After a thorough assessment of one’s core business, both in the economic and operational environments, it may be determined that automation is a good fit for your business. From Pick-to-Light and Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems – (“ASRS”) – there are a number of available options for both the Order Selection and Sortation function in the warehousing realm.
In the right environment, an investment in these automated systems can reduce labor associated with transporting goods through inventory locations, minimize facility footprint by fully utilizing available vertical space, and maximize human capital across each of these functions.
Investing the capital for these automated systems doesn’t appear to be an issue, as the presence of such systems is plentiful. Nevertheless, many warehouses are unable to attain the marketed productivity gains and robust payback expected. This becomes even more problematic when a human component is involved in operating the automated system in a dynamic marketplace with volatile demand shifts.
We can attribute much of this to the fact that warehouses want to be satisfied with their investment and believe that any initial productivity gains are sustainable. A subtle creep in operating characteristics can eventually transform an initial optimal configuration into one that is simply functioning with minimal error. The following considerations may be warranted to avoid this potential pitfall.
Systematically Monitor Demand Shifts & Changes in Product Velocity
Simply stated, if the system in question is left unchanged, a shift in product demand also translates to a shift in labor demand at the activity level. In addition to tracking this change—monthly, seasonally or otherwise periodically—a visual “heat map” can help illustrate these shifts as they occur. Visual feedback may help demonstrate the changes in timely fashion, which in turn may aid in addressing the shift in labor demand appropriately.
Understand the Value of Biomechanics with Your Human Capital
With a change in the operating characteristics of the automated system comes the potential for consequential deviations to the human factors associated with material handling. Here it is advantageous to consider the biomechanics—i.e., the study of the effects of force on the body.
Often, walk distance is the key measure evaluated to drive overall productivity within a system. Considering this from a work measurement standpoint, the amount of time awarded to walk ten additional feet to obtain an item at a waist-high level is equivalent to the amount of time awarded for bending to reach for a floor level item at your current position. Now, imagine this item is a fast-mover requiring frequent selection. The additional ten feet require half the rest allowance of the constant bending needed to select for that same fast-moving item at one’s starting position.
The explanation is simple: the extra steps allow for the selector to remain upright and thus are less taxing on the body. These ergonomically sound considerations—conveyed through optimal configurations and fostered with the engineering of a discrete labor standard—may greatly reduce both time and strain on the human capital of your business.
Respect Performance & System Economics
Are regulatory measures in place to monitor the stress and, if so, have you implemented a strategy to prevent the proliferation of mechanical operating costs? In the dynamic world of manufacturing & distribution, it is unacceptable to maintain the M.O. of “condition-based” maintenance. Rather, your operations demand developed, implemented, and systematic maintenance cycles to prolong your system’s life instead of accepting its impending expiration—especially when demand is shifting in your favor.
All things considered, it is advantageous to you to heed these deliberations when assessing the benefits of your existing automation. Implementing a business process that leverages all available data from all pertinent sources will forecast and predict adverse changes before they impact your bottom line. A discrete engineering labor standard will also aid in monitoring creeping changes as they are introduced into the system, making sure you continue to see a return on your investment in automation – and can assist you in evaluating future capital investments.