How to Optimize Tugger Train Systems

Tugger trains are in-house solutions for the efficient transportation of materials. This type of transportation is extremely beneficial for just-in-time and just-in-sequence production processes. It goes like that: the worker drives the wagons which can be loaded depending on the production requirements.

The current state of affairs – the forklift: widely used but unsafe and not efficient

Nowadays forklifts are widely used in manufacturing. In the forklift industry, electric forklifts have taken more than 60% of the forklift market in comparison to the traditional combustion engine forklifts.


Unfortunately, forklift safety is not that high and accidents involving forklift operators are on the rise. For example, in the United States, the total number of injuries per year is 96,785. Each year, more than 1 in 10 forklifts are involved in an accident. 42.5% of the fatal accidents are actually taking place in the manufacturing industry.


This is where the tugger train comes into play and makes a difference. Tugger trains increase safety and make manufacturing operations more efficient. They provide for a better allocation of resources in terms of reduced energy, reduced floor congestion and better organization of workers’ tasks. In addition to that, wait times are reduced saving time and money.


Here are the details why it makes sense to take the leap and make a transition from using forklifts to a tugger train system.

The tugger train system

In the case of the tugger train system, several wagons/carts are put together thus forming a train towed by the tugger.  The amount of carts is unlimited but the maximum capacity depends on the specifications of the tugger and the floor surface. The benefits of the tugger train are the following:


Increased Safety


Since accidents involving forklift operators have become too frequent and life-threatening, the tugger train is a good alternative for increasing workers safety. Its structure and operating mode guarantee higher safety for the workers paired with a full utilization of the wagons. Something that the forklift cannot compete with. Yet this does not mean that forklifts would vanish that quickly.


Reduced Wait Times


There are two main reasons for reduced wait times. Firstly, the carts can be easily detached and attached again. Secondly, a good design of routes is extremely beneficial. The tugger train simply stops at a certain station, the loaded cart is removed and replaced by an empty one. The whole process is an efficient one since it does not take more than a minute.


In the following video, the tugger train needs less time to bring twice the amount of goods from storage to production line. This also means that it consumes less energy, plus the tracks for tugger trains can be narrower than the ones for a forklift.


Reduced Energy


Following the above video example, comes the next benefit. Having in mind that tugger trains can deliver several containers per trip, the used energy is less in comparison to a forklift that needs to go back and forth. This has two main applications – less waste emission and better utilization of resources. Using the forklift the following scenario takes place – one worker drives the vehicle, one unloads the materials, and another person needs to load again. In the case of tugger trains, one person can perform all this.


Using Space Efficiently


Some of the tuggers are automatic guided vehicles, they take pre-determined routes. Thus it is possible to configure their work around the warehouse, for example, saving space and not getting in the way of other ongoing activities. Tugger routes can also be pre-determined for manually operated tuggers.


There is also less floor congestion and bottlenecks for the materials transport flow. Loading and unloading processes take less time and can be optimized on the fly. In the case of tugger trains, one cart can be easily removed from the tugger train and move along to the next station. A typical tugger train in an assembly plant consists of two or three carts, still, longer trains are possible depending on the space availability and the plant safety regulations.


Optimizing tugger trains with WORKERBASE

In contrast to forklift trucks, tugger trains connect a supermarket with multiple delivery locations along a transport route. The milk-run organization  brings many efficiency gains like higher transport capacity or reduced labor costs. But it also has its price: the planning and dimensioning of in-plant milk-run systems is more complicated than using forklift trucks. This downside can be tackled by using wearable devices. For example, ordering of materials can be done by using a smartwatch. The smartwatch is a connected wearable device which means that the orders are directly sent to the tugger train drivers. They get the transport order in real-time on their smartwatches. No need for paper forms, the replenishment workflow is fully digital. There is also no longer a need for phone calls or emails for placing replenishment orders- this shortens wait times.


How does it work in practice?


  1. Order replenishment for re-supply using a smartwatch.The worker scans the barcode of the missing material and enters the needed quantity.
  2. The tugger train driver receives the information and picks the order from the supermarket. Alternatively, the driver assigns the task to another co-worker by using his smartwatch.
  3. In case of wait times, supervisors receive notifications on their smartwatches and can react with counteractions to reduce the wait time.
  4. Tugger trains perform their milk run and drop the materials at the delivery locations. Deliveries are acknowledged by using the smartwatch.
  5. Orders are reported back to ERP or WMS thus integrating existing line-of-business apps.

In case you have questions about how to optimize your tugger train system we would we happy to help. Please drop us a line

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