Five Automation Myth Busters
Myth # 1: I need a new, automated facility for optimization.
You want to keep up with the latest and greatest technologies and you think that means having to scrap your existing DC to build a new one with all the bells and whistles today’s technologies offer. But building a new facility and then moving your operation and your personnel is not only expensive—it means lost time and lost revenues. SSI Schaefer has a few helpful suggestions so you can bust that myth.
A major grocer wants to automate its DC with an automated case-picking system, reports Keith Berres, executive sales manager for the Charlotte, NC-based company.
“They have several existing buildings, but they are land-locked which means it is not cost-effective for them to tear down one of their buildings to construct a new one. They asked us to design a case-picking system that will fit into one of their 30-foot-high buildings,” says Berres. “We challenged our engineers with the problem and they developed a proposal that will allow the grocer to retrofit one of their existing buildings with the automation they desire. This will enable them to achieve the lower cost per case in handling without having to build a new facility.”
So the grocer can forget about the worry of additional capital investment for a brand-new building. The company can achieve increased throughput by improving its systems while still operating a fully functional distribution center.
Some companies might think they have to have or build an 80-foot-high or 100-foot-high building before they can even consider adding automation, explains Berres. “But the thing to remember is you can implement automation beginning with retrofitting a module at a time within an existing facility while slowly increasing your throughput. This means you can lower your cost per case or per piece by utilizing your existing footprint.”
The possibilities for retrofitting your facility for greater optimization are numerous. “The options run from the top end of the scale with an automated case-picking system—all the way down to a goods-to-man application,” Berres explains. “Batch-pick systems rely on miles and miles of conveyor systems, so think about the possibility of removing some portion of your conveyor and sorter system and replacing it with a product-to-person system that requires a smaller footprint.”
Schaefer offers a storage module that brings the required goods out to the worker, shortening the travel time to pick orders. “This allows the same amount of throughput while requiring fewer people to perform the work,” Berres adds.
By choosing to stay in your existing facility, you might think about removing less-optimized systems and replacing them with more efficient systems. “For instance, you can convert a static rack to a mini-load or another type of automated system,” Berres says.
The savings involved in retrofitting are significant, reports Berres. “The key to any project is to understand the customer’s data relative to their orders and inventory. We evaluate what a customer’s requirements are from a data and a capital expenditure perspective. We also evaluate what their risk factor is in moving to automation. For example, we have to understand how far our customer is willing to move from a conventional pick system to an automated pick system. This implies change management so the customer needs to understand the management risk involved. There is a misconception out there that automation means less flexibility. My response to that is automation improves your flexibility.”
The other myth surrounding the automation notion is that it is expensive. “While it’s true that there is an additional cost for automation equipment, you have to consider that your overall costs over a given period of time are actually less with automation than with conventional picking methods, which have a much higher cost per unit than automated methods.