nearly $5 billion worth of material being purchased by end of 2018. This purchase includes forklifts, one of the most popular displays. But what remains unanswered is whether the company knows how exactly the workforce is going to use the forklift. For some reason, forklifts attract less scrutiny than other heavy equipment. It seems like one would figure it out before buying one, but it is hard to accurately calculate the expected usage. And this ends up costing companies, a lot of money.

Typically, the Operations team and the Finance team approach things differently. Operations teams don’t like to work overtime, for example, and Finance teams focus on negotiation lowest monthly costs. It is pertinent that companies get a better handle on leveraging data to maximise utilisation. Getting rid of just a single underutilised forklift, and all the related costs with it, can result in huge savings that can be used elsewhere. A good guideline, when it comes to forklifts, is, ‘Less is More’.

This high-costing forklift management holds true for India, too. The Indian government’s ‘Make in India’ campaign aims to facilitate investment and build the best in manufacturing infrastructure. But adopting production systems from other countries and implementing them in the Indian environment, does not easily translate to success. Many are still struggling. Applying recommendations from global instances in India, brings a new set of challenges. What India needs is a home-grown system that is tailor made for India.

In his book, ‘Made in India for Make in India’ (published by Productivity and Quality Publishing Private Limited) the author C. Narasimhan takes the ‘less is more’ strategy a step further to recommend that the use of forklift be eliminated. Talking of Integrated Inventory Management, he says, ‘forklift is an enemy of flow and it is essential to eliminate fork trick in production’.

Made in India for Make in IndiaThe book suggests that in the course of eliminating forklifts, we can implement other creative ideas for material handling. This doesn’t mean we simply eliminate forklifts from some parts of the shop floor, but we must study all the places where they are used. An integrated approach to this is necessary, where forklifts can be replaced with other material handling principles such as gravity flow, pneumatically activated pick and place devices, rollercoasters, and re-engineering layouts to avoid lifting.

Material handling is an importance section in any manufacturing unit. We, in India, have been traditionally weak in parts handling and logistics, and it’s time, to revamp this. The sweeping idea of eliminating forklifts may seem ‘too radical’; however, it is capable of bringing a sea of changes that will go a long way for ‘Make in India.