Understanding one's constraints and business needs is the first step to building a case for beginning the automation journey, says Lori Gibson, director of consulting services at Johnson Stephens Consulting.
Not sure where your company’s automation initiative should start? First, you need to understand what your business growth is overall and even by channel, Gibson says. Then ask the following questions: How much is e-commerce growing separately from your wholesale business? Do you understand your constraints, say with labor or capacity? Running out of space in inventory or on your receiving dock or shipping dock? Do your customers demand next-day delivery or are they flexible? Do they have accuracy requirements or fill level rates? “Understanding what all of those things are helps you target and get started on what your automation needs are,” Gibson says.
She says a five-year planning horizon is recommended. But from day one of implementation, you must focus on what your growth rate looks like. Reevaluation will likely be necessary. And it’s important to leave room for physical expansion. Some technology, such as a conveyor system, could easily grow out of the space initially allotted, and your expansion plan must allow for that.
The value of data cannot be overstated. “Making sure you have the right data to do this analysis is very important,” Gibson says. “Once you have all your data, you know what your flow rates are, it's probably a good time to bring in somebody to help evaluate your plans. You can go straight to the vendors, but you can also go to an integrator. They have a wide range of options to help you. They can look at those and price them out and help you select the right innovation and the right technology for you.”
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