Material handling automation brings facilities into the future, and this future of manufacturing includes quality increases while costs and time usage both decrease. Though automating material handling requires a significant investment of personnel and money, increased profits through better efficiency make the process worthwhile.
The means to fully automate material handling lie in the careful integration of technology. Both the Internet of Things (IoT) and automated vehicles can reduce human efforts, improve efficiency, and reduce errors. Facilities that fail to incorporate these could find themselves falling behind soon. For example, Peerless Research Group’s survey found that 42 percent of respondents plan to invest in material handling in 2018 — that money would be well spent on automation.
1. Connecting Islands in the Facility
The hallmark of the IoT is its use of fully connected technology. Instead of having separate islands in a facility, the IoT would connect these for a more cohesive production line. Equipment can communicate performance to other parts of the facility, improving efficiency by making automatic adjustments to production without the need for human evaluators.
Data gathering improves equipment efficiency and automates several processes that humans could forget or delay. With information stored in the cloud, maintenance technicians can gather information from anywhere about the performance of any part of a facility. In some instances, repairs may be made remotely, reducing downtime.
Data also helps maintenance determine exactly when equipment will need servicing, preventing time-consuming breakdowns. By keeping a record of the time each piece of equipment requires before a part fails, an automated system can order the necessary replacement parts in advance. Some even use sensors to track wear in real time. Maintenance can replace a faulty part as soon as a problem appears, making it easier to keep the facility running at its peak.
Connectivity is at the heart of automation. Without adequate information, automation fails. Data gathering and communication will improve material handling and facility efficiency.
2. Improving Labor Efficiency
Automating product movements with conveyors, self-driving vehicles, or robotic palletizers can reduce physical strain on workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said musculoskeletal disorders caused 31 percent of the non-fatal workplace injuries in 2015. A full 5 percent of those were people who physically handle material. By automating lifting and moving, workers could be spared injury, increasing productivity.
In an automated facility, employees will have the opportunity to attend to maintenance chores such as cleaning conveyor belts. This could prevent time-consuming issues like belt seizures, which could happen from material spillage at loading and transfer points, according to Semcor. If employees work more effectively at other tasks, they will have more time to devote to maintenance and cleaning chores, which also help to keep the plant running at peak efficiency.
Workers can save time around the facility by using the mobile capabilities of automation. Greater connectivity allows an employee to log into a tablet or smartphone app and evaluate data from any part of the facility they have access to. This saves time running from one side of the area to another. In large manufacturing plants, this is a huge time saver. Managers also have control over the level of access for each employee, which maintains security while easing the work.
Material handling automation will not eliminate the need for human workers. It will have the opposite effect of making human jobs more efficient. Regardless of the level of automation, there will always be some jobs only humans can perform.
3. Satisfying Customers
Customer satisfaction is the goal for any company. Improving production efficiency can make turnaround times faster. According to a 2017 report from MHI, 58 percent of respondents stated that customers’ requests for faster turnarounds were either “very challenging” or “extremely challenging” to fulfill. “Automation can help make satisfying response times easier for a facility”, says Ken Lyons, co-founder of Findhow.com.
Material handling automation also allows a facility to become more flexible to the customer’s needs. For instance, if a customer requires different materials, an automated system can deliver them instead of employees. This saves both time and effort, which makes delivering the final product faster.
Satisfied customers stay with businesses. A steadfast customer can contribute thousands of dollars to a company over the years and build a reputation. When a facility becomes known as a place that delivers on customer demands in a timely, cost-efficient manner, it gains more business. Though automation may seem expensive now, its rewards continue in the future.
Through material handling automation, a facility becomes better connected, employees work more efficiently and customers feel more satisfied. It’s time to consider these benefits of automation for a futuristic facility seriously.