Forklift Accountability Has United Appeal

United Natural Foods is one of the largest wholesale distributors to the natural and organic foods industry. They are nationwide, supplying a wide range of retail outlets, natural foods specialty chains and regular neighborhood supermarkets with natural foods including dry grocery, frozen/chill, and related products such as nutritional supplements, personal care items and organic produce.

United Natural Foods is one of the largest wholesale distributors to the natural and organic foods industry. They are nationwide, supplying a wide range of retail outlets, natural foods specialty chains and regular neighborhood supermarkets with natural foods including dry grocery, frozen/chill, and related products such as nutritional supplements, personal care items and organic produce.

United Natural Foods' Mid-Atlantic region is served from a 270,000 square feet distribution center located in New Oxford, PA. The facility handles 18,000 different items (sku's) with 340 employees working in a three-shift operation, of which 135 are trained and certified to operate 25 forklift trucks (nine order pickers, 13 reach type and three pacers).

As the Facility Equipment Technician responsible for maintenance, Bill Travis was concerned with the driving habits of some lift truck operators. Together with the company's Asset Protection Department, Travis investigated and found the Shockswitch® ID system, a product of Texas-based, Shockwatch®. The Shockswitch® system is able to control forklift access by requiring a prospective driver the "log on" with a simple key device, personally assigned to each authorized driver. Supervisors use a similar key to download stored information from the truck-mounted ID units and transfer the data to the Shockmate management software package on their office computer.

Each ID driver's key contains a unique identification number by which a licensed lift truck driver may be identified. Each unit on board a particular truck senses, records and reports such data as:

•abnormal impacts
•exact time of abnormal impact event and operator identity
•truck operating history - hours in use, etc.
•truck periodic maintenance history
•pending lapse in driver certification - date when required retraining is due

After the initial sales presentation, Scott Merrick of Lift Inc., a local dealer salesman, arranged and hosted a visit to an existing Shockswitch® ID end user location where the United Natural Foods staff delegates were able to witness a real system at work and query some actual users. On the next step, Scott put his past installation experience to work helping Bill and his staff install two sample units and the companion operating software. The test units were operated for a three month trial period and produced results such that the decision was made to proceed with installing the units on the remainder of the fleet (23 additional trucks).

The units were purchased and installed in October of 2004. October, November and December were dedicated to operator training and familiarity with the new system. Initially units were programmed to simply sound an alarm for "operator awareness" of rough driving practices. As of January 1, 2005 the full program was implemented with operator record retention and incident logging, etc.

Bill Travis commented: "I like the Shockswitch® units because they build awareness of the cost of accidents. Our actual results so far indicate we will more than realize our goals. To date we are already showing a starting level of 50 hits per week has dropped to 20 hits per week (A hit being defined as an impact exceeding company operating standards). Hits, of course, often lead to damage, repair costs and downtime."

Companies spend as much as $4000/yr to maintain each forklift in operation and usually 50% of this is directly attributed to abusive driving. Most companies see a minimum reduction of 50% in damage to forklifts and company property when impacts are measured, recorded and suitable warnings issued via this precision safety monitoring and behavior modification aid from Shockwatch®.
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