At a CJ Logistics America warehouse near Dallas, Texas, forklifts operated remotely by drivers over 750 miles away, sitting at computers in Colorado, California, and Mexico (where CJ has warehousing and distribution operations), unload double stacked pallets from inbound trucks, moving them to the dock ready to be put away. The CJ Logistics warehouse team works with the remote operators as integrated team members to ensure all customer requirements are met with the high standards expected in all of the company’s facilities.
In this operation, CJ Logistics is partnering with Phantom Auto. Instead of being physically located in the warehouse, drivers use Phantom Auto’s remote operation platform to remotely operate forklifts while sitting at a computer equipped with a steering wheel, pedals and other accessories. The key technology that is driving this change to the way warehouse employees work is ultra-low latency video-streaming software that gives the remote drivers real-time 360-degree sight and sound around a vehicle, plus the ability to communicate with employees in the warehouse via a two-way audio system. The lifts are outfitted with hi-resolution cameras, lidar and safety sensors, real-time networking, graphic overlays, and two-way audio systems to enhance safety and communication.
“With this deployment, we’re looking into the feasibility of this technology to be used throughout our operations,” said Laura Adams, VP, TES. “With lift drivers potentially able to work from anywhere, remote operation would increase our labor pool and help improve resiliency to disruptions.”
With drivers able to work remotely, geographic restrictions to the labor pool need not apply — for example, drivers don’t need to be within commuting distance of the warehouse Remote operation can also expand opportunities for workers who are restricted in their ability to operate a forklift in a warehouse, such as disabled and neurodiverse individuals, veterans, and women (only ~10% of US forklift drivers are female). This represents a huge opportunity for an industry in need of more workers. The capability to operate remotely also means that occurrences such as weather incidents or pandemic restrictions can be less likely to disrupt operations.
The initial vehicle deployment was operational the same day the forklifts were delivered to the site. Since then, the focus of the deployment has been on unloading trailers, with the primary goals of proving out IT infrastructure, operating multiple units simultaneously and integrating equipment into day-to-day workflows. Phantom’s remotely operated forklifts work side-by-side with CJ Logistics team members on the ground, and have proven to work seamlessly in conjunction with autonomous forklifts. Next steps for CJ Logistics focus on adding remotely operated counterbalance lifts to the fleet; enabling remote operators to expand to putaway and picking in bulk storage or racks — often more complex tasks for an operator.
One of CJ Logistics’ technology goals is to provide employees with the right tools and support to enable them to fulfill their roles in a safer and more sustainable manner. With the belief that the employee experience creates the customer experience, CJ Logistics sees technology as facilitating the employee experience; remote operation technology helps employees be safer, more accurate, and more productive. COO Ken Heller said, “We believe the smarter approach to more efficient warehouse operations marries better engineering and systems with the unique capabilities of our most important resource: people. Remote operation enables us to deploy our technology faster and at scale.”
The company’s leadership sees remote operation leading to better work-life balance, more flexible and predictable schedules, reduced staff turnover rates, and decreased operational challenges for new employees. “I envision a day where remote operation lends itself to improved employee retention rates and ultimately a reduction in some of the operational challenges that new employees face when learning processes and workflows,” said Clement Alulis, VP, Operations. CJ Logistics’ innovative TES solutions fuse technology, optimal processes and advanced IT services. Solutions include Remote Operation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Automation, Advanced Material Handling Equipment (MHE), tuggers, conveyor systems, robotic systems, and more. Partnering with leading tech companies such as Phantom Auto, whose remote operation platform was named to TIME’s list of best inventions of 2022, CJ Logistics provides state-of-the-art solutions to solve supply chain challenges.
Check out Phantom Auto’s ProMat 2023 Recap: Remotely Operating Forklifts from Chicago
For information about CJ Logistics America’s supply chain management solutions: