Preparing to Automate Your Warehouse
Before investing in the latest automation trends, optimization is crucial. These steps can help you effectively optimize, connect, and—only then—automate operations.
1. Commit to optimizing warehouse efficiencies. Optimizing warehouse space, equipment utilization, and labor will help determine if your company is ready for automation and also identify priorities for implementing automated solutions.
2. Invest in education and training. Educating forklift operators and technicians will help you achieve better results. Reality simulators, for example, provide hands-on instruction that is designed to improve operator skills and keep them learning in a realistic virtual warehouse before they ever set foot on the floor—saving time and preventing potential disruptions.
3. Adopt lean management. Lean management is a long-term operational discipline that systematically seeks to improve efficiency and quality by identifying expenditures and eliminating waste in time and materials.
4. Gather measurable data. You can't improve what you don't measure. Implement processes and telematics solutions that provide measurable data and consistent utilization, including performance metrics and scheduled maintenance. Collecting data and implementing intelligent warehouse solutions connect your entire fleet and identify issues such as hidden costs.
5. Establish operational baseline efficiencies. Even the most advanced technologies won't make your warehouse more efficient if you don't know how to measure and interpret the data. By analyzing data, identifying the problem, and applying a solution, you can create a more optimized warehouse that streamlines operations, creates more space for product, increases workforce productivity, and identifies the equipment most suitable for specific tasks.
6. Implement an effective LMS. An effective labor management system (LMS) provides business analytics that are key to improving how your workforce works and maximizing labor utilization. An LMS can identify and implement best practices to control costs, increase margins, make well-informed staffing decisions, and analyze trends for effective forecasting. Labor studies provide valuable data for implementing effective training to boost productivity, monitor utilization, and promote employee accountability.
7. Invest in energy management. The future of the material handling industry lies not only in automation and telematics, but also in pioneering alternative energy solutions to operate more efficiently and sustainably.
8. Engage professional services. You don't have to go down the path to automation alone. Third-party professional services can help identify areas of improvement by providing data on your labor force, analyzing costs and inefficiencies, and recommending solutions.
9. Determine theright solutions. It is not always necessary to jump into full automation. With shared autonomy, a human and autonomous forklift could see a problem remotely and quickly remedy it. Shared autonomy will play an integral role in the 21st century warehouse—reducing human fatigue, improving warehouse throughput, and focusing on value-added processes.
10. Prepare forcontinuous improvement. Don't be of the mindset that when you go through the optimization process once, you're done. There will always be opportunities for improvement. Ongoing data monitoring and analysis provide a road map to maximum operating efficiencies.
SOURCE: John Rosenberger, director of iWAREHOUSE GATEWAY and global telematics, The Raymond Corporation