Embrace the Darkness

Moving to the "lights out warehouse."


With a retrofit, of course, you have to work with what you have. Equipment has to fit into available space, and you may have to perform some extra work to get things such as power and network cabling everywhere it needs to be. You’ll want to plan carefully to make sure you understand the space and its requirements. While it’s always a good idea to create a simulation first to ensure that what looks good on paper works properly in reality, it is especially important when you are retrofitting new technology into an existing space.

Staff Expertise. Although the facility may run lights out under normal conditions, that doesn’t mean humans will be taken out of the equation completely. You will need some sort of staff to monitor the operation (either on-site or remotely) and troubleshoot any problems that arise. At least until the machines acquire enough intelligence to fix themselves, which is still a ways off.

With that in mind, you need to be sure you have a staff that understands how the machines operate and the supply chain outcomes you’re trying to achieve. Both aspects are important.

Expertise with the machines will help ensure they are running properly, that any potential problems are identified and corrected quickly, and that exceptions are handled in a timely manner. Expertise in the supply chain is also required, however, to help develop the larger picture and incorporate continuous operational change and improvement. Going lights out is about increasing efficiency, so the more you can learn and improve upon your original design the faster you’ll get to payback.

 

Lighting the candle

While the materials handling mainstream may still be a few years away from a true lights out facility, the candle has certainly been lit. Rather than cursing the darkness, warehouse and DC operations teams would be well-advised to embrace it by fully understanding the business conditions, processes and technologies that will turn a dark facility into a brighter day. It’s the best way to ensure your lights out strategy is a lights out winner.

 

Mike Scheck is Chairman of the Board of Wynright Corporation, a leading, independent U.S.-based provider of intelligent material handling systems. He can be reached at mscheck@wynright.com.

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