Since the invention of robots, people have tended to fear a world where automation plays a major societal role. In the popular imagination, for every diligent Mars Rover or adorable WALL-E, there’s a sinister HAL or Terminator. In reality, when it comes to manufacturing, warehousing and fulfillment operations, reasons to embrace robotic assistance are only increasing. Challenges such as fluctuating order volumes, shrinking labor pools and new health and safety protocols can now be addressed with the help of automation. It appears robots are in fact a perfect fit for today’s uncertain supply chain.
In order to deliver on operational goals, including a seamless customer experience, facilities need to implement solutions such as autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that can learn and adapt as operational requirements evolve. Over the last year and a half, the supply chain industry has learned, once again, that change is inevitable. In order to remain competitive, companies must be agile, resilient and prepared for the unexpected.
If you’re considering automation (and you should be), here are five ways to make the most of the transition and set yourself up for success.
Evaluate your site for automation. The best approach is to recognize from the get-go that AMRs are different from other automation systems. In order to optimize on AMR possibilities, it’s critical to step back and evaluate what you’re looking to achieve in the first place. Without this perspective, you may not know how best to apply AMRs. Start by evaluating your current processes and determining where you want to see change. Then choose the metrics that actually measure those areas slated for improvement. A good place to start is to ask: Where is the waste in your process?
Once you’ve determined where you want to add value with mobile automation, bring in an AMR vendor to help you understand their specific technologies and what those technologies can do for you. If you’re struggling to find areas for improvement, an AMR vendor can help, as its engineers have performed many different types of installations, and can identify friction points in your process as well as the right automated solutions to those problems.
It’s important to have an open mind when considering which problems you’re trying to solve. An AMR vendor can see the “big picture” and help you with a flexible automation solution that allows for ongoing optimization and the ability to add new workflows over time.
Define your goals and success metrics. Don’t look to design your automation project for immediate perfection. Design the “Day 1” version, knowing that there will be a “Day 2” follow-up. Robotics is like any other process design, just with different tools. You need to keep adaptability in mind and allow for trial and error; otherwise you’re creating overly high stakes and unrealistic expectations. This measured approach should alleviate the initial hesitations and risks of AMR implementation.
Apply a flexible and incremental solution. Automation can certainly solve multiple problems simultaneously, as well as combat today’s volatile market forces. Businesses who need to hit peak performance can use automation to make operations more predictable and reliable while reducing costs. But it’s important to take a breath, recognize which pressures you’re under and try not to change everything at once. AMRs are best introduced in phases. Flexible automation lowers risk in the long run.
Ensure that your automation solution can quickly and easily adapt to any changes that may arise. Whether a business is reacting to changes in demand, opening a new facility or introducing new product lines, the facility personnel should be able to train and redeploy the automation technology as needed to reduce production downtime.
Focus on change management and adoption. People don’t like change, but the transition is necessary to make operational progress. One critical element in change management is to make sure you’re managing the expectations of everyone involved in the AMR project. AMR solutions aren’t magic. No technology is. One often overlooked change management trick that can help ensure the success of your automation project is to enlist and empower end-user champions. While initiatives like these are driven from the top-down, having end-users who will have to work daily with the solution included in the change management process will ease that fear of change and increase the level of success of your project.
The process of selling automation internally should take into account all levels and all stakeholders. You need to identify everyone who will be impacted, and help them understand what it will look like to work with this technology on a day-to-day basis. If everyone feels heard and informed, employees at all levels are more likely to show enthusiasm throughout the transition.
Use data analytics to drive improvement. It’s crucial to do your homework before implementation. You’ll need to outline where you want to be post-deployment, and establish metrics that will let you know that you’re getting there. Identify baseline goals and monitor your performance against those metrics throughout the change-management process. Remember, too, that goals can and do change. As long as you’re tracking your progress day by day, you’re setting yourself up to stay on mission and adjust with intention. If you’re genuinely engaged in a continuous improvement cycle, you should see measurable outcomes that reflect what you want in the short, medium and long term.
As you connect the AMR system with other systems over time, the data you collect will start to increase. AMR fleet visibility is a crucial component to continuous improvement. Fleet analytics software can provide valuable insights into your AMR fleet performance and activity. Ideally, this will make the improvement cycle shorter. The trick is to use this burgeoning data to determine which parts of your business are working best, and to create a feedback loop in which both your physical and logical processes are automating and improving every day. While it’s a mistake to expect transformation overnight, operations can improve tenfold with these added efficiencies. Keep your standards high, but remember you don’t have to achieve a moonshot right out of the gate.
How Seegrid Is Driving the Future of Robotic Mobile Automation
Seegrid combines autonomous mobile robots, enterprise software and best-in-class services for a complete, connected material handling automation solution for the most challenging industrial environments. Seegrid partners with customers to help them achieve their material-handling automation initiatives, making facilities safer and more productive.
Seegrid’s experts offer hands-on advice and support to customers, helping them adopt and embrace their automation solution, from initial consultation and detailed facility scopes, to daily analysis of fleets and workflows, to dedicated support teams that ensure customers realize the fullest potential of today’s most advanced automation solutions.
Seegrid offers different types of AMRs to provide a flexible, connected and end-to-end automation solution, working closely with customers to ensure their AMR solution is the right one for them. Seegrid Palion Lift is designed to autonomously haul payloads from one area to another, placing up to 3,500 pounds of payload at heights of up to six feet. Palion Pallet Truck detects and picks up pallets and bulk containers using precise placement and payload detection to ensure quality delivery. Palion Tow Tractor delivers multiple payloads in one trip for efficient material movement, resulting in reduced downtime and increased units per hour.
Easily trained by users during live production, Palion AMRs intelligently follow their routes, repeatedly performing tasks and delivering payloads on time for seamless material movement and real cost savings.
Seegrid’s experts offer hands-on advice and support to customers, from initial consultation, to daily analysis of fleets and workflows, to incrementally expanding their AMR fleet. Their dedicated support teams ensure customers are realizing the fullest potential of today’s most advanced automation solutions.
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