Get ready to automate by utilizing lean management

July 5, 2022
The first step is to take the time to optimize and connect your facilities internally.

By Michael Field, president and CEO of The Raymond Corporation

As the world continues to change at an accelerated pace, finding solutions to meet increased customer demands while dealing with shortages and other challenges is imperative. According to a 2022 industry report, two of the top seven challenges that companies are facing revolve around supply chain disruptions and the need for faster response and delivery times. With nearly 80% of respondents noting they plan to implement robotics and automation in their operation over the next five years, these technologies are vital to the future of the material handling and supply chain industries. 

As one of the first in the industry to invest in automation, The Raymond Corporation has a deep history of pioneering new forms of technology in the material handling industry. Today’s automated technologies build on years of research and development efforts at Raymond, beginning with automated lift trucks using wire guided and early computing technology in the 1970s, and spanning to more modern innovations such as the iWAREHOUSE® Fleet and Warehouse Optimization System and the Raymond Virtual Reality Simulator.

The Raymond team knows what it takes to move the industry forward and takes pride in its quality of service to keep customers up and running. It’s done by delivering efficient, effective and innovative solutions tailored to meet customers’ changing needs. That’s how the team knows delving into the field of automation is not an easy task and requires a deeper commitment, beyond investing in the latest technology solutions.

Business leaders must first take the time to optimize and connect their facilities internally. This approach will build a solid foundation that automation can then be layered onto and ensure it works in harmony with associates, processes and equipment to create an efficient and productive warehousing environment. This process can be referred to as “Optimize, Connect, Automate.” Automation is then only implemented after processes, data and other information are examined to develop a strategy for effectively executing a plan for integrating automation.

Optimize. The first step of the process is taking a deep look into an operation to see where it is along the optimization journey. Not every automated solution will be worth the investment. So, before implementing automation, it’s important to take the time to visualize and analyze the facility with a lean management set of lenses. Lean management is a long-term operational discipline that systematically seeks to improve efficiency and quality by identifying areas for improvement and eliminating waste in time and materials.

A primary component of lean management is to help operations identify the correct problems to solve.  By using this approach, an operation can then identify inefficiencies and implement changes to improve workflows, which leads to saving time and money. This works best when utilizing the knowledge and experience of associates by empowering them to find improvement opportunities that create flexibility and agility for the operation. In short, a good lean management system is designed to teach people how to solve problems and produce long-term sustainable improvements that directly impact the bottom line, ultimately leading to a culture of continuous improvement. 

Connect. The next step toward automation is collecting operational data to help further identify areas of improvement and get a complete picture. A telematics suite of solutions identifies data-driven insights by tracking and reporting on vehicle and operator utilization.

Collecting data from several points in the process — including the use and management of batteries, asset maintenance management, equipment usage, labor resources and even customer requirements — provides an array of information to drive optimization. It can then be analyzed and action can be taken to help remove inefficiencies, reduce waste and reduce costs. The bottom-line savings from a data-driven approach can be reapplied to help fund future automation efforts.  

When looking to implement automation, it is important for business leaders to work with a trusted partner who will take the time to understand their unique application needs before recommending solutions. Great recommendations rely on strong input, and having a robust data set will help ensure the solutions are a good fit for the facility and a good investment for the business.

Automate. Finally, once business leaders have taken the steps to optimize and connect their operations internally, they can evaluate what type of automation makes sense for their unique needs. With increasing demands and other challenges, automation has shown that it has the potential to help create a competitive advantage by playing a part in filling workforce gaps, upskilling the workforce and helping to standardize repetitive work.

Solutions such as operator assist technologies and cutting-edge order picking can be a great way to optimize operations and maximize labor. These technologies can be added to the base layer of a lift truck, creating integrated systems that can increase operator proficiency, accuracy and productivity. As automation takes over repetitive tasks, we are able to free up skilled people resources. Business leaders now can reinvest their people in other places where human intelligence and experience excels. Automation when properly implemented helps optimize labor assets and leads to standardized processes, which reduce picking errors, product damage and downtime.

Now is the time to create greater visibility of facility and material handling functions, as well as increase efficiency, visualize changes and continuously improve operations. Working with an end-to-end intralogistics solutions provider helps meet an operation’s unique challenges every step of the way. The Raymond team is proud to have been that provider for its customers for 100 years and is looking forward to solving challenges for 100 more.

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