TUESDAY SESSION COVERAGE: "Where to start?" is important first question when preparing to automate

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SESSION COVERAGE:"Where to start?" is important first question when preparing to automate 

Specific examples and detailed guidelines were part of the education session, "Preparing to Automate: How to evaluate your operations," led by Aaron Corcoran of Westfalia. But, all potential changes to your operations have to begin the same -- with the questions, "Where to start?" and "What’s your 80/20?"

Ideally, if you had a "crystal ball" you could see where your operation would be in 5-10 years, said Corcoran, and know exactly what type and amount of automation to install. "One of the worst things you could have is turning on the system, and already not having enough storage," said Corcoran. He explained that this type of equipment generally has a 20-30 year lifespan, so incorporating it "is a long-term view and investment and part of your business model going forward."

BothMatt Schaub of Sargento andMike Brown of Breakthrough Beverage sat on the panel and supplied some first-hand knowledge related to the installation of AS/RS at their fulfillment centers., in addition to answering questions from Corcoran and from the attendees.

Schaub said that Sargento was in a situation where they kept adding more space "and as we got larger we became less efficient. That is what made automation and AS/RS attractive." He said that, overall, it reduced their time for order fulfillment – substantially — when taking into account the AS/RS and the layer picker. "We wanted a more efficient operation, not just adding on." In addition, they were able to cut their labor costs in half.

Brown said that Breakthrough Beverage was looking to reduce real estate costs and consolidate multiple facilities. They were loading up 18-30 semis per day to transfer materials between buildings. After the consolidation, "We went from 8 touches to about 1.5 touches per pallet," said Brown. "Without this system we never would have been able to hit our peaks."

Both companies saw positive results from adding AS/RS to their operations, but the planning was an imperative part of the success they realized. And, they knew where to draw the line, as well. Said Corcoran, "It is usually not the best idea to automate everything." Look at that data and that 80/20, he suggested, and plan from there.


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