driverless forklift

Does Your Food & Beverage Operation Need a Driverless Forklift?

Does Your Food & Beverage Operation Need a Driverless Forklift?

Cold supply chain management for food and beverage warehousing presents a variety of challenges for companies. Operating in chilled or frozen temperatures can be hazardous for employees and significantly increase the costs of labor, operations, and storage. 

With driverless forklifts, food and beverage operations can achieve higher throughput and lower operating expenses with cold chain automation – without sacrificing accuracy or product integrity. 

What is a Driverless Forklift?

Driverless forklifts, also known as automated forklifts or fork-style AGVs, replace conventional, manually operated forklifts. Driverless forklifts can free employees from repetitive tasks, reduce product damage, and allow employees to focus on other areas requiring higher skill or attention.   

Benefits of Driverless Forklifts in Food and Beverage Operations 

Food and beverage operations rely on densely packed pallets to store goods. Traditionally, manually operated forklifts would take care of the brunt of handling and storage, but this creates more opportunities for human error and increased exposure to safety hazards. From 2011 to 2017, there were 617 fatalities and over 7,000 nonfatal injuries involving forklifts. 

Additionally, when working in chilled or frozen temperatures, automation helps companies stay competitive by improving overall operations. Some notable benefits of automated forklifts include:

Labor Benefits

Driverless forklifts protect your company from vulnerabilities of labor shortages or fluctuations in the economy. By eliminating the need for a human operator, automated forklifts slash labor and training costs, and allow productivity to be maintained even when reliable, OSHA-certified forklift drivers are scarce. 

Decreased reliance on manual processes also leads to safer, more comfortable working environments for employees. According to National Security Council data, the average forklift injury causes 16 days away from work, which significantly impacts productivity and employee retention in already labor-strapped industries. Workforce protection is especially important for cold chain businesses, because hazards and discomfort inherent to forklift operation are often heightened in chilled and freezing temperatures. Frigid environments contribute to greater risks for human error, illness, and injury, and the presence of refrigerants such as ammonia used in some industrial refrigeration systems may add chemical exposure risks as well.

Operational Benefits 

Autonomous forklifts offer companies key operational advantages and can increase throughput by transporting materials more quickly and with greater precision than a manual forklift. Automation also results in fewer opportunities for human error – resulting in higher fulfillment and reducing potential product or pallet damages during human handling.

As new opportunities arise in markets, autonomous forklifts provide companies with greater agility to adapt. Increased automation is widely accepted to be inevitable across many sectors; automated transport solutions such as driverless forklifts and other types of AGVs can be a perfect entry point into automation because they easily integrate with other automated material handling systems. 

Driverless forklifts also increase long-term ROI because of the 24/7 productivity potential. These driverless forklifts are programmed – and not manually operated – which can help enable an end-to-end flow of goods without human intervention, ideal for lights-out operations.

Financial Benefits

Driverless forklifts present valuable financial opportunities for companies. The labor and operational benefits mentioned above result in a cost reduction from the consequences of human error and injury. 

The cold chain is currently responsible for $30 billion in utility costs annually, accounting for the highest energy demand per square foot of any industrial category. Fork-style AGVs can enable 24/7 lights-out production, dark store operational capabilities, and increased warehouse automation resulting in energy savings. 

Pricing for fork-style AGVs allows businesses to invest more money in other areas of the cold chain. Ballpark pricing for a single AGV application is about $100,000 and starts at $2 million for a larger fleet of integrated AGVs. Meanwhile, traditional warehouse conveyors and manual forklifts can cost up to $10 million.

Businesses can expect to see myriad cost-saving and operational benefits in both the short term and long term from the use of autonomous forklifts. Learn more about the ROI of automated guided vehicles and a cost-benefit analysis.


cold chain automation


Learn More about Cold Chain-Friendly Driverless Forklifts from Murata Machinery USA, Inc. 

Murata Machinery USA offers a full range of customizable driverless forklifts to support all temperature ranges and conditions across the entire supply chain, from pre-production to distribution, for greenfield, and brownfield sites. Our driverless forklift options include: 

  • Premex Series: LFX Single-Drive Forklift, SLX Multi-Drive Forklift: These automated forklifts are flexible, space-saving, and highly maneuverable in narrow aisles and small spaces. 
  • A Series AGVs: The A Series is a comprehensive, versatile line featuring six different base configurations ranging from low-profile, compact carriers to heavy-duty vehicles capable of transporting up to 11,000 lbs. 

Murata Machinery USA offers one of the most comprehensive portfolios of tested cold chain storage and transport solutions on the market. We also assist in determining system ROI, maximizing systems within existing footprints, and ensuring a safe environment for your workforce.

To discuss your challenges and learn more, contact us today.

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