Just 0.3% of all forklifts shipped in 2019 were automated, reports Ash Sharma, Managing Director of Interact Analysis, in an article published yesterday by the Robotics Business Review. In a “moderate” prediction, Interact believes that this will increase to 5% by 2023 which would imply some 75,000 automated fork trucks being shipped that year, generating over $5bn in revenue.
While mobile robots for use in e-commerce and fulfillment centers have received most of the attention in recent times due to their sudden uptake, robotic fork trucks (forklifts) have been quietly and steadily growing in numbers, and represent one of the largest opportunities for suppliers of Automated Guide Vehicles (AGVs) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs). Over a million manual fork trucks are sold globally each year, and the on-going replacement trend to automated solutions is driving a huge market opportunity.
Approximately 5,000 automated fork-trucks were shipped in 2019, generating over $700m in revenues globally. These ranged from more simple pallet trucks for long-distance conveying of pallets in warehouses and distribution centers, to more specialized VNAs (very narrow aisle vehicles) and reach trucks for vertical moves of pallets and heavy loads.
Clear and strong drivers for adoption self-driving fork trucks
The key drivers for robotic fork truck adoption are clear and strong – cost reduction, a lack of labor and safety. Whilst automated trucks can cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars, eliminating the need for a human driver can provide a ROI within two years in many cases. Countering the obvious argument that robots will take humans jobs, it’s worth noting that there is a severe workforce shortage in manufacturing and logistics – particularly for fork truck drivers. At the same time, manual fork truck accidents are common, resulting in injuries and damage/loss which comes at a considerable cost.