Unfortunately, it is very easy to waste money deploying autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). We ask the experts how you can best prepare and roll out warehouse automation.
Two supply chain and warehousing experts from Radix Consulting Alliance join us: Founding Principal John Pearce and Radix Demand & Supply Planning Consultant Gregg St. John. Radix is an independent consulting firm offering a variety of consulting, staffing, and support services to support supply chain operations.
John and Gregg guide us through how they consult their clients considering an investment in AMRs, which typically includes:
- Synchronizing demand and supply plans
- Assessing needs by asking the right questions
- And taking 3 key steps to adopt a holistic approach
Synchronize Demand and Supply Plans
John starts us off by indicating how important synchronizing demand and supply planning is in the successful implementation of AMRs:
“Clients understand the material handling needs they have within their warehouse, but they need to better understand the demand plan driving their supply plan. The question is not only how much inventory you need, but also how many times you picked that inventory from the shelves.”
Optimal AMR solutions employ a range of appropriate technologies that function to achieve a business’s overarching goals. Rarely does a successful warehouse rely on a single solution applied throughout the facility.
Unfortunately, many operations managers fixate on increased throughput and efficiency in their facilities. Gregg says:
“We try to drive (warehousing clients) to a different perspective. You need to look at the variation in the demand for items that are going to use AMRs because there is a chance that you will need more AMRs than you had thought sometime in the near future.”
He notes that COVID-19 presents an example of this principle in action:
“People are actually buying more than they would normally because they can't afford to run out.” says Gregg. “It illustrates a basic tenet of supply chain synchronization - planning for today will not exist in this form tomorrow.”
Ask the Right Questions
When it comes to AMR implementation, a failure to plan is a plan to fail.
“You need to have the dimensions of the items you're going to carry and size your AMR according to peak demand. It’s a common mistake. The client looks at their inventory levels and storage needs, but they neglect the velocity of their throughput, or forget to account for seasonal influx.”
The end result is an AMR solution that isn’t optimized for your needs.
Adopt A Holistic Approach to AMR Implementation
An important reminder for anyone evaluating AMRs as a potential warehousing and material handling solution is how the technology will complement existing operations.
“You need to consider the upstream process.” John points out. “Otherwise you could end up with a solution that doesn't fit your needs.
StEP ONE: Identify Your Target Outcome
According to Gregg, it’s best to take a holistic, top-down approach to AMR implementation.
“AMRs are not a stand-alone solution. They should be deployed in areas where their function will deliver the greatest improvement.”
To adopt a holistic approach to AMR deployment, you first need to understand the target outcome of an AMR implementation project, then configure the solution to fit the existing operation. John continues:
“Let’s say, for example, that your business ships 850,000 widgets to a customer, but they request that you ship more widgets at a time because they can no longer receive LTL shipments.
To keep synchronization, you adjust to pick and ship more widgets at a time. Now you need more AMRs than you had thought because you hadn't looked far enough into the future to confirm what the shipping pattern really looks like?”
STEP TWO: Start Small With Simulations and Pilot Projects
John says the best approach to AMR implementation starts with simulations and pilot projects.
“Deploy one or two AMRs first as part of a pilot to gain a better understanding of how a larger fleet will fit into the operation. This also gives decision-makers and other key personnel an opportunity to acclimate to the new technology.”
Once the pilot projects have concluded and your AMR decision is made, your team can begin to map out the AMR implementation in phases to keep the project on track. This type of AMR implementation strategy is ideal because it minimizes surprises before, during and after installation.
STEP THREE: Hire AMR Consultants Before You Buy
John explains how trusting AMR sales people will not best serve your business.
“Unfortunately, many robotics and automation firms are primarily concerned with ROI. They aren’t necessarily interested in selling you the best solution, if that solution means they sell less units.”
Ultimately, the best way to ensure your AMR implementation is successful is to hire a supply chain consultant, like Radix Consulting Alliance. Gregg says:
“When choosing an AMR solution, you need to ask yourself how well the companies selling the equipment actually help their customers.”
“We are very good at helping our clients understand their demand plan, and what material handling equipment they need (and don’t need) to execute their supply chain strategy. Most AMR providers don’t see the relationship in those dimensions.”
Want More Great Content?
Download our new FREE ebook, 8 Strategies to Build a Disruption-Proof Supply Chain, to learn:
- Where supply chain threats come from and the types of risks they pose
- Who is responsible for supply chain risk management
- Specific strategies to become more resilient during disruptions
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