In a previous blog post, I highlighted a variety of robotics and automation solutions that are beneficial to Industry 5.0 warehouses both big and small. Although this technology is exciting, organizations need to pause and evaluate the options and their own operations before embarking on a new automation or robotics project.
Following is a straightforward, eight-step process for evaluating and preparing for an automation or robotics project:
1. Define the problem and visualize the desired outcomes. As Stephen R. Covey wrote, “Begin with the end in mind.” When a supply chain professional clearly defines the problem, they should also be able to visualize what the desired state will look like. Then they can sell the vision and get people to buy into the results.
2. Define the data to be gathered. When beginning to gather data, make sure the data you get is the data you’re asking for. Too many projects have been delayed, stalled, stymied or even shelved because of a misalignment. The most common reason for data misalignment is miscommunication. Functional areas may use different terms to mean the same thing. For example, what generally is known as a stock keeping unit or SKU may be referred to as an item number, a part number or a catalog number. Make sure all terms are defined and everyone involved is familiar with them. The burden of proof should always be on the data requestor.
3. Gather data about the problem. This could include data regarding quality, demand, sales, warranty, returns, transportation costs, delays, labor costs, flow charts or anything else that will help describe the problem. Data should be extracted for an appropriate period of time in order to ensure that seasonality and outliers are included and dealt with.
4. Analyze the data. Data analysis can be tricky, so make sure you take care in analysis. Review all your results to ensure that your conclusions are reasonable and logical. Ask your colleagues to review your decisions to ensure they are as bulletproof as possible.
5. Identify a range of possible solutions. While the data is being analyzed, it also is time to start thinking about possible solutions. There usually are several for any given problem. It usually is preferable to think in terms of low-, medium- and high-tech approaches. Once the solutions are developed, prioritize them in order of meeting and exceeding the most cost and service requirements. Take the top three and calculate a return on investment (ROI) for each one.
6. Name the recommended solution. Of the top three solutions, the one with the highest ROI likely will be the most desirable. It may not have the lowest cost, but it certainly will have the greatest benefit to the organization.
7. Implement the recommended solution. Implementation needs to follow the organization’s procurement process and protocols. This ensures that everything will be done properly and fairly. When the procurement process is underway, develop a timeline for implementation and assign a project manager to ensure milestones are met. This will go a long way to making sure the project is successful.
8. Follow up and tweak as necessary. Even after system implementation, the work is not done. Lean supply chain protocols include continuous improvement of the system so it stays as current as possible and all deliverables are met.
In addition to these eight steps, organizations must continuously update their ability to work with robotics and automation. Although these technologies can handle many repetitive and mundane tasks, they cannot perform successfully without human support — in programming, managing, repairing and performing ancillary tasks that require higher-level thinking.
The robotics and automation field is always evolving. It’s critical to continuously improve or risk becoming redundant. Regardless of the selected solution, it will take humans and technology working together to achieve the best operational benefits to the organization. Creativity in the workplace is not only paramount to economic survival, but also preserving careers. While the latest devices may not replace human managers, human managers who use these tools effectively will replace those who don’t.
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