In the world of automation system design, your main goal is to find inefficiencies within a material handling workflow and find an easier, faster and better way to do it while maintaining reliability and throughput. Many operational managers will already be keyed in to the amount of touches a product or component has from the time it enters the facility to the time it leaves. Identifying these touches will give you the first step in determining where an automated solution may work best for you.
This is what we call workflow or process analysis. As an application engineer, you will want to track the life of a part, case, or pallet throughout the building. Here is a list of a few stats you’ll want to record.
- Reoccurrence of the process
- Length of distance over which the process takes place
- Touches over the length of the process
- Complexity of the process
In order to find a process in the building that will bring the best value add to operations we have to look for a workflow that is reoccurring consistently throughout the shift that is easily repeatable. For example, take the process of unloading a truck and putting product away into a warehouse. From a 30,000 foot view, the process consists of manual offloading of trucks, staging product, registering product as received, transporting product to the warehouse and putting it in racks and recording that position for inventory.
Autonomous Mobile Robots
There are a myriad of semi and fully automated processes that can be applied to this very generic process that can create efficiency gains but let’s zero in on a specific example. If your material handling associates are going to receiving, picking up a pallet, and then travelling 200ft or more to where it needs to be put away the inefficiency in that system is the 200 feet of travel.
Assuming associates are doing this work throughout the shift consistently, would you be able to do more work if that person wouldn’t have to travel 400 feet per pallet putaway? An automated solution many warehouses across the country are using are autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) or robotic forklifts to do the simple task of feeding associates pallets to put away. This will allow them to not have to travel far for the next pallet. In turn, you can re-allocate those associates to other tasks inside the warehouse that may otherwise remain open.
Inside this workflow you may find additional touches in the process for inventory control. If you’re not operating within a WMS (Warehouse Management System) or LMS (Labor Management System) there are a multitude of efficiency gains that you can gain from increased accuracy for picks and puts to streamlining inventory tasks.
If there are multiple places in the warehouse where identical SKUs are stored, associates will trend towards learned behavior and pick from the same position over and over. This will create an environment where similar SKUs have different velocity rates. Not only that, you may have placement inside the warehouse in inefficient places that force pickers to crisscross unnecessarily throughout the facility.
WMS and LMS systems can create an environment where tracking product in your system remains consistent so that you can adhere to a better FIFO system while sending instructions to your associates so they aren’t wasting time backtracking through a warehouse thus increasing their picks per hour. This is just one example but there are many other efficiency gains depending on how many touches a case or pallet goes through from when it gets off a truck to when it gets put away.
Ultimately automated solutions come from ways we can help people work smarter and not harder and in a safer environment. Some of the biggest places for efficiency gains is where you have associates handling material for long periods of time over longer distances and are consistently doing this throughout the shift. This can come in forms of loading trucks with loose cases in an E-commerce environment where a better conveyance system can be designed that will not only be a more ergonomic solution but will allow you to load trucks faster.
ELT Systems Group can help your facility find economical solutions for your operation and manage their implementation.