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Towing to improve safety

13 May 2019

Toyota Material Handling UK explores options to consider when going forkless in your operation.

In a changing and challenging environment, businesses are constantly under pressure to improve in terms of quality, efficiency, and safety. The trend towards e-commerce and online orders becoming a natural part of the customer buying behaviour has in many ways increased the pressure. 

Many organisations look towards efficiency projects that are usually related to increasing output, which typically leads to moving more products and material around. This can have an impact on overall production flow, picking routines or even an organisation’s logistics. Ultimately it may require a company to rethink their material handling operation in order to reach this increased throughput while also maintaining safety. One solution could be to go “forkless”: moving materials via load carriers with wheels pulled by a vehicle. Of course, going forkless can take different forms from how roll cages are handled by pedestrians through to advanced towing solutions in different application areas.

Roll cages are commonly used for a range of applications, including: back of truck operations, moving stock for replenishment and even order picking. According to statistics from the HSE, handling roll cages is a common source of injury.  Causes include pulling or pushing them on slopes, attempting to stop them from overbalancing and trapping hands and feet. Toyota’s Tracto TWE080N is a pedestrian towing tractor that can move loads of up to 800kg and is ideal for moving roll cages. It gives the operator a ‘hands-off’ way of manoeuvring a loaded cage, reducing the chance of hand injuries and crucially, because it pulls the roll cage low down on the cage body, it is inherently more stable than pushing a cage at the top. It also reduces the need for banksmen, with one person able to tow a roll cage which is stabilised by the machine.

Typical applications for different towing solutions include manufacturing, load moving, production and picking (particularly ecommerce). 

In manufacturing, where lean just-in-time thinking calls for exactly the right components to be assembled at a given point in the production process to match order throughput, item handling is necessary to avoid excessive material throughout the process. Also in e-commerce businesses, where single items are selected for end customers and sorted during the picking round, efficient solutions to move products are needed. Towing solutions are a good alternative to traditional forklifts to handle single items. They are safe, easy to manoeuvre and perfect to transport pallets and pick single items.

If there is a requirement to move multiple loads at the same time, the use of tow tractors can be very beneficial. A tow tractor with a train of trailers means greater flexibility in the type of goods that can be transported. There’s a large variety of load carriers to choose from to put together a tow train. This way different load sizes can be accommodated, as can loading from one or both sides and moving goods via pallets. An efficient use of manpower and tasks with maximum added value.

The idea behind forklift-free handling is replenishing material as it is used, rather than keeping excess material on the production floor. Tow tractors can be used for ‘milk runs’, a continual route tow tractors follow around the factory with stops at designated points, either dropping off or collecting trailers. Tow tractors support an efficient flow; fewer people are needed to move the same amount of goods, less equipment on the floor leads to more safety and fewer incidents, a lower risk for bottlenecks, more flexibility all of which results in a leaner way of working.

With growing e-commerce businesses, customers expect very fast delivery times. Therefore single-piece or multi-order picking needs to be quick and easy. Dedicated tractor and trolley solutions with adjustable compartments for cases or loose items make it easier to sort orders whilst picking. The tow tractors can also be used for stock replenishment as they provide the flexibility to transport quantities of large or small items stock to various locations.

In a forklift-free operation, operators have an unobstructed view from the tow tractor seat. For example, tractors tow the load carriers behind them and only move forward, as opposed to lift trucks, which often need to back up, limiting visibility in the process. Especially in busy areas, such as airports, visibility and safety are of high importance.  In addition, sit-in tow tractors offer the operators a comfortable workspace during the long-distance drive in all weather conditions.

Of course, dependent upon the nature of a particular organisation, a mixture of forklifts and towing solutions may be required. Moving to tow tractors is quite a change and education of the team who will be working with them is important. Inherently, tow tractors can make an important contribution to safety in materials handling.