You’ve bought in to the idea of automation based on ROI and payback. You’ve made the commitment. You’re modernizing your warehouse by incorporating automation strategies. However, automating your warehouse doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not exactly a plug-and-play project. Implementation of automation to any degree—whether that means robotics, conveyance, or advanced equipment for individual processes—means that other changes may be necessary to ensure your warehouse, processes, and workforce are prepared. At first, it may seem to be more than you bargained for. Fortunately, we can help. Consider these five tips for integrating warehouse automation into your facility. Heeding this advice will have your workforce and your new technology working together in harmony.
Prepare for Implementation
Warehouse automation is a serious overhaul. As one manager, you can’t do it alone. Bring in consultants and automation experts who can offer their insights and guidance prior to deciding on the automation that will best deliver your expected performance. One of the biggest missteps in implementing automation is implementing automation over inadequate processes that currently exist. Automating a bad process only exacerbates the impacts of that process. A pre-automation audit can identify opportunities for process improvement in areas such as material flow, order processing, picking, and packaging. At that point, your automation solution will be designed specifically around solid processes that leverage your space, material flow, technology, and workforce. The output of the audit is a prioritization of initial steps and process improvements. It’s the basic roadmap for designing the perfect warehouse automation solution.
Redesign for Performance and Safety
Re-configuring your warehouse is quite an undertaking. Particular attention should be paid to primary processes that have potential to stifle productivity or cause a bottleneck during high volume or seasonal time periods. Take a look at processes that will help you sustain a competitive advantage such as cost per carton, case, or package, faster or more reliable delivery time, a smoother return process, or improved packaging. Furthermore, if you are limited to your current space, leveraging every available square foot is key. Many automated systems are beneficial not only for process improvement and cost savings but for using the space you have more efficiently while simultaneously reducing potential safety hazards. By reducing human and machine traffic, moving heavy loads, or eliminating manual retrieval of inventory at high heights, automation can help create a safer work environment. Every unit of space carries a cost. Sophisticated automated operations not only allow you to improve material flow but also increase storage with fewer aisles, narrower aisles, and higher storage systems. That translates into every square foot of your warehouse generating more revenue. Finally, you can bet on your success and design for future growth by adding more storage than you currently need. You can also use modular systems that can be moved or modified and automation that can be reprogrammed to meet the needs and speed of your growth.
Invest In a Modern WMS
Even if you haven’t been running your warehouse with pen and paper before now, your operating systems may need to become more sophisticated to match your automation. Some warehouse management systems can help you start from square one by performing a floor plan analysis of your distribution center. This diagnostic assessment can determine the optimal use of your space, which can lower expenses and increase revenues. If you are expanding to e-commerce, modifying your delivery model, or anything in between, real-time data is incredibly helpful. It can help companies understand where they are succeeding, where they need to improve a process, or where they need to take corrective action. Automation supported by a modern warehouse management system makes that a possibility as well as a valuable management tool. Think of your warehouse management system as the nerve center of your warehouse; it houses all operational data. The best warehouse management systems provide diagnostic data, time stamping, throughput information, and much more.
Protect Your Investment
Implementing automation into your warehouse in part or in full can be a sizeable investment. Protecting your equipment and more importantly, your work force is a priority. Proper training and available resources will prepare your workforce for their new environment and daily activities. Human and machine interaction carries its risks; protecting one from the other is necessary. Barriers or fencing placed around robotics and other moving equipment helps reduce potential injuries to your employees and potential damage to your equipment. Adding guardrails to pedestrian walkways and clearly marking emergency exits will further protect your working environment. As part of your implementation, don’t hesitate to include additional safety measures. The K3 Safety line of pallet rack protectors from DAK Solutions shelters your racking systems from dangerous and costly collisions.
Get the Team All In
Conveyor systems, robotic palletizers, robotic arms, automated picking, packaging systems, and other forms of automation add a great deal of productivity to any modern warehouse. While they may streamline your workforce somewhat, they can’t replace the human element altogether—you still need people working in concert with your new technology. With that in mind, the last of our five tips for integrating warehouse automation is to keep the team on the same page and help them to embrace technological advances as much as you do. It’s understandable that workers would be initially apprehensive about automating traditional manual tasks. When you provide a basic understanding of why automation makes sense—from improved safety, to remaining competitive and sustaining high performance levels—your workers will understand how it works and this will help them get onboard. Their upfront engagement will help you to identify key areas of improvement, which makes them part of the improvement process and the future success of the company. In many cases, automation frees up warehouse workers to do more valuable tasks and improves the overall safety for employees. A best practice is to appoint a trusted employee to join you on a committee. The committee will have experts who will help you to listen to their ideas and help to integrate your automation systems. That’s the kind of buy-in you may need.