Unlike traditional, sit-down forklifts, order pickers travel parallel to racking so that operators can pick products to build out orders. Travelling this close to racking, however, can be a tedious affair. Operators must strike a balance between being close enough to the racking to make the pick, yet still have enough space to travel safely down the aisle without hitting the racking.
Guidance systems such as rail and wire guidance can be useful tools for reducing product, racking, and forklift damage. While both rail and wire guidance systems offer similar benefits, the differences in installation and how they function make each option ideal for some applications over others.
Rail guidance systems use physical boundaries to keep order pickers on the desired path. Physical rails need to be installed into the ground in front of the racking to set the path on which the forklift runs. Guide rollers installed on both sides of the order picker allow the forklift to contact the rails on each side and continue to travel down the aisle, potentially minimizing damage to the racking, product, and the order picker. Many advanced systems, such as Toyota’s double rail guidance option with auto-center steering have one unique guide roller with a sensor switch that, when contacted, automatically centers the drive tire, enabling the order picker to continue straight through the rest of the aisle.
Since every application varies, it is important to configure the rails and guide rollers appropriately so that operators can work productively and safely within each aisle. The configuration should also cause minimal hindrances to their ability to travel and pick product. In some cases, the rails actually need to be built into the rack depending on the aisle width and available space between the front face of the rack and the rail.
Wire guidance systems require installation of a wire into the ground that is detected by sensors on the truck. These sensors detect the wire and the forklift follows the wire’s path. Travel of the order picker becomes limited to the set confines of the wire’s physical location in the ground. Some wire guidance settings are configurable, such as end of aisle slowdown and travel speed that can be set based on your application’s needs.
One advantage of wire guidance systems is that the operator can turn off the guidance system when needed to allow for travel outside of the confines of the wire. This is helpful in certain situations where travel within the confines of the wire limits the forklift’s ability to travel based on the product they are picking and the aisle in which they are operating. Similar to rail guidance, wire guidance can be used in any aisle type, but is most commonly found in narrow and very narrow aisle applications. Wire guidance systems allow the operator to relinquish steering control when the system is active within the aisle, allowing operators to focus more on travel and lift, which can further increase productivity.
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