Woman vs Machine: The Internet of Things can make them safer until they are autonomous.

I am a forklift geek. People kid me about this all the time. I notice the type and condition of forklifts everywhere. Friends and family send me photos of forklifts from around the neighborhood and the world. I am only half-kidding when I say I am going to post beautiful forklift photos to my Pinterist account. I can see them now: Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Yale, Hyster…not cars or locks, those are forklifts.

Forklifts are seriously amazing machines that can do so much…in the right hands. Sadly, over 60,000 people in the US alone are involved in forklift safety incidents. Every year over 80 of those people die in a forklift accident. The most common cause is a tip-over. Most, if not all, are preventable. So why do they happen?

OSHA and individual business organizations investigate forklift and other “lift truck” accidents. According to the research, most are attributed to human error or insufficient training. But is that a fair assessment? Forklifts have a LOT of mechanical breakdowns and many owners do not maintain their equipment in top condition. That could be why the first instruction for a forklift operator is to “inspect the machine”. Really? Are the issues visible? A few are, but most aren’t.

In the past months I and my associates created eTrack Tech, Inc. We provide Internet-of-Things enabled monitoring and predictive maintenance diagnostics for lift trucks, including forklifts and other commercial equipment. We have seen a lot of “legacy” (aka old) forklifts that have a wide variety of problems…some chronic, some critical. Take for example, the wheels or tires (they are different things). A mere 2 degree difference in height of the wheels translates to a 6-8 inch load tilt at the top of a 20 foot mast (the part that lifts the load), which can cause the load to slide. Can a human “inspect” the machine and see the 2 degree difference? Of course not.

My forklift fetish extends to airplane conversations. On one long trip, I made a routine friendly comment to the woman in the middle seat. I asked what she did (pharmaceutical sales rep), she asked what I did (prevent forklift breakdowns). She lit up. “Just for fun, I used to have a part-time job driving a forklift for (a familiar store). My load tipped one day and it fell on me. Wait, take a look at these pictures I took of my injuries.” She proceeded to show me photos of horrific purple bruises, most bigger than a football, all over her back and sides. Ouch. But she was lucky. She recovered with little long-term effects. We talked about what happened. She said the load just started to slide, and then the entire truck fell over. “I just was doing the same thing I did every day and it happened.”

So what is the balance of responsibility between the operator and the organizations? I am not very political, but I would call myself “pro-employment”; I like providing jobs for people and contributing to the economy. My view is that both parties need to make sure they are doing the right thing in the workplace. Employees should complete the required training and follow operating instructions. Companies can do a better job of maintaining their equipment and monitoring equipment issues. The payout is a win-win for companies and employees: by properly maintaining and monitoring equipment with an IoT solution like eTrack the company avoids costly breakdowns, saves a lot of money on maintenance and downtime, and the employee gets a machine that is in better working order, less likely to be involved in an accident.

The Internet of Things has spawned useful devices for our homes, our cars, and for healthier living. The industrial and commercial world is beginning to realize the power and potential of the Industrial Internet of Things with improved sensors, lower-cost gateway technology, and real-time monitoring. My hope is that companies with old “legacy” equipment will take advantage of the new technology. Together, we can make the workplace work better.

eTrack Tech, Inc. provides IoT-enabled predictive maintenance to reduce maintenance costs and downtime, provide actionable business intelligence, and reduce OSHA risk for small equipment like Forklifts. For more information contact barbara@etracktech.com.