Philosopher Francis Bacon once said: ‘knowledge is power’. Although this statement was made in the 1500s, it’s still a relevant mantra that is worth adopting today, especially for running a profitable manufacturing site and/or warehouse. The formula for maintaining good operations in such a site is having good information, of the right sort and then acting on it.
To find out more about the type of data you should be collecting read our article ‘Warehouse Pallet Tracking – The Mystery of Impossible Triangle’. Once you know what you need, the next step is to figure out how best to get it. This is where warehouse data automation can bring real, bottom line benefits over traditional manual methods. We sat down with data collection automation advocate, Charlie Brackley from Harland Simon, to learn more.
Q. People talk about a lot about warehouse automation, are there any overlooked aspects in your view?
A. Definitely – one of the most overlooked, but beneficial aspects of automation within a warehouse is the process of data collection. At the moment, manufacturers and warehouse operators are focussing their attention much more on AGV’s and robots to actually remove human involvement in moving stock. Whilst the business benefits of this kind of investment are clear, there is a much smaller element of the warehouse process that is a lot easier to automate and that is the process of data collection. Every single system that enables a warehouse to run effectively, such as a warehouse management system or WMS needs good quality data to be fed into it. Every time a pallet or asset is moved, that data has to be collected. If data can be collected automatically rather than manually, which is both time consuming and error prone, there are significant gains to be achieved.
Q. Can you explain exactly what you mean by automating data collection?
A. When collecting warehouse data, an element of scanning is typically required. It’s this scanning process that can be automated. If you no longer have to scan a barcode, there is time to be saved. But, you also need to think beyond the scanning element. In order to achieve the scan, you have to be in a correct position to see the barcode and have a good line of sight. Typically, when trying to pick up a pallet, the forklift driver will not be able to see the barcode, especially if he is approaching it from an angle. Therefore, he will have to manoeuvre the truck into position, scan the barcode, and then re-manoeuvre the truck to pick up the pallet. You also have to consider the process of operating the terminal to collect that data. There’s much more to the process than just picking and scanning and much of it is often wasted time that’s hidden or unconsidered.
Q. So how can I automate the process of data collection?
A. This is where you need a solution like Vero. This system automates the entire data collection process, instantly reducing the time taken to move each pallet. W can quantify this with time motion studies or by looking at existing labour standards or industrial engineering information, which illustrates how much time is spent collecting that data. Experience shows that this is usually between 10 and 15 seconds for every single pallet move. So by automating data collection, we are essentially removing 10 to 15 seconds from every single pallet move.
Vero also increases the accuracy of your inventory by default. If your inventory accuracy is increased, you spend less time searching for items that might be misplaced and you spend less time doing stock reconciliation, like cycle counting and stock checking.
You can also truly reduce the amount of dispatch checking that you need to do. Vero gives you total confidence that what you have picked from the shelf and what you have put down to the marshalling area is exactly what it should be. In fact, you can do away with dispatch checking altogether as you’ll know that the pallet you have got marshalled is the one that needs to go on the truck, because you know what inventory is on it.
So, whilst time saving is the obvious benefit, there are also a lot of implicit benefits that come from the fact that the data and stock are both completely accurate.
Q. Seems like this gives a lot of value to warehouses and manufacturers. So why is it that some businesses are resistant to change? What are the usual barriers to adopting warehouse data automation?
A. There are typical barriers that come with the adoption of any new technology. This includes understanding the technology and how it works, because what we are suggesting is a significant step change. The idea that there is solution to provide an extremely accurate, three-dimensional location of every single pallet pick up and pallet put down is very new.
The benefits and potential of technology such as RFID has been talked about for many years, but what we are proposing is not necessarily an RFID solution – it is a location system. Many people need to see the high level accuracy of this solution in order to believe it, which is why we would encourage anyone to take one of our quick demos. One of the biggest questions we get asked is: can you really get that accurate? Well, yes we can and we can demonstrate this very quickly. Other perceived barriers might be the implementation – change is always difficult, but if the benefits are there, then change could be a good thing. You have to consider that next level of improvement that you can achieve in your operations.
Q. Assuming it’s a good fit for my business, how can I get started with a solution like this?
A. The first thing we need to do is a very basic assessment of the number of pallet moves that you are making. We also need to analyse the amount of time you are investing and the processes that you have in place to collect the data that is currently feeding your WMS. This will give us a good snapshot of what the potential gains are, which in turn will give us the ability to assess whether the project offers a viable return on investment.
If that’s the case, we carry out a more in-depth assessment on-site to calculate the cost of a suitable system. This takes into account the number of trucks in operation, the size of the facility and the processes you are currently undertaking.
The next step is then to provide you with an in-situ demonstration of the technology and to prove the concept.
After that, we can assist you in preparing and presenting a business case. In most cases we can provide an ROI in less than two years for the warehouses that are moving pallets and operating an utilisation level of 70% or above.