The rising global prevalence of technology and connectivity has set off a significant transformation of the industrial landscape, especially in the retail domain. As the world moves to an increasingly digitized platform, e-commerce, or electronic commerce, commonly associated with online shopping, is rapidly establishing itself as a favored retail choice among consumers. In fact, studies have shown that almost 95% of all shopping will be facilitated through e-commerce by 2040.
With such a prolific rise expected in e-commerce adoption over the forthcoming years, the demand for robust warehousing and distribution facilities takes significant precedence. This, in turn, augments the need for efficient material handling systems and components to ensure proper storage, loading, transport activities in the warehouses.
Since product transport is one of the most integral roles in the e-commerce distribution ecosystem, the forklift market is likely to garner tremendous interest as retail and shopping activities continue their transition to the online platform.
What are forklifts?
Forklift trucks, also known as jitneys or lift trucks, refer to a class of vehicles designed for industrial use. These systems comprise a power-operated platform attached to the front, which can be raised or lowered as required to lift or move cargo. The term forklift is derived from these platforms, which are usually in the form of fork-like prongs. Lift trucks are used across myriad industrial sectors for the efficient transport of goods and materials.
The origins of these systems can be traced back to 1887, when the first material handling equipment, known as a two-wheel hand truck, was created using a combination of wheels and iron axles. However, the history of the modern forklift is more commonly associated with the invention of the Tructractor by the Clark Equipment Company, in 1917. The machine, which is often credited as being the first forklift, was essentially a tractor with an attachment for product handling, bearing only a minor resemblance to their modern-day successors.
Since its inception, the forklift industry has undergone several evolutions. The industrial impact of this material handling equipment over the years has been profound, evidenced most prominently during its contribution to boosting efficiency and productivity in workforces during World War I and World War II eras.
Rising prevalence of e-commerce solutions amid turbulent global conditions
While e-commerce itself is on its way to establishing a firm presence in the retail landscape, the ongoing global crisis stemming from the coronavirus outbreak has brought about a significant shift in consumer preferences and behavior. The rise in demand across the globe for essential and daily goods, alongside limitations due to social distancing and quarantine protocols has breathed new life into the e-commerce journey, as more and more people turn towards online portals for safer and quicker shopping experiences.
Fueled by this expansion of e-commerce, logistics systems, including warehouses and distribution facilities have grown tremendously in number, thus accelerating the demand for lift trucks and other warehouse solutions.
E-commerce solutions are most attractive to consumers due to the various benefits and conveniences they offer over conventional shopping experiences, including free and faster delivery of products, hassle-free returns and exchanges, and wider selections, among others. In order to fulfill these benefits, warehouse and distribution operations need to be extremely efficient, in terms of timely movement and transport of products to and from the facility, making the role of forklift trucks a crucial one for the industry.
Many prominent figures in the e-commerce and retail-associated industries have taken heed of this and started to develop innovative warehouse transport technologies to cater to the rapidly surging demand for online products. A notable example of this is global delivery service DHL, which has implemented several technologies including AI, self-driving vehicles and robotic lift trucks, etc., at its North America warehouses, to accommodate evolving product demand.
Technological advancements shaping the forklift industry
The forklift industry has witnessed several advancements over the years. These progressions, which range from mobility solution to automation to power source technology evolution, each assert a considerable impact on the way the modern fork truck functions.
Chief among these advancements is the emergence of environmentally friendly forklift technologies, given the burgeoning costs of fuels and the rising impact of climate change on the global ecological structure. According to some studies, energy-efficient lift trucks can last over 20-30% longer than their internal combustion engine-based counterparts.
In light of this knowledge, several companies have forayed into the development of energy-efficient electric forklifts to cater to the evolving warehousing demand from the retail industry. For instance, GMH (Godrej Material Handling) has recently unveiled the three-wheel Bravo Electric Forklift for the 1.6-2 ton category, equipped with an advanced battery solution for optimum product transport and handling.
Apart from the ecological standpoint, forklift trucks have also undergone a significant transformation in terms of mobility, as was evidenced by the launch of the Sidewinder ATX-3000 forklift by Vetex, which is an omnidirectional lift truck, owing to a series of rollers used in place of traditional solid or pneumatic tires.
Automation has asserted its impact across the industrial spectrum in myriad applications, and fork truck technology is no different. Automated lift trucks are equipped with a host of sophisticated technological systems including guidance systems that help them self-navigate through warehouses and facilitate automatic pick-up and drop of products, with little to no human intervention required.
These systems are reshaping the way forklift trucks function across various industries including warehouse, automotive, manufacturing, and more. The Raymond Corporation has recently introduced an automated lift truck stacker that leverages vision-guidance technology from Seegrid Corporation, to enable autonomous stacking from pick-up to delivery locations.
Source: Global Market Insights
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