Automated trailer unloading a game changer for logistics, analyst says

by Krystyna Shchedrina

A new automated forklift that is able to load and unload trailers autonomously could be a game changer for warehouse operations.

The Trey forklift handles pallets without human intervention, according to its manufacturer, Gideon.

Trey’s ability to maneuver inside trailers makes it uniquely useful, says Ash Sharma of Interact Analysis.

According to industry analyst Ash Sharma, with Interact Analysis, trailer loading and unloading is one of the most challenging tasks in the warehouse. Trailer loading and unloading is a very labour-intensive task, he said in an interview. And while being the most attractive one to automate, he said it is also the hardest to be turned into a completely autonomous process.

“One of the hardest things with trailer loading, and particularly unloading, you have unbalanced loads or poorly wrapped pallets, and it can be very tricky to take them off without things falling off or bumping into things – and even manually, it’s a tricky thing to do. So, reducing the labour needed to unload those trucks and to autoload them is very, very attractive for the logistics industry,”  Sharma said.

Sharma said that there are not many solutions for automatic trailer unloading available. Gideon and Fox Robotics are two of the only firms to tackle the problem.

AI and 3D vision

Trey uses artificial intelligence and 3D vision to navigate. Its 360-degree field of view allows it to detect obstacles and avoid collisions, the company says. This also means that it is easy to integrate into existing operations, with little need to reconfigure the warehouse space to accommodate it.

Gideon claims the unit can save 80 percent of the labour required to load and unload trailers, with a pallet-handling capacity of 25 per hour. It supports most common pallet types, and can load in narrow-narrow (straight), wide-wide (turned), pinwheeled, load distribution, and custom configurations in most types of trailers.

Sharma says the technological advances implemented in Trey are not new on their own. However, the way they are combined and applied is novel.

Working in a confined space

He said that while automated forklifts already used in warehouses recognize the environment and avoid humans, they perform repetitive point-to-point movements and shelf stacking tasks. However, Sharma believes Trey’s ability to operate in a confined space, like a trailer, requires precise and coordinated operations.

“This is why it is unique in that sense – until now, only Fox Robotics was able to automate these difficult tasks,” he said.

Sharma said Trey could help address many challenges like picking for e-commerce, cross-docking, loading and unloading. He explained that these complicated and, sometimes, dangerous tasks require specific knowledge and experience and are performed by humans.

“You can’t just quickly hire people to do that. It’s quite challenging for the industry to fill those jobs. It’s dangerous work and highly paid, relatively. So, if you can automate that, it will make warehouses more efficient and cost-effective, helping to keep costs down and filling the labour gaps,” he said .