3 steps to identify the right technologies for your operation

March 6, 2020
Just because automation technology is available doesn’t mean you should jump in too quickly.

By: Dave Norton, vice president of customer solutions and support, for The Raymond Corporation

Maximizing operational efficiency is the goal of every warehouse operation. Many companies think that without automation, their company might fall behind their competitors. Oftentimes, however, managers are tempted to jump into automation as a quick, cost-effective solution. It’s no secret that regardless of what kind of products your warehouse services, automation can likely make production and distribution processes quicker, more efficient and cost-effective. But, should it always be the next investment?

Optimization is a crucial step that must happen before investing in the latest automation trends. Just because automation technology is available doesn’t mean you should jump in too quickly. Before you adopt new automation technologies, it is important to first follow this effective three-step discipline: Optimize. Connect. Automate.

Optimize


Continuous optimization is key to getting the most out of your operation. An optimized warehouse creates more space for product, increases workforce productivity and leverages each piece of equipment for the best suitable task. If you haven’t already, strongly consider implementing a Lean Management process to optimize warehouse productivity and lower overhead costs. Lean Management is a long-term operational discipline that systematically seeks to improve efficiency and quality by identifying expenditures and eliminating waste in time and materials.  

Connect


You can’t optimize what you don’t measure. Even the most advanced technologies can’t make your warehouse more efficient if you don’t know how to measure, interpret and implement the data and findings. If your warehouse team has not been consistently tracking fleet utilization, operator performance, impacts and scheduled maintenances, it is more difficult to measure opportunities for efficiency improvement — and to justify the associated costs.

Telematics data can be used to expose equipment inefficiency patterns and assist with right-typing your fleet. Before making any big decisions about how much and what type of equipment you need, consult the telematics data. This information can help determine if your current fleet is meeting your load capacity needs and if the right trucks are being used for the right tasks.

Use data and technology to establish baseline efficiencies, and provide valuable insights into what works in your warehouse and what doesn’t.

Automate


Automation uses technology to enhance current processes, ultimately reducing labor and operating costs, increasing productivity, and making your warehouse easily scalable.  When evaluating options, consider implications like productivity, cost advantage, workforce development, safety and flexibility.

There’s a misconception that robots will replace human labor. However, we envision a different future built on shared autonomy and operator-assist technologies. This scenario promises a whole new era for human labor making new jobs possible that encompass a new realm of specialized skillsets. The shared autonomy approach acknowledges that robots can theoretically operate successfully approximately 60% of the time, while human action will still be needed for the remaining 40%. Humans will be able to recognize an unexpected pallet condition in warehouse racking or obstruction, for example, and quickly remedy the obstruction, keeping warehouse operations running uninterrupted. 

When evaluating automation options, consider implications like productivity, cost advantage, workforce development, safety and flexibility. Third-party professional services can help identify areas of improvement by providing data on your labor force and allowing you to analyze costs and inefficiencies at every level of your operation. Data gathered from labor studies provides information for more effective training to boost productivity, monitor utilization and promote employee accountability, hence optimizing operational efficiency.

In conclusion


The Optimize, Connect, Automate discipline will be an ongoing journey. Don’t expect the process to happen overnight. While automation may hold benefits for your operation, it’s important to scrutinize new technologies to determine which will be the best fit for your operation. This can only happen after achieving optimization to determine certain inefficiencies that automation likely won’t solve.

Optimization before automation will help you determine if incorporating automation solutions is the right strategy for your operation and if so, help you evaluate which technologies represent the best potential to achieve maximum operational efficiency. Achieving operational optimization first will put you in a better position to implement the automation solutions that will best fit your facility.  

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