Updating the Forklift Fleet Management Playbook

forklift-fleet-managementThe fleet management playbook for on-road trucks and commercial vehicles has evolved a great deal over the past 25 years. It’s truly inspiring to see the strides made in terms of operational productivity, safety, and sustainability.

However, there’s another fleet, equally important in terms of keeping businesses running, that has not made the same advancements. Forklift fleet management remains largely stuck in the past.

While there are exceptions, most companies use outdated processes to manage their material handling equipment. Plus, businesses are often reluctant to invest in forklift fleet management because they simply don’t know where to begin or feel as though they don’t have the necessary resources.

Material handling executives, already stretched to the limit, tell themselves that current fleet management systems may not be perfect, but they get the job done. As a result, they miss out on the advancements that have made truck and commercial vehicle fleets more productive, efficient, safer, and greener.

In short, forklift fleet management is more often reactive than proactive.

So, what’s the disconnect? I can think of several barriers preventing material handling executives from taking the next step:

  • For most organizations, forklifts and other equipment costs are one-fifth to one-tenth of on-road truck spend. That means the effort and spend required to wrangle these assets can be difficult to justify to senior leadership. However, it’s important to remember that material handling is one of the top spends for most businesses, particularly for those with high-velocity facilities. Yet many organizations have no real handle on how many MHEs they have, let alone their cost structure, age, condition, or maintenance needs.
  • Procurement is difficult. The sheer variety of MHE and hundreds of potential manufacturers can feel overwhelming. Plus, MHE spend is often spread across multiple vendors, making it challenging to get a handle on what equipment you already have and what you potentially need.
  • Equipment decisions are often made locally based on a facility’s immediate needs rather than those of the organization’s national or regional operations. This complicates the alignment of corporate and facility objectives when buying, servicing, and phasing out old equipment
  • The majority of equipment spend (roughly 70%) goes to maintenance and battery (EV) power or propane. This cost is hard to quantify, especially across many different equipment types, brands, facilities, and service providers. Many facilities simply lack data; those who have it often find that they still lack insight. That’s because they’re usually comparing apples-to-oranges reports from different warehouses and reporting systems.

Just one of these barriers, let alone all of them, could dissuade organizations from seeking better ways of managing, optimizing, and maintaining their material handling equipment fleet.

Still, as manufacturing and distribution expand in terms of capacity and complexity, it’s past time to pursue ways of working smarter, safer, and more productively. After all, these last few years have been extremely unpredictable and the future promises to remain at least somewhat uncertain.

We can—and should—leverage decades of innovation from on-road truck fleet management to build more stable and productive warehouses and facilities.

The path to transformation

Before doing anything, material handling executives must understand the current state of their fleet and their goals and priorities. Only then can you begin to transform your fleet management—one step at a time.

1. Pick one thing to fix. Remember, you don’t have to do it all at once, and you don’t have to aim for perfection. Instead, choose one pain point within your fleet management functions (e.g., procurement, tracking, maintenance, etc.) and direct your investments and efforts accordingly.

Ask yourself what your focus needs to be. Is it aligning corporate expectations with facility objectives? Improving safety and operator wellness? Streamlining equipment and operations? Simply conducting an inventory across all your facilities? Choose one area to optimize as a first step.

2. Find a niche material handling fleet management partner. If you’ve backed away from improvements because you don’t have the bandwidth to tackle an outdated system, consider a partnership. Ideally, this partner would come equipped with an intuitive and service-oriented tech platform that makes the change process easier.

Plus, fleet management specialists can quickly find small improvements that will make a huge difference. From there, a good partner will help you build a roadmap and an implementation plan.

3. Build up to a sophisticated system for tracking spend and data. You may be tempted to roar out of the gate, tracking and tagging all assets, spend, and data across all facilities, but remember that this is a process. You’ll want to collaborate with your fleet management partner to build a platform, as well as a plan to incorporate these metrics and monitor them over time. That doesn’t mean you can’t move quickly if you want to; you simply need to prioritize your needs and get the right resources in place.

Quite quickly, you’ll be in a good position to implement processes and technologies that optimize your fleet management strategy. Then, your organization will begin to reap benefits similar to those of trucking fleet management.

We can learn a lot when we step back and see how others in related fields tackle similar challenges. Forklift fleet managers who implement the tried-and-true fleet management practices we see in action on the roads will increase safety and productivity while decreasing cost and downtime.