At the same time, customer requirements increase with customers expecting shorter and shorter lead time. Therefore, an optimised supply chain, covering both ordering, shipping and transportation, is needed to justify the sacrifice of optimal loading sizes.
As a result, one very difficult balance in the future will be to build a valid business case on where to “sacrifice” optimal load/packaging sizes in the transportation units vs lead time and picking/ranking savings via robotics.
How to strike the right balance?
For organisations working within logistics and warehousing, the above topics are of course multifaceted. However, some overall questions worth considering could be:
- How do I balance my options and existing processes against automation and ensure actual impact while achieving cost optimisation?
- How do I ensure customer satisfaction and short lead time whilst maintaining optimised transport?
- How do I build valid business cases for automation without compromising flexibility in the current processes?
Assess your current balance between complexity and automation
Not only are our recommendations on the subject complex, so is the answer. And in general, it is difficult to provide a unified answer that will apply to all businesses. There are, however, some guidelines that can give indications on how and where to make the right balance in your warehouse management.
You can gather inspiration from the questions below, even though the example is somewhat simplified.
- Do my shipping units consist of multiple products varying in both size and weight?
- Does my route planning happen on a short-term scale and typically include changes on the day of transport?
- Does my picking of finished goods consist of picks from multiple areas followed by a consolidation and/or additional packaging before it is ready to ship?
- Does some of my articles require additional operations or packaging/wrapping before departure?
If you can answer yes to most of the questions, your business probably leans towards a more customer-oriented and flexible requirement. On the other hand, if you’re able to answer no to the questions above, your end product and business are more likely to be suited for automated solutions in this part of the process.
So, where can I apply and utilise automation if I drive a complex business?
The short answer is that you can apply it throughout the warehousing operations. Technology is rapidly developing, and as seen in the Toyota video above, the picking and even consolidation are becoming more and more flexible.
This will be applicable for all businesses and warehouses further down the road. Here and now, we see a higher tendency to utilise AGVs and robotics for the put-away, internal transport and staging flows, whereas picking for outbound to a larger extent requires human interaction.
When you, in the near future, embark on analysing your warehouse and storage processes and the cost drivers behind them, you will most likely see data showing that different materials and material types require different handling in the warehouse and storage. And as a result, different material types have different potential for automation. Picking and shipping of full pallets is easy and quick compared to customer-specific requirements or consolidated pallets. For this reason, we recommend that you prioritise and focus your energy towards no more than three segments to begin with.
Start by performing an “ease of implementation vs impact” matrix in which you score each initiative: