Friday, May 23, 2014

Robots for the Rest of Us...

Maybe you are not ready for robots just yet, but here are some tips that will get you part of the way there. 

The high-tech warehouse is taking shape as organizations seek to get ahead of the material handling systems challenges of the 21st Century supply chain. A big component of that formation is automation, but it has to be more strategic than just throwing machines at a problem.

Nearly three in four managers rank distribution center (DC) automation as the No. 1 way to increase productivity, according to a survey by Intermec Technologies. Customer demands to move more product faster through more channels combined with a shrinking labor pool have driven organizations to automate processes in their DCs.

Yet while many organizations have started automating, the parts don’t always add up to a holistic system. With nearly 3,000 hours lost each year to DC inefficiencies, Intermec reports, organizations can’t afford to have a single element out of sync.

An Integrated System

Fragmented attempts to automate individual solutions is a step in the right direction, but what’s missing is a layer that coordinates all the pieces, communicates with the warehouse management system (WMS), provides high-level analysis of the operation, and keeps the entire DC working efficiently. This crucial layer is commonly skipped during WMS implementations and no thought is given to the tight integration needed to your ERP system. By building a system a layer above individual equipment, it can easily make adjustments throughout a warehouse. It can modify automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), conveyor speeds and sortation devices to create efficiencies that would be nearly impossible to achieve by adjusting each part individually.

An overview of the entire material handling system lets managers easily see where adjustments, improvements and maintenance need to be performed.  Suppose there are four jams a day on conveyor 12. Each one chips away at your system’s productivity. Six in 10 managers say that large savings can be realized by recovering just seconds from the workday.

By Integrating tightly with our vendor partners TSH offers the abilty to capture all of the workflow information into one database that turns raw data into useful information for consistent efficiency checks. The database can the also monitor for quick resolution to issues. As a result, you can make adjustments to reduce conveyor jams and plan for now and for the future — especially for the multi-channel future of shipping making headlines today.

Coordinating All Moving Parts

Targeted analysis is particularly valuable for organizations that are either practicing or planning to move into multi-channel distribution. The MDS System allows you to set up several types of fulfillment channels within the same facility by making the logistics of moving product more flexible. Bulk and Single Piece Pick, Wave picking, LUM (logical unit of measure) are all features that require tight integration into the picking technology. 

For example, a Healthcare Distributor that sells online and ships to hospitals can use a robot to place cartons on a conveyor system. Based on information from MDS, it will route those cartons to a packing station to fulfill quantities that make up less than a full case or may route the entire carton for a  replenishment outbound order. In the case of order quantities less than a full case, the pack station operator selects the proper quantity, and then the MDS System routes the remainder to a relevant storage location.

Every DC and fulfillment center has different priorities, so you also want to be sure the System you choose has enough flexibility to evolve with the changing marketplace.

A modular MDS System will work better in most organizations than “one-size-fits-all” software. Modular approaches let you start small and build out as needed, keeping costs down while letting you focus on the areas with the best ROI. Or you can introduce it all at once — whatever works best for your needs.

In most supply chain organizations, the most glaring need is for visibility into how the operation is working. MDS will allow you to view the operation end-to-end and better understand how the components fit into the whole, leading to an optimized flow.

When it comes to moving goods through a fulfillment center or DC to their final destinations, you can only go as fast as the slowest point. 

And if you don’t know where that point is, it will be incredibly difficult to meet your ever-escalating performance metrics and deliver customer satisfaction.

Although investing in automated equipment is a step in the right direction, you’ll never realize the full value of that investment if all that equipment runs independently. MDS can help you align your entire material handling operation and keep all the components running smoothly.

For more information on TSH or MDS call The Systems House, Inc. at 1-800- MDS-5556. Or send a message to
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