The new RFID forklift recognises its load automatically

Forklifts with radio frequency identification

An RFID forklift. The driver does not have to get out of the cab in order to read the tags on the load.

VTT and Finnish truck manufacturer Rocla Oyj have developed a forklift utilising radio frequency identification technology (RFID) that recognises its load automatically. The RFID forklift is now in its pilot stage and is being tested at the Ekokem Oy plant in Riihimäki, Finland. The experiences have been truly positive.

The RFID forklift is still in the early stages of development, but it has already presented some clear advantages. The information on loads handled by these forklifts is automatically transferred to ERP or WMS systems and no manual adjustments are needed. This minimizes any process errors in goods collection thanks to the automatic control enabled by radio frequency identification. The work becomes more flexible as there is less need to get on and off the truck, and there are less ergonomically challenging work phases when stocking up the shelves.

Kyösti Sarkkinen, Vice President of Rocla, believes the RFID pilot project has many positive possibilities.

Sarkkinen predicts that the cost-efficiency of logistics can be improved by developing faultless processes, eliminating unnecessary work stages and making the job less stressful by adopting the RFID system.

RFID may replace bar codes

The adoption of the RFID system is said to change global logistics and material handling, but it is also likely to replace or complement bar code technology. The bar code system has the disadvantages that the bar codes are subject to risk of damage and they have to be fully visible to the reader. On the other hand, the bar code is used globally and there is no need for large investments to use the system.

An RFID pilot forklift is being used in Ekokem’s outdoor storage area. Development Engineer Jorma Manninen has witnessed the clear benefits of using the RFID forklift.

“It has brought a totally new operating method into the storage area. In comparison with bar code readers, the RFID tags can be read regardless of any dirt, snow or ice on the tag. In addition, the RFID forklift makes working in the warehouse smoother as the driver does not have to get out of the cab in order to read the tags of the waste containers. The RFID forklift reduces the number of unnecessary recording errors and internal reclamations by utilising the up-to-date information. The forklift application is based on tags operating on UHF frequencies. These readers are able to reliably detect the RFID tags placed on the waste containers at a distance of 3 to 4 metres. Previously, this had to be done with a manual hand-held reader at a distance of only a few centimetres.”

The logistics process does not support the application of the RFID system – yet

A vast amount of development work is needed to bring the system into use in the logistics market because the systems and processes currently being used in the field do not support the full adoption of RFID technology. Although already commercially exploited, the RFID technology needs to be developed in relation to reader antennas suitable for forklift installations. This may change in the near future since there are extensive tests underway in several groceries in the United States, for example.


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