Whole-hog into forklift fleet management

by Carolyn Gruske

Forklift accidents can be costly—both in terms of dollars to repair damaged vehicles, structures and racking—and in terms of the man hours it takes to figure out what went wrong and come up with solutions to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

Clemens Food Group, a Hatfield, Pennsylvania-based producer of pork products, wanted to get a better handle on its fleet and reduce the number and severity of accidents. To do that, the nearly 120-year-old company needed to abandon its paper-based tracking and safety-compliance system, so it turned to one of its forklift suppliers for a solution.

Clemens has 178 forklifts and pieces of mobile equipment (including reach trucks, turrets, walkies and lowboys) dispersed throughout over 1.3 million square feet in three separate locations. The company uses trucks from Raymond, Clark, Bobcat, Linde, Gradall, and Crown Equipment. Clemens has 1,080 operators on staff to run those vehicles. Finding a solution to work on such a large range of equipment was critical.

After looking at solutions offered by three different vendors, Clemens chose the InfoLink System, part of the Crown Insite Productivity Suite, from Crown Equipment.

“The three main reasons we were very interested in this system are the operator compliance [each operator undertakes a safety inspection of the vehicle at the start of the shift], certification management for the 1,000-plus operators and all kinds of different equipment (to ensure only qualified personnel are operating them), and impact detection,” said Kevin Shayer, general manager of distribution and warehousing for Clemens.

Before adopting the system, the company used a paper-based process for doing operator checks of the equipment. Now, the screen on the Crown module (attached to the truck) asks operators a series of questions before allowing them to start using the vehicles.

“We’ve got 11 questions, of those 11, four will lock the truck out if the team member answers in a negative manner. For example, ‘is the truck safe to drive?’ If the person says ‘no,’ it will lock that truck out. Another one is ‘do the brakes work?’ They know that’s another checklist item that will not let that truck drive until a manager comes over and looks at it and understands why it’s locked out—finds out if it’s an error or a true safety issue that needs to be worked on by a mechanic,”said project manager Jeff Barnes.

The wireless, radio-based system also records how quickly an operator answers the questions. If too much—or too little—time elapses before all answers are given, the truck is locked.

Clemens got Crown to create an interface for its time and attendance tracking program, so updated information about drivers and their qualifications, gets sent directly to InfoLink.

The feature that has led to the most measurable change is the system’s impact detection. Included in the Crown module are sensors that record speed and G-force measurements. That data is used to measure the severity of crashes and impacts. Barnes explained that each impact is given a value from one to 70.

“When we first started, even with a partial start-up, we were seeing probably six-to-eight [70s] a week. That was with 40 or 50 modules installed. Now we rarely see a 70 any more. I saw a 70 today for the first time in three weeks.”

Managers can set a trigger to send an e-mail if an impact meets or exceeds a pre-set threshold. They can also tell the system to shut off the truck after a crash.

According to their figures, Clemens has reduced major impacts by 80 percent.

Clemens has asked Crown for additional functionality including a way to monitor battery levels and schedule a time when each truck should be brought in for a swap-out, and a way to record some aspects of the checklist process, such as when the operator tests the brakes.