NFER® RTLS for Forklift Tracking and Supply Chain Management

The JITS Warehouse in Huntsville, AL has multi-level (typically three to four pallets high) steel racks.

Conventional RFID systems can identify assets passing through a portal, but once inside a warehouse locating the assets becomes a substantial challenge. Tagging each of the potentially thousands of assets in a typical logistics scenario is cost-prohibitive. But by identifying an asset, associating it with a forklift, and then tracking the forklift, a small number of active tagged forklifts can enable keeping track of a large number of  assets.  More on how Q-Track developed this innovative concept for real-time location awareness of assets may be found on the Q-Track website.

This system can be employed in situations where pallets are stored and stacked in open areas as well as in racks. Further, there are a number of secondary benefits of tracking forklifts, including:

  • Analysis and optimization of forklift utilization
  • Proximity detection and collision avoidance (when tracking workers also)
  • Monitoring speed of forklifts to ensure safe operation
  • Accountability for forklift damage/accidents

Q-Track has implemented a number of forklift tracking system pilots to assess performance. In one pilot at the JITS Warehouse in Huntsville, AL, we deployed four receivers to cover a 142ft x 148ft (43m x 45m) area including racks loaded with pallets three to four high.

In a pilot at the JITS Warehouse in Huntsville, AL, four Q-Track Locator-Receivers were able to track a forklift throughout a 142ft x 148ft area with bin-level accuracy.

The NFER® RTLS system tracked a forklift to bin-level accuracy (within four feet) throughout the area, despite the complicated non-line-of-sight environment. This performance follows from the low-frequency (~1MHz), long-wavelength (~300m) nature of the signals employed by NFER® RTLS systems. Long-wavelength signals bend and diffract around obstructions like metal racks, enabling excellent coverage, even in cluttered and obstructed settings. The figure below plots the received power throughout the area.

These plots show received signal (in dBm) strength for first magnetic (top), electric (middle), and second magnetic (bottom) channels in a NFER® Locator-Receiver tracking a forklift in a warehouse. The arrow shows the location of the Locator-Receiver. The low-frequency, long-wavelength signals propagate through and around steel racks loaded with pallets, enabling precise tracking even in a non-line-of-sight environment.

Employing long-wavelength signals has advantages beyond excellent propagation. Operation in the near-field means more parameters are available for precision tracking. Far-field signals have only two possible polarizations. Near-field signals exhibit a third radial or longitudinal polarization. Also, the electric and magnetic fields retain their separate identities in the near-field region providing still more tracking parameters. This target-rich environment enables precise tracking of forklifts in cluttered environments.

The video below shows results from a second pilot within the warehouse.

Q-Track is working with a couple of potential customers to implement NFER® forklift tracking systems, and would welcome the opportunity to deploy additional systems.

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