The automated future is now. Today’s consumer expects their perfect, personalised order to be picked, packed and delivered when and where they want, and fast.
The increasing demands of an ever-changing and rapidly developing e-commerce landscape puts pressure on retailers, manufacturers and distributors to supply all kinds of packages – direct to consumers or buyers – in smaller quantities and at a much quicker pace. And it’s not just retail. Automation and accelerating use of robotics technology is trending upwards in many industry sectors from automotive to food processing.
For businesses facing the challenge of keeping up to speed, this means looking at automating existing onerous manual and people-intensive processes. For others, it’s about increasing the breadth or scale of automation that’s already in place, creating extra capacity for growth and satisfying customer demand for speedy or same day service.
With warehouse space at a premium, automation can mean using more of the available space more efficiently, often by significantly extending reach vertically. This provides higher volume throughput, tighter inventory control and an ability to handle a growing number of SKUs, 24/7.
Automated systems can also work well in certain environments where conditions are more difficult for staff to work in, such as chilled or refrigerated warehouses for fresh and frozen products.
As an experienced Supply Chain Director, Finance Director or Warehouse Manager, you’ll be well aware that tackling automation certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s highly complex and any transition must, critically, allow the organisation to maintain and seamlessly deliver a ‘business as usual’ operation. You simply cannot afford to compromise customer service.
Automation – the benefits at a glance
- Improve speed
- Ensure accuracy
- Maximise capacity and space utilisation
- Minimise risk
- Satisfy the customer’s expectations
- Enhance your reputation
Making the decision to automate
- Getting the scale right
A recent survey by technology research firm Gartner revealed that operational scalability is the top business priority for 58% of enterprises around the world.
Technology, IT-related improvements, process automation and robotics will all play a part by enabling business efficiency and capacity for growth.
Our expert automation team provides decision support for each step along the automation journey – from helping the client organisation at the start to identify opportunities to producing a robust business case, through to training, communications planning, final testing and review.
We work in close partnership with each client to
- Analyse the current operation
- Select a brand-new site if a new facility is required
- Collate commercial plans and identify product types and volumes
- Develop material flows
- Prepare the outline design
- Generate a detailed cost budget
- Identify cost savings and benefits
Integrating automated systems and processes across the organisation
A successful automation project typically flows through eight main phases: Effective management at every project phase is critically important.
- including vendor selection and contract negotiation
- managed by a dedicated Project Team
- detailed design with engagement through process workshops
- Build and Commissioning
- project facilitation and coordination
- Operation Preparation and Training
- management structures and operational controls
- Testing and Readiness Planning
- software acceptance and integration
- Go Live
- cutover planning, issue logging, issue resolution and refinement
- tracking and measuring the business benefits
What can go wrong?
For obvious reasons, companies don’t generally make their automation disasters public but there are many examples of automation projects going badly wrong. Usually it’s a combination of several factors; technical and human, poor planning and change management and inadequate communication. When disaster strikes, suppliers and contractors may well try to apportion blame on the other stakeholders, whether external or internal.
Appointing an experienced project consultant who acts as ‘honest arbiter’ can be helpful in bringing together all the parties in dispute, to quickly resolve issues and find workable pathways that get the automation project back on track.
Successful implementation will depend on how well the four core aspects of the automation project are integrated;
- chosen automation solution
- IT systems
- people and change management
If you’re looking at introducing or scaling up automation in your business, our advice is to talk to those who have done it well and at the right scale.