Warehouse Automation - NOT!!
Implicit in the choice of an
automated system is the assumption that your products, package size and place of doing
business will not change significantly in the near future. As the CEO of a software
company that creates warehouse management systems wrote recently, "When you automate
an operation, you do not necessarily improve the operation, you simply automate it."
CHARACTERISTICS OF AN
AUTOMATED DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM.
1. Expensive to implement, with a
long payback period.
2. Difficult to move, remove or
2. Designed to eliminate manual
handling and worker judgment and frequently is accompanied by reductions in labor
costs, theft and errors.
4. Contains high mechanical and/or
software complexity, which often makes implementation and thorough "debugging"
5. When a significant part of the
system fails, the whole system usually "goes down" due to a high degree of
integration and lack of feasible backup systems. (The ATM system is a good everyday
6. Since manual labor is reduced,
the business can operate on three shifts with low incremental labor expense.
EXAMPLES OF AUTOMATED
Automatic storage and retrieval
Automatic case or item-pick system.
WHAT IS "INFOMATION"?
depend almost totally on people for their success and usefulness. If the full benefit is
to be obtained, there must be thorough training, and most importantly, worker support,
involvement and acceptance.
This family of systems is
computer-driven, and its purpose is to make routine decisions, and support workers who do
most of the actual physical labor. Working with normal material handling equipment, it
brings needed information directly to the work site (frequently on a "real time"
basis), using bar code scanners, keyboards, host computers or other independent machines
such as palletizers.
Information in these systems moves
with the speed of light, and can be tailored to prevent most unnecessary worker travel or
searching. Comparing Infomated systems to Automated , we see the following differences:Much less expensive, with rapid
payback, usually in 6 months or less.
Easier to change, move, expand or
contract, as needs change.
There are almost always, major
The change-over can be accomplished
in "bite size chunks", allowing gradual procedural and attitudinal changes among
the workforce. (Some TOTAL change implementation has actually resulted in company
Increases (often significantly),
accuracy and speed of task completion
As referenced above, the system is
only as good as managerial intelligence, foresight and planning, as well as worker
training and user dedication.
"INFOMATED" SYSTEMS:Computerized stock locator systems.
Wireless communication terminals
for fork trucks.
Batch order picking systems.
INFOMATED SYSTEMS AND
If the financial and business risk
of full automation is more than your organization is willing to undertake at the moment,
the infomating alternative may allow you to make great strides toward the 21st
century in an efficient, cost effective way. Usually a very large percentage of the total
project payback can be realized with a relatively small expenditure of time or money.
These are always my first
suggestions for immediate efficiency upgrades:
Set up a picker path that picks
from both sides of the aisle instead of one walking time is immediately reduced by
50%. (Which means that labor costs can also be reduced by 50%).
Make the pick slots smaller and
closer together again, walking is reduced by another 50%.
Note: by making the easiest
changes first, the greatest savings are obtained with the least cost in time and money.
Further changes will be more expensive, with progressively diminishing returns.
As you can see, even one segment at a time
can make a tremendous difference. It is my experience that improved warehouse layout and
picking systems provide the greatest impact, and is the ideal place to begin. Refer to my
articles on "Picking Up Pick Rates" and "Batch Picking" for the next
phase of infomation and payback.
If you don't find what
Some Recent Testimonials
(Contact us to speak
directly to a writer.)
you are very welcome for the references. You may not know
this but we RAVE about the suggestions you made to us for
our "Distribution Center", and how right your
suggestions were…" Dan G.,
Pres., Pipersville, PA.
forward to having you involved for our DC implementation plan
and in future endeavors as well. Your input was extremely
valuable to us".
Brent T., President Jacksonville, FL
is incredibly difficult - I would never have been able
to do this without all your great help"! Dave W.,
Owner, Chicago, IL.
I wanted to say that all your suggestions work great! Thanks so much.
Secondly, in the later part of May, we will be moving out of our current
facility into a new one. I was wondering if I gave you the layout could
you draw up a design. You told me if there were ever changes, just ask for
a new layout, so here I am. Thanks a lot!" Bob V., Owner, New Kensington, PA
know it has been a while, but we finally signed on a new
building, and are looking at a mid July move. We have three
dock highs, and two roll ups. Please do your magic and lay out
the floor space. Thanks." Rami R.,
Owner, Chatsworth, CA
renovation is going great. The large shelving is all moved and
the small shelving is about 75% in its new location. A company
is coming in Tuesday to build the new shelving...then we can
start to relocate all the product. Thanks for all the help."
Jeff L., Operations Manager, Victoria, BC, Canada.
received the final report, thanks for the summary of findings
and the recommendations. What was most valuable for us was
the process of getting to the goal and the discussions around
it… Thanks again for your help…Joachim
S., Systems Manager, New York, NY
proud to say that our first day of production in our new
location was March 6. Thank you for your work on our
behalf. Looks like we got off to a fine start in the warehouse
and picking areas. It's always a pleasure hearing from you."
Charlie T., Project Manager, Amityville, NY