Automation Domination

Grocery wholesalers and food distributors are jumping on the automation bandwagon.


FIVE REASONS TO AUTOMATE

Automation can be utilized in varying degrees to achieve improvements in product flow, labor allocation, facility size and overall operating costs, according to Ken Ruehrdanz, warehousing and distribution market manager, for Dematic Corp., Grand Rapids, MI.

“Items to analyze and consider in the current operation include: number of ‘touches’ by workers, bio-mechanical injuries, issues with seasonal labor, order accuracy, order processing speed and complexity of building mixed case pallets for customer orders,” says Ruehrdanz.

Here are some of the benefits that can be achieved through automation.

Reduction in bio-mechanical injuries: “Food distribution centers primarily handle case goods, which tend to be heavy—especially when a worker handles these case loads for an entire shift of an operation. Workers will bend, lift and twist a hundred times a day while handling cases of product. Injuries can be devastating to the health of workers, not to mention medical and absentee costs,” says Ruenhrdanz.

Also, the turnover rate in these job functions can be very high. AS/RS can accommodate cases and pallets automatically, thus allowing fewer “touches” by human hands.

Reduce exposure to harsh working environments: Freezer storage often requires that product be held in sub-zero temperatures. “This environment is not ideal for worker comfort and health. Legal restrictions require that workers can only be exposed to a freezer environment for limited periods of time, thus increasing costs—turnover rate is also high in these job categories. Automation for the warehouse storage function allows staff to work outside the freezer or cooler environment,” says Ruenhrdanz.

Reduction in building and energy costs: Freezer and cooler space is costly to build and maintain; the use of automated systems can minimize freezer/cooler space. For example, the implementation of an ASRS allows high density storage and will therefore reduce the footprint and square footage of the freezer or cooler, thus reducing building costs and energy costs.

“With automation systems, customers can minimize their energy costs. AS/RS technology does not require heating/cooling or a lighted environment to function. Modern conveyor systems have power saving functions that automatically power down if not required,” says Ruenhrdanz.

Improved inventory control and accuracy: For food producers and manufacturers, it is extremely important to make sure first-in first-out strategies are maintained. When compared to traditional methods (rack and manually operated fork lift trucks), the automated systems operate under computer control and therefore product does not get misplaced in the warehouse and first-in first-out strategies are assured.

With the recent food recalls, particularly in fresh prepared foods, it’s even more critical to have robust tracking from manufacturers to the consumers. Automation offers this level of tracking and traceability within the supply chain.

Reduced fork truck fleet and labor: “AS/RS allow less staff to be required to perform the work. When an automated system is utilized in two or three shift operations, significant ROI can be realized. Furthermore, automated systems mean reduction in facility damage by manually operated fork lift trucks and the reduction in product damage,” says Ruenhrdanz.

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