Robotic Fork Trucks Set for Lift Off

Amanda Baier
2 minutes to read

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.

Vecna Robotics listed among winners

As with any industry undergoing a technology displacement, there are naturally winners and losers. Clear winners are those supplying automated trucks, or automation technology. Vecna Robotics is among those companies that are benefiting from this market expansion. Vecna Robotics offers automated pallet jacks, conveyors and tuggers and recently raised $50m in its Series B funding round. The company enjoyed very strong growth in 2019 with revenues more than doubling and companies such as FedEx and DHL as its customers.

This report was provided by Interact Analysis, an international provider of market research for the Intelligent Automation sector. Our team of experienced industry analysts delivers research into three core sectors: industrial automation, robotics and warehouse automation, and commercial vehicles.

Read the full article on the Robotics Business Review.