How to integrate advanced technologies and automation in labor management systems

April 10, 2020

Build your technology strategy around your workforce, not the other way around.

By Debbie Tworek, Associated; and Derrick Miller and Jason Fiume, The Raymond Corporation

Efficiency and productivity play a vital role in maximizing overall profitability. In today’s tight labor market, understanding the many nuances of labor costs and accurately accessing employee productivity is critical.

In the last three installments of this blog, we defined data integration, examined how to collect data, and outlined ways to use labor analytics to gain more value from your system. In this final installment, we will focus on the future of labor management systems — an integral tool to get the most out of your operation.

A fully operational labor management system (LMS) can provide data on how to optimize your facility and eventually can lead to the implementation of intralogistics solutions including the interconnection of data-enabled devices (Internet of Things, or IoT) and automation.

The future of LMS

Labor costs are always a big talking point for warehouse and operations managers. Unfortunately, many companies do not have access to the information that will give visibility into individual processes. By utilizing an effective LMS, companies gain insights that allow them to better understand true operational costs. With that powerful data and analytics, a company can optimize the status quo, before jumping into an automated process that may not be the most efficient solution.

LMS data is a powerful tool that allows a facility to base decisions about automated technology investments based on their current labor spending as compared with their current product throughput. What we’ve found is that when labor is optimized, some technology investments are not as prudent as initially thought. In many cases, the better solution is to shift focus toward different technologies that further optimizes an operation around the labor instead of replacing the labor itself.

LMS, automation, and IoT interaction

Once implemented, automation and IoT open the door to a more nuanced LMS due to the additional data these technologies bring to the equation. For example, real-time location tracking provides information about an employee’s physical whereabouts within the four walls of a facility, giving a clearer picture of their current work activity. Automated Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology can provide information about what product an employee is moving, without the need to physically scan each box or pallet. Additionally, automated forklifts remove extra travel that otherwise would have slowed an employee’s productivity. Being aware of such movement efficiently assigns work to a forklift or employee.

Not all tasks are easily and consistently repeatable, meaning employee productivity and automation will coexist for the foreseeable future. By providing important data relative to both productivity and operational costs, an LMS can give a more accurate picture of the total cost of your operation, valuable when considering automation investment options. By employing automation tools such as automated equipment (forklifts, for example), facilities managers can better track those devices and people. Telematics data collected from industrial vehicles and operators tell a more accurate picture and lead to actionable insights for achieving maximum productivity. 

LMS into the next decade

Looking ahead into the next decade, enhanced LMS systems will play a big part in overall warehouse optimization. LMS has already begun its migration away from something very few operators have to something everyone needs. Given the current tight labor market and the size and scope of the distribution world continuously growing, having tight visibility into your labor force is important.

In the future, LMS data will move into other business sectors as managers rely more on data to drive management decisions, devise processes and implement procedures. Doing so will allow your warehouse to operate as lean as possible. Networkwide visibility of LMS data gives instant access at any time and allows you to securely share that information with others for easy collaboration, faster decision-making and more efficient process improvements. What’s more, LMS data will play a significant role in assisting managers when making decisions about future investments in advanced technologies.

In conclusion

In today’s world, data is king. A distribution center often has a wide variety of data points coming from a multitude of systems. Over the course of this four-part informational series, we’ve defined data integration and examined ways to collect data. Subsequent posts included information specific to warehouse data integration and what the future holds for labor tracking and management. We’ve shared different approaches to pulling in data and the importance of creating a labor management system with multiple data sources for creating a more effective and efficient warehouse. In this final installment, we focused on the future of LMS systems and how data from these systems can lead to optimizations that will ensure operations will stay efficient and profitable for years to come.

To reference previous installments, visit the following links:

Blog Post 1: Data integration: The future of labor tracking and management 
Blog Post 2: Why warehouse labor tracking and management matters
Blog Post 3: How to get value out of a labor management system 

About the Author: Debbie Tworek

About the Author

Alexis Gajewski | Senior Content Strategist

Alexis Gajewski has over 15 years of experience in the maintenance, reliability, operations, and manufacturing space. She joined Plant Services in 2008 and works to bring readers the news, insight, and information they need to make the right decisions for their plants. Alexis also authors “The Lighter Side of Manufacturing,” a blog that highlights the fun and innovative advances in the industrial sector. 

Sponsored Recommendations

Arc Flash Prevention: What You Need to Know

March 28, 2024
Download to learn: how an arc flash forms and common causes, safety recommendations to help prevent arc flash exposure (including the use of lockout tagout and energy isolating...

Reduce engineering time by 50%

March 28, 2024
Learn how smart value chain applications are made possible by moving from manually-intensive CAD-based drafting packages to modern CAE software.

Filter Monitoring with Rittal's Blue e Air Conditioner

March 28, 2024
Steve Sullivan, Training Supervisor for Rittal North America, provides an overview of the filter monitoring capabilities of the Blue e line of industrial air conditioners.

Limitations of MERV Ratings for Dust Collector Filters

Feb. 23, 2024
It can be complicated and confusing to select the safest and most efficient dust collector filters for your facility. For the HVAC industry, MERV ratings are king. But MERV ratings...