With the case for moving to automation being spoken for almost everywhere you look, you might begin to feel as if your organisation is being left behind. If what you hear was to be believed, the robotic revolution has already changed the face of the world as we know it.
Fortunately, there is still some time to go before we reach that stage. There is a strong case to be made for many warehouse facilities to seriously start thinking about the use of automation, but it also has to be remembered that the introduction of the technology will not benefit everyone.
How much automation will cost is typically the first issue addressed by companies assessing the technology. The initial outlay involved in purchasing an automated system can prove to be an obstacle too large for smaller sized companies, when balanced against short term returns. Few companies will buy the system outright and instead choose to spread the bulk of the payments across a 3-5 year period. The savings will usually be seen in labour costs and increased productivity and efficiency in the area of operations in which the system has been implemented. If the financial costs do not create a potentially negative impact then this is one of the major issues out of the way.
The main reason many companies are looking towards automation is to increase capacity to meet the growing pace of demand. What needs to be looked at here is the analysis of your current capacity capabilities across every element of the workflow, including storage, employee functions and workspaces. Will the implementation of automation in one area resolve a current issue, only to create a new one elsewhere? In most cases new technology is implemented in one or two areas, rather than overhauling the entire operation. Automation is designed to resolve issues in an efficient manner and improve the full flow of distribution. If its impact is only incremental, when weighed up against the cost, the business needs may not be as urgent as you first believed.
Along with the need to meet growing demand, improving service speed and overall customer experience is key to their retention and your market growth. Not only do customers expect a vast array of products at competitive prices but also fulfilment consistency and accuracy. The addition of automation will hopefully make meaningful improvements to your warehouse supply chain but this should also be felt by the customer. If throughput increases and enhances efficiency and productivity while producing significant costs savings, then customers should also benefit as a result. If not, you may have to rethink how practical automation is at this present time. The technology improves operations and saves money in the long run, but it presents the perfect opportunity to increase competitiveness. In today’s aggressive market, improving customer experience is key to achieving that.
Many of the injuries and errors that occur within both the production and warehouse environment is due to human error. Employees are asked to undertake repetitive tasks for long periods of time which invariably creates issues. Automated equipment doesn’t tire or experience injury, all the while improving overall accuracy of the task at hand. This is an improvement that every warehouse can benefit from, no matter the size. This is worth giving serious consideration to especially if the business case for introducing automation is only a marginal one.
What can you do if you have looked at your business needs and found that the risks outweigh any obvious gains? It shouldn’t be forgotten that semi-automation can offer meaningful solutions and a cost effective gateway into using automated technology. This can be implemented in many labour intensive tasks, reducing the physical stress and strain on the workforce while enhancing efficiency. It can also be adapted to fit your current set-up, so it is in place and working in a shorter time period than full automation may require. Perhaps, most importantly, return on investment should occur in a shorter space of time primarily due to its lower costs in comparison to fully automated equipment.
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