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Automated Materials Handling – why consistency matters

Article by Michael Trimmer

 

Warehouse automation has the potential to entirely revolutionise the process of materials handling. Robotic deployments can do far more than just accelerate fulfilment or streamline the manufacturing process. They can turn the materials handling process into a model of operational excellence with the game-changing boosts they bring. Specifically, consistency.

On one level “consistency” might seem like a baseline expected provision of any warehouse operation. The ability to perform a task to a given standard at all times – this should be expected, not something worth advertising about. Yet the truth is that high levels of intermittent performance and disruption-related difficulty are frequently tolerated in both manually managed warehouses or fixed robotic operations.

Discover more about why consistency is so very important as part of a well-organised materials handling process. See why the flexible warehouse automation offered by Wise Robotics is much better suited to excel in this area than either manually managed warehouses or fixed robotic systems.

Consistent operation from installation onwards

Consistency’s opposite is disruption. When comparing automated materials handling systems, you want the minimum possible level of disruption. In this regard, flexible warehouse automation offers the best possible option from the very beginning.

Flexible warehouse automation offers the smallest possible disruption as part of the installation process. This is due to the fantastically low profile of all the infrastructure needed to make the system function. Flat DM panels are affixed to the floor. Sensor reflectors are mounted on walls and/or structural pillars. Wireless transmitters are fixed across the space. Computer recognisable code symbols can be printed into place. All items that can be easily fitted and functional in a matter of days.

In contrast, the installation of a fixed automation system is deeply disruptive. Huge arrays of tracks, rails, conveyors, and other static infrastructure arrangements have to be installed, calibrated, and tested. A process that takes months at a minimum.

The level of disruption involved in a changeover from manual management of your warehouse to a fixed robotic system is enormous. Any business that needs consistent ongoing operations and is looking to automate should be extremely sceptical of any system involving fixed infrastructure.

Flexible automation is the future of consistent warehouse operation.

Consistency of performance

The importance of consistency becomes clear when you consider all the associations you might have with the word “inconsistency”. In a professional context, these would be words like delayful, tardiness, or unpunctual. Exactly the sorts of traits that must be avoided when considering materials handling systems.

Everything has to be on time, in place, as it was predicted and promised to be.

For a flexible warehouse, consistency of performance isn’t just something that can be promised, it can be accurately and rigorously quantified. You can see this in technical specification sheets that list things like the Q Series maximum load, the top speeds of 1.5-2 metres, and the recharge cycle times. All can be predicted and planned for with extreme accuracy, offering a consistent performance at all times.

Yet with a manually operated warehouse, consistency of performance is nearly impossible to achieve. Distractions can abound at every stage of a workday operation. Fatigue will set in towards the end of a shift. Different teams of warehouse operatives will work faster and better than others. This fluctuates further depending on market conditions. When peak season arrives and hiring spikes are essential, consistent performance goes out the window. New hires will very often be less experienced, and by extension less effective. This ends up resulting in wildly varying outcomes, and a business performance that can only be counted on up to a point.

The reality of the situation is pretty stark. Automation will always perform with more consistency than manual warehouse operatives. For businesses that see their warehouses for what they truly are – the keystones of their logistical processes – manual operation is not a long-term solution. Not when the consistent performance of flexible warehouse automation is readily available.

Consistency of accuracy

Consistent accuracy in a materials handling process is the linchpin that secures every other aspect of a warehouse operation. Without a consistently accurate materials handling process, it doesn’t matter how accurate or fast or precise a picking solution might be, or how efficient your manufacturing process is. If the materials handling process has made errors, pickers will find the wrong items in what should be the right place, and the components needed to complete an assembly will have been misplaced.

Expecting a manual materials handling process to be without error is unrealistic to the point of delusion. There is a reason that the expression is “manual error” and in a manual materials handling system every aspect of the process is open to the possibility of errors of these kinds.

By itself, this would not be a huge issue, but tracking where and when these errors are made is hugely difficult in a manual system. Warehouse operatives have enough to do with the actual materials handling processes itself. Asking them to perform constant tracking details on top of that would be unreasonably burdensome. However, without this tracking information the specific operatives who are more/less accurate cannot be found, and it becomes extremely difficult to improve/monitor the warehouse.

Flexible warehouse automation offers reliably consistent accuracy at every possible level. Even in the precision of their movements, the AMRs are controlled down to single-digit millimetre stoppage accuracy, and rotation that is calibrated by individual degrees. The RCS (robotic control system) records not just the location of every last SKU, and the places and processes they need to be a part of. It also tracks every last movement of every last AMR, whether it’s carrying something presently, moving between stations, or getting ready for the next task in its list. With this kind of tracking and tracing, consistent accuracy is inevitable. You can rely on flexible warehouse automation in a way that manual processes simply cannot compare to.

Maximise your materials handling

Discover more about how your business can make the very best warehouse automation choices. Find out why flexible robotics is the path forward by reading the latest white paper from Wise Robotics. Read our latest white paper on materials handling.

Alternatively, if you’d like a more direct experience of the robots, why not visit our facility in person? Wise Robotics is proud to be the owners and operators of Europe’s first flexible automation demonstration centre. With this in-person opportunity, you’ll be able to see why we no longer talk about the approaching robotic revolution. The truth is, the revolution is already here

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