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Choosing the Right Automation for Your Operation – Why Finding the Appropriate Fit for Your Business is Crucial to Success

Robotic tool in warehouse

By Dan Avila, Vice President of Sales, Consulting & Automation

You Choose The Appropriate Automation; Don’t Let Automation Choose You

The last 10 years has brought an avalanche of material handling automation to the marketplace, from goods-to-person picking systems, to autonomous mobile robots, collaborative robots, high-speed sortation systems and everything in between. Earlier this year, I was walking the show floor at the MODEX trade show and was amazed at all the new entrants into the automation space, each with a different offering, unique value proposition and the promise to improve your operations and reduce labor. How does the average distribution leader know what will work for them and what technology will provide the most benefit to their operations? Equally as important, how do distribution leaders avoid making costly mistakes by implementing the wrong automation that does not meet the requirements of their business?

Not all Automation is Right for Your Operation

Most automation has been specifically designed to solve a specific and unique distribution challenge, channel of distribution or product type of configuration. Regarding distribution challenges, automation has been specifically designed to increase order picking productivity, minimize square footage, reduce or eliminate labor to transport products within the facility and improve packing of multi-line ecommerce orders – as well as many other applications. From a channel perspective, automation has been designed specifically to support ecommerce, retail store distribution and wholesale distribution. Additionally, automation has been designed to support unique product types such as apparel, footwear, electronics, food and beverage, small items and large items. Finally, automation has also been designed to specifically handle full pallets, layers of pallets, full cases, inner packs and individual units.

The key takeaway is that not all automation is right fit for your facility requirements and may not provide the expected benefits. I have met many distribution leaders who, as I like to say “are chasing shiny objects,” which means they want to be on the leading edge and implement the latest and greatest technology without a thorough investigation into fit and function into their operation.

Let the Experts Determine What is Right for Your Operation

At enVista, we are well-versed in the newest material handling technologies available in the marketplace and we help our clients sift through the vast material handling alternatives out there. We help our clients fit the appropriate material handling technology for their operations. A mistake in choosing the wrong technology can be catastrophic for an organization and can have long lasting negative financial consequences.

Leverage Financial Analysis to Justify the Appropriate Solutions

When working with clients, we typically provide a tiered set of operational designs that leverage varying levels of material handling automation. The most basic operational design may require minimal automation that meets the operational requirements at a lower investment cost in material handling equipment, however there would be a larger component of labor to support the operations. We would then create an operational design that leverages a higher level of automation which would improve productivity and significantly reduce labor. The goal is to find the optimal level of material handling automation and associated labor that provides the greatest financial return for the company. At enVista, we would typically create a discounted cash flow analysis to determine the financial return from investing in material handling equipment to support a specific operational plan.

Dan Avila is the Vice President of Sales, Supply Chain Consulting, Technology & Automation at enVista. With more than 20 years of leadership experience in supply chain consulting, Dan has performed or provided oversite on over 300 supply chain engagements. As a hands-on consulting leader, his areas of expertise include end to end supply chain operations, distribution network strategy, distribution center design and implementation, supply chain execution systems and more. 

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