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Factors to be considered before going for Automation

Planning is everything in automation for the solution to last long, sustain the rigour of operations, and achieve the required throughput along with ensuring highest safety standards. Identifying the need for an automation planning or drawbacks of the existing systems is the first step towards automation journey, however, to get the right automation solution, one should be clear about the objectives to be achieved through automation. Because one objective can be achieved through multiple solutions and there is a plethora of technologies available today, so choosing which one to opt for is a daunting task & requires both business understanding as well as process understanding backed by data analysis.

So before going for an automation solution, we at Addverb thought one must check some critical parameters and listed down the below points for your reference;

  1. Being crystal clear about the ‘Automation Objectives’ – As mentioned above, it is the cornerstone for the entire automation journey hence considerable deliberations need to be done with all the stakeholders involved within and outside the team. This includes arriving at the time-bound results and bringing everyone onto the same page.
  2. Maturity of the technology that is being proposed — So, once the objectives are finalized, now it’s time to look for the means through which these objectives can be achieved. Do a thorough market research about the different solutions that are there in the market and weigh the pros and cons of each of them. Either an in house automation expert or a consultant or an end to end automation solution provider like Addverb can be of help.
  3. Process dependencies – What are the systems to which the output of this automation will be going to and what are the input feeding systems to it and any special details to be considered. This step requires to look at a broad picture of the impact of automation on warehouse activities and will help in figuring out areas which need to be upgraded before going for an automation.
  4. Criticality of the solution – What are the performance expectations in terms of TAT, capacities creation, productivity etc at each step of the entire system and develop critical methods to test the same.
  5. Existing infrastructure – How flexible are existing systems, processes, and their capability to integrate and support this automation, sometimes a semi-automated solution might yield better results compared to a fully automated system. Hence compatibility/integration with the existing systems is of paramount importance. — Should not see an automation system as a stand-alone entity
  6. Automation Planning – Knowing where your facility is on the automation path and determining where you would eventually like to be is essential and it will help in determining where and when to start/upgrade automation.
  7. Budgets & ROI expectations – The most thought of & very critically evaluated parameter, not just while considering automation internally among the board members but at every phase of the work from evaluating the automation partner, evaluating the automation technology, while executing the product and even maintaining the automation project after successful execution. Comparison of existing total operational costs with the estimated cost of an automated solution and the benefits that are expecting out of automation & over what duration will help in better decision making. At the beginning, there might not be concrete data & a lot of parameters might change over the time, hence being extremely conservative about it will be a good option.
  8. Readiness of your staff/Human resources readiness – Success of any change to the status quo and how quickly people will imbibe it depends on the readiness of the people for the change and their willingness to embrace it. In case of automation, it is not only the technical skill set that plays important role but also the mental preparedness to accept automation. So, organization wide awareness needs to be ensured & and to handle the automation systems, a careful assessment of current employees’ skills need to be done; in case of shortage plans to upskill or new recruitment has to be made.
  9. Scale up strategy: It is essential to be clear about expanding the automation strategy to other facilities over the long-term or upgrading the current system to its next version. A rough strategy for a minimum of 5 years down the line must be crafted.

So, when the word automation is said, its natural to think of ROI, and cost cutting, but there are some soft aspects which might not be factored into these calculations, but play a critical role in deciding the success of automation & due consideration for them needs to be given.

Covid-19: Hitting The Economic Reset

“Helicopter Money”, was coined by Milton Friedman in 1969 to explain the effect of monetary policy on inflation. Today, we are practically seeing helicopter money in front of our eyes as US Fed has pumped in trillions of dollars to combat the economic crisis caused due to the covid-19 pandemic. Other countries also seem to follow the suit. While printing currency and distributing to the people seems like an obvious and quick fix solution to tackle the crisis, the way this pandemic has emanated doesn’t guarantee any certainty. Though the virus is not very lethal, the recovery time is anywhere between 12-28 days depending on the severity of the case. This has led to the overwhelming of healthcare facilities even in some of the most developed countries with the best healthcare systems. Gradually, almost all the countries implemented a complete lockdown to flatten the curve and subsequently break the transmission chain of the virus. India also implemented a lockdown on 25th March 2020 which got extended till 3rd May 2020 and a decision to lift the lockdown is yet to be taken by the central government.

Though many expected a fiscal stimulus from the government, to bolster the staggering economy, the government has kept a close watch and has still not disclosed its post-lockdown revival strategy. Though throwing money from the helicopters could be an option, like in other countries, but it might not help the economy in the long run, especially given Covid-19 is here to stay for a time more than we expected. I firmly believe that printing money is not going to solve a problem that has stemmed from a virus that is forcing people to stay indoors. This is a good opportunity for India to put an innovative plan in place and reboot the economy for benefit of all with the following steps:

1) A Wage for Living

This lockdown has for the first time brought the plight of the migrant labor in the living room of India. With heart wrenching videos and photographs of people walking back to their homes with their kids and many unfortunate incidences of people passing away due to resulting exertions have shown the mirror to the Indian society. These migrant labors who have built the metro cities of India, have not been able to find a room for themselves in the same cities. The minimum wage in India starts from around 5000-6000 rupees a month and varies from state to state, it is high time that the government lives by the definition of the living wage which implies a wage which can help a family to pursue education for their kids, healthcare and insurance apart from the basic necessities of food, water and shelter. It will really take care of the people at the bottom of the pyramid and inject much required liquidity if the minimum wage ceiling is raised to rupees 21,000 per month as mentioned by the 7th Pay Commission. Doing this will also ensure that money flows through legally through industries and will reduce the instances of leakages. It is time we respect the hands that have built this nation, in the short term this might be a little painful as industries are reeling under losses, but it will have a positive ripple effect going ahead.

2) Invoke Gandhian Ideas

Gandhi Ji always advocated the idea of villages being self-sufficient. The Covid-19 pandemic, will stoke the flames of de-globalization and also till a vaccine or some sure shot medicine is found (could be herd immunity as well) the global markets are not going to function as they used to in pre-covid times. We have already seen US canceling immigration applications for the next two months. Also, with the outbreak happening in different parts of the globe, it will be wise to create alternatives and re-look at the global and spread out supply chains. Thankfully, India can self-sustain by producing and consuming the in-house goods due to its size and population. Based on the news and cases, it is safe to assume that rural India has been untouched by the Covid-19 pandemic till now. This is the time we start making village clusters self-sufficient by decentralizing small and medium size industries in the hinterland of India. The migrant labors have gone back to their native places and those who are stuck would like to go back to their native places. Equipped with this labor, high end technology and cheap capital made available by banks, the village clusters can house industries which can become the new engines of economy to take the country forward in a world post covid. India of today is vastly different from India of 30-40 years back as today road infrastructure, railway, internet and electricity has penetrated in many parts of the country. These industries will help in import substitution, push Make-In-India and can also be integrated with ‘Skill India’ to develop highly skilled workforce. With such industrial clusters the pressure on supply chain will also reduce and in times of lockdown or an outbreak, we will be able to self-sustain and will be able to generate high quality jobs in Rural India.

3) Robotics Push

We have always heard from different corners about the infrastructure push that is required in India. Though we need not advocate to remove the focus from infrastructure, but we need to be more forward looking if we are to revive the economy from the impact of Covid-19. Whenever we open our economy and let the factories and warehouses run, it cannot continue in its old form as people will have to maintain adequate social distancing. This will constraint the capacity utilization and will bring it down by 30-40%, coupled with other measures like sanitization etc. will impact the margins of the companies. We have also seen that it makes tremendous sense to reduce the number of touches and contact for products in the light of Covid-19. This is where Robotics and Automation can play a big role by helping industries operate their manufacturing facilities and warehouses at 100% capacity and fulfilling the demand without affecting the margins and productivity. Also, Robots can help in contact less deliveries in hospitals, helping the medical staff from unwanted exposures. May it be for surveillance or sending critical material through last mile delivery, or aiding material movement in hotels, airports or railway stations, Robots will aid humankind in this war against the virus and India should grab this opportunity with both hands. Incentivizing such investments in Robotics by including them in Priority Sector Lending or by providing tax benefits and exemption will help in quick adoption and not only make our supply chain exceptionally reliable and resilient to such shocks but also will generate high quality employment. Just like the Department of Atomic Energy, a separate department for Robotics should be made and kept directly under the Prime Minister Of India.

4) Utilize the Land Bank

With Dharavi becoming a hotspot for the outbreak in Mumbai, it has created a compelling case for decongesting our metro cities and providing affordable houses to the labors. The Public Sector Undertakings are sitting on huge stockpiles of land, with a renewed vigor, these land parcels should be quickly utilized for building affordable houses for Below Poverty Line families and provide them a good standard of living with all basic amenities. This can be done by the government itself or can be done in partnership with private firms. A clear and transparent process will ensure unnecessary delays in the form of injunctions and court cases are avoided. This will boost the infrastructure related sectors in the country. Also, since the traffic and other interruptions are low, the ongoing infrastructure projects like metro, railways, highways should be pushed hard by maintaining the social distancing and safe work norms. It will help us complete these critical projects earlier and save us critical opportunity costs and interest costs on capital.

5) Short Term Financial Balm

While the government has asked the industries to not lay off people, it is becoming increasingly difficult for industries to manage the payroll cost. While it is important to help the industries, it is also imperative to not let unscrupulous managements get away with bad decisions under the garb of Covid. More than 6.5 Lakh people have dug into their PF savings to compensate for the income loss due to Covid-19 lockdown. It would be wise to revisit the PF benefit provided by the government to industries announced on 26th March by covering the employer and employee contribution for all industries irrespective of size of the industry for all employees having taxable income up to 10 Lakhs for next three months. The ESIC contributions for next three months can also be borne by the government. This will help the organizations in reducing their payroll costs. Industries can be provided help in the form of deferment of taxes, electricity dues, lease and rentals for three months. Duration can be changed for specific industries depending on the impact from Covid-19. These incentives should be linked with the caveat to not reduce the employment during the pandemic. Industries can also discuss with employees and focus on taking pay-cuts rather than doing layoffs. Highly leveraged companies will still face liquidity problems and some companies will still fall short of their runway, short term interest free credit line can be granted to such companies through banks to cover their payroll and some fixed cost, provided they do not do mass lay-offs.

Covid-19 has brought the glaring gaps in our healthcare system to the forefront. Needless to say, we must improve the basic healthcare facilities at our government hospitals across the country. This should not be looked at in the terms of economic profit or loss as our Prime Minister has said, “Jaan hai toh Jahaan hai”. We have come out of earlier crises and I am sure we will overcome this crisis as well in time. The economy will restart with a button and a simple push. It will for sure take a lot of effort and perseverance to bring it back on its feet. But one thing I am sure, sooner or later all will be well, and the human spirit will overcome this challenge as well.

Musings on the lockdown days

Who would have even imagined that we will be locked down to save not just individual lives but also of the community? But yes, we were dealt this hand by the cruel turn of events that unfolded on COVID 19 – the most dreaded word in the global vocabulary this lockdown.

What a black swan event this has been. Globally all governments are well equipped – meaning armed both with physical arms and ammunition, extending to nuclear weapons even and, not just these – they are ever ready with diplomatic strategies as well to counter threats. What use are these weapons and strategies for destroying the dreaded WMDs – Weapons of Mass Destruction to deal with COVID19. This has proved to be the most dangerous weapon if one were to classify that as one. As it is said, it is very tough to fight an enemy within and an invisible enemy.

Well, we have one lurking at our doorstep in this lockdown or shall we say right under our nose and we have no other choice but to lock ourselves down. Lockdown or not, we should keep the spirits soaring high to not just lift ourselves, our teams at work and our families at home, but also to respect the lives of our neighbors, service providers and the essential services teams that are staying awake to help us fight this and tide over the crisis.

How are we, Addverbians doing? Well not too bad I should say.

The teams at work are energized to keep the morale high and, be as productive and innovative as one could get under these trying times. Addverb’s tribe is rearing to contribute to the wellbeing of society by staying engaged in the lockdown with some of our customers that are operating their warehouses to keep the essential supplies going as mandated. We have even put our AMR to great use to serve the noble cause at a Govt. hospital in Noida to deliver samples, supplies, and essentials to patients in wards without exposing personnel to the risk of contracting the virus. Back in their homes, each member is contributing to the betterment of – a) the society – by following the detailed protocol of lockdown as mandated, b) Ourselves and our families to be responsible members, and c) last but not least to continue to contribute to the company by continuing to work in this lockdown but remotely and training ourselves by gainfully employing and enjoying our time.

How am I doing? Well, again not too bad.

I should say I had a few days of acclimatization to handle and get over the initial resistance to adapt. I got entrapped by watching too much TV on this epidemic and, well and truly the infodemic (the word used these days for the information on the epidemic) hit me. I spent a couple of sleepless nights being overanxious about this as we have two ultra-senior citizens at home – my Mother who is all of 88 and my Mother-in-law who is in early nineties to care for. My thoughts were mainly about what if scenarios. I worked hard to overcome this anxiety. Did I do the right things – thankfully, the answer is – Yes. How did I overcome this? By the tried and tested method of calming the nerves by accepting that I am nobody in the larger scheme of things and have no control on the events that are unfolding. Our best defence is to accept things that we cannot control and stop worrying about them. Gain confidence about the power of collective good that will eventually win over evil forces. I resorted to meditation that I was doing on and off. I am regular at that now. Most importantly, my wife and I chalked out a disciplined schedule in this lockdown. Despite missing out on our regular walks that we would have outside, we decided that we will use the space on our balcony and terrace to good use for walking. So much so, we are clocking a good number – about 5 to 6 Kms everyday by walking at home. A key takeaway for me is, my wife has taken to walking seriously now as prior to COVID 19 she was a very unwilling walker even though she is a yoga buff. Now we are very regular with both walking and Yoga. We are tending to the elders as we should be doing to keep them charged up. We are having good food thanks to variety of dishes being cooked by my wife collaborating with her 92-year-old Mother. Aren’t we blessed and lucky? We also take particular care to share whatever little we can – food, money and such with the service providers – the lady that sweeps our road everyday even in these times, our gardener who drops by occasionally out of love for his job and the plants he tends, and anyone else that contributes to our wellbeing.  I miss my swimming though in this lockdown.

It is so nice to really hear and enjoy the birds chirping as they have also regained their lost space as we have of our balcony. We do not have the unending stream of automobiles racing with their horns blaring all the time. All these nice things are visible and available for us to enjoy. I hear lots of music – classical genre. The ones which I would not have watched otherwise are the Frankfurt and New York philharmonic concerts. What a treat they were. In times like these art gains over many other things and performing arts will give a new sense of high.

Well you must have thought it is all play and no work. No not really – I am engaging as per the need to be active on the professional front to contribute to Addverb in my own way. I read a good lot of reports and articles both technical and managerial in nature and share with my colleagues via the right forums. I blogged on a few topics, participated in a few conference calls with potential customers to keep the flame simmering. I am available to contribute to Addverb in any which way in these troubled times. Keep going team.

Let me close this by quoting a nice one by Owen Arthur – a politician from Barbados:

“For he who has health has hope; and he who has hope, has everything”.

AI and its impact on Human kind

Envision a conversation between the Captain of a mission craft ship and a mission member called Saviour 1. It goes like this – “Wake up Captain, it is 24 hrs to go for landing and as per my protocols I need to wake you up and assist you for landing the Ship”, “How long the crew has been asleep Saviour 1?’ Asked Capt. Ashok. “8 Years, 2 months and 4 days sir” Replied Saviour 1. “We have been asleep too long, kindly brief the exploration mission to the crew again Saviour 1” Said Capt. Ashok, “Crew we will be landing on Proxima Centauri in 24 hrs Earth time. Our goal is to set up the communication back home to inform of our arrival followed by setting up the camp for the crew so that you can carry out the experiments to see the survival on the planet and finally set up the incubation center for the embryos to see their survival on our potential new home. Meanwhile work parallelly on growing food and inhabiting the planet, while the crew will be on the said tasks I will be simultaneously assisting on each tasks, compiling the reports and sending it to Earth for analysis”, briefs Saviour. Who do you think Saviour 1 is? It is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) program designed and developed to assist explorer mission to find new home for humans in the depth of space year 2424.

As depicted in movies across the world it is not necessarily that AI is the ‘self-aware’ program/robot trying to eliminate human race as shown in Terminator series nor it is a slave serving the sentinel beings as shown in Star Wars saga. According to Prof. Professor John McCarthy also known as ‘Father of AI’ “AI is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs.” Let us bear in mind that AI is “Artificial Intelligence” as opposed to natural or “Native Intelligence”. AI works on the principle of the computational part of the program that works to adapt itself to be a self-aware system and therefore performs the tasks that the system is designed to perform as if it is using native intelligence. AI has immense potential to contribute to the development of society. As with any technology and tool one could use it for beneficial as well as unsavoury uses. In the scenario envisioned at the beginning of this text where  Capt. Ashok and his crew of astronauts are on a mission in the future to explore an exoplanet and find a new home for mankind, AI could be used to perform manifold tasks in the mission. These tasks could be – a) Finding the best route and optimize the best path to follow in interstellar space, b)  acting as an alarm to the crew, c) performing calculation from the surroundings to find a perfect spot to land, d) setting up the habitat, e) rationing and managing the food supply, programmed to run an incubation center to raise human babies without a womb or a mother, and many others like compiling, screening and processing of data. AI also can transmit data and act as the much needed medical center for the crew so far from home, prepare them for contingencies and finally manage the whole exploration program.

Now let us talk about how AI can be used for our benefit in the real world of material handling here and now.  In our industry of material handling, an intelligent program can work seamlessly across all the stages of intra-warehouse movement of goods, right from inbound operation sequencing to assisting the suppliers to deliver in specific slots, to optimizing the storage location for the goods and, finally order slotting and execution of order picking in the least time with absolute accuracy along with the material movement in the warehouse. Besides doing all the above, AI can also provide real time asset monitoring, data collection from smart devices and provide predictive maintenance insights about devices to the maintenance teams.

With all the discussion and use cases we have still only explored the periphery of the potential and possibilities we can achieve with Artificial Intelligence. In times to come, we will see AI forming a critical element in the practice of safety of the plant, personnel, and systems.

In conclusion, AI has the potential to make Native intelligence also referred to as Human Intelligence to reach a level where it decodes human intelligence itself and reaches superintelligence. On a cautionary note, the goal of development of AI should be to always align with the goal of the human race itself without jeopardising the safety of human race and this planet for it to be a benefactor.

Rise of Mega Distribution Centers and its impact on Logistics

Factors driving the emergence of Mega Distribution Centers

A modern supply chain facility has no leeway to miss out on paying close attention to all the different elements in order to stay competitive and reap benefits. Companies may have to rethink and replan their strategies for designing their inbound (Raw Material – RM) and outbound (Finished Goods –  FG) in their Distribution Centers to stay nimble but yet be in a position to respond to black swan events a la corona virus – COVID 19. On the one hand, companies have far too long focussed on Just in Time (JIT) principle of managing their inventory, they will now, on the other hand, be forced to devise strategies to be able to bear short to medium term shocks that would impair their supply chain security.

Companies must be wiser after every calamity and should put robust infrastructure and processes in place to deal with shocks.  As the legendary business leader Jack Welch said, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” It is therefore important for businesses to be ahead of the curve when it comes to business strategies. Mega Distribution Centers with commensurate logistics are a class that belongs to those businesses being ahead of the curve.

Logistics and Infrastructure

While designing the best fit solution for Mega Distribution Centers, logistics and its related infrastructure form a critical pillar in the structure. The task of distribution with matching logistics could be simplified to mean products having to move from point A to point B which is the right location in the most efficient way. This again means it needs to be transported to the right location, at the right time, in the right condition, for the right price. Distribution centers should be designed with a focus on meeting all the objectives mentioned just now.

According to a research paper on Mega DCs “Factors determining distribution structure decisions in logistics” authored by Alexader T C Onstein, et al, we come across different structures as shown in figure below:

“Decentralised” distribution structures include multiple DC locations in a so-called multiechelon system (layout 4 &6 in the above image).  A “multi-country system” includes an international DC and a number of regional or local DCs.

It is evident that the nature of distribution that a business opts will drive the logistics and transportation infrastructure to meet its demands.

It is imperative for companies to drive efficiencies by digging deeper into the levers to work on, to gain advantage. Ideally an analytics approach will be needed to decide about determining these levers. Many businesses have identified it would be cost effective to have fewer larger facilities than multiple smaller ones.

Even in these Mega DCs, one should de-risk the operations from many external angles that may hamper operations in unforeseen exigencies such as fire, snow, etc. Therefore, a campus style approach where a Mega Distribution Centers could be one with a cluster of a few medium-sized buildings that total the typical area to qualify to be a Mega DC. These buildings could safely be separated by roads for mitigating the effects of fire. Of course, it is important to run a cost benefit analysis from all angles, initial investment, operational expenses and such. Operational expenses could offset the benefit of a cluster of buildings making up a Mega DC as the material handling and automation systems may add to unreasonable cost. *

What Goes into a Mega Distribution Center

Mega distribution Center, by its very nature is the Mothership and should satisfy a variety of needs. Therefore, it is a multifaceted and multitasking entity that is designed to perform end-to-end logistics demand for any business. It should have the following attributes:

  1. A large facility typically of an area around 400,000 Sq.ft. would qualify as a mega DC.
  2. Designed to suit large inbound and outbound traffic at high throughput
  3. Have very good locational advantage and be capable of handling heavy truck traffic continuously
  4. Must lend itself well to be connected to mini and mega markets to meet the demands. This will in turn make the mega DC a viable proposition
  5. Fully automated material handling system, storage and retrieval system linked with business ERP system on a real-time basis

All the above attributes will essentially mean having multiple subsystems that handle material movement within the premises in a seamlessly integrated manner.

Technology and Solutions to be built into a Mega DC

Mega DCs normally operate 24*7 and hence are ideal candidates for automation due to the continuity of service and running multiple tasks simultaneously for meeting high volume of operations.

A good approach would be to break the domains down to:

  • Business need in general
  • Structure of the mega DC – Does it serve as a Mother DC feeding cross-dock DCs to serve the needs of a mini distribution centre
  • Transportation
  • Geography – Locational aspects

Technology and automated material handling solutions are commonplace these days. They help in meeting all the demands – ease of operation, higher productivity per person deployed, unparalleled operational safety and the consistently very high throughputs and accuracy. A carefully designed combination of infrastructure, automated material handling solutions and location will deliver a good value proposition to a business in smart supply chains.

It is precisely in these areas Addverb Technologies, with its domain expertise of both technology and business processes will provide a full bouquet of products and solutions to meet the digitization program of a business to modernise its warehouses and supply chains.

Adoption of technology will result in operational improvements of a warehouse, but the key differentiator is in choosing technology wisely, and here Addverb’s portfolio comes with a promise of delivering results beyond compare.

Direct to Customer vs Reaching Customer via DCs

Reaching your customer- The 2020 way!

Companies are looking at new ways to reach out to customers that will give them a chance to stay engaged direct to customers. This gives them a unique touchpoint almost akin to grasping the customers’ hand to feel the pulse. What better way than getting a touchpoint to improve the customer experience. Thanks to digital technologies and modern material handling techniques, companies can safely implement strategies that give its end customers a good feel of the order handling process of their suppliers. A good mix of hardware and software working in harmony and interfacing with the business ERP system can ensure efficient order handling processes via Distribution Centers that could benefit all the players in a supply chain – manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and end users.

Evolution of Digital Supply chain Networks

In the modern supply chain networks where strategies are continuously emerging and evolving all players must show willingness and agility to adopt newer techniques and solutions to deliver value not just to themselves but also to its customers. Currently companies that provide smart solutions to overcome the last mile delivery issues will gain in the battlefield of supply chains. Latest trends point to emerging practice of Direct to Customer (D2C) over reaching customer via Distribution Centers (DC2C). One must keep in mind that this strategy is not just about eliminating a middle layer in the supply chain. As opposed to this, it is to gain efficiencies just by adopting automation and technology to eliminate a dispensable layer. Economies of scale is a driver to adopt this strategy and hence large players benefit from this.

A centralised warehouse that caters to one or more of the following needs and that implements techniques and solutions using modern digitization technologies will help companies realize this ambition:

  1. Enough area for storage of a wide variety of products and SKUs.
  2. A good location that provides access to transportation of inbound and outbound deliveries
  3. Reasonable proximity to marketplace
  4. A good potential to adopt digitization technologies to automate the processes and systems with benefit from ROI

Of course, while adopting modern technologies and strategies to drive higher supply chain efficiencies benefit from ROI is a sine qua non while making investment decisions.

Benefits of D2C

Why would a company choose to deliver direct rather than through third-party distributors? The answer lies in gaining direct access to end-users that are its customers. This is especially true for large FMCG players that cry for gaining better insights into its customers’ behavior and use patterns. Companies will benefit by gaining first-hand information and data about their customers thus enabling them to better serve its customers. Data ownership, its use, and security must be respected according to local practices and regulations.

A strategy to deliver direct will demand smart warehousing and logistics solutions that may call for dramatic retooling of operational expertise – from customer service and experience to returns management, direct merchandising, direct delivery, and, of course, warehousing and logistics. Any strategy should result in financial gains as well as an edge over the competition for a business enterprise.

Implementing a D2C model calls for significant changes in the following areas of their warehousing infrastructure – Intralogistics which is the art of managing the flow of materials, products and information within the walls of a warehouse; picking; sorting; storage and retrieval. A well-designed solution combined with the efficient layout in design and technology will result in improved ROI as compared to a force-fitted solution. Hence enough ideation and planning should form an essential part of any strategy to implement digitized and automated supply chain in a Direct to Customer program.

Technology and Solutions portfolio

One of the key elements of successfully adopting this strategy is to leverage the advanced solutions that deliver efficiency, flexibility, scalability, and safety.

Some of the most automated products & solutions that a completely automated warehouse comprises:

  • Mobile robots and driverless forklifts for material movement in a Distribution Centers
  • Picking solutions using pick to light, pick by voice and pick by vision technologies
  • Dense storage of SKUs using Carton shuttle or pallet shuttle shelving systems
  • ASRS solutions using shuttle based and/or crane-based systems
  • Order Sortation using Sorting robots
  • Powerful software systems to manage all the operations like WES, WMS, and WCS

It is precisely in these areas Addverb Technologies, with its domain expertise of both technology and business processes will provide a full bouquet of products and solutions to meet the digitization program of business to modernize their warehouses and supply chains.

Adoption of technology will result in operational improvements of a warehouse, but the key differentiator is in choosing technology wisely, and here Addverb’s portfolio comes with a promise of delivering results beyond compare. By working with solution providers with a deep understanding of technology and business processes companies can realize their grand vision of D2C and gain competitive advantage.

Robonomics : The science of Robotic Automation

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm

A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law

A robot must protect its own existence if such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law

Isaac Asimov, a science fiction author and professor at Boston University postulated the “Three Laws Of Robotics” in his 1942 popular short story “Run-around”. Though these laws appeared fictional at the time of writing, the advent of technology has made humans and Robots work together and these laws more or less, form the crux of the operation in such workplaces. While countries like Germany, Italy, Sweden, France, S. Korea, China, Spain, the US, UK have taken to the use of Robots in a big way subsequently driving up productivity and scale, India has somewhat lagged in the adoption of Robots on the shop floor. As the Government pushes on the idea of “Make in India”, it becomes imperative for Indian manufacturers to adopt Robots at the workplace.

With increased adoption globally, standard robot models are now mass-produced, and this presents a perfect opportunity for small and medium-sized companies to deploy Robotic Automation in their manufacturing and drive the next wave of value unlocking. A holistic view of the costs involved shall allow them to make the decision to adopt the Robotic Automation. At Addverb, we recommend the “FOLDUP” approach to customers to calculate the ROI for Robotic Automation.

Flexibility: Robotic Automation is future-ready automation, by just reprogramming the robot and changing the end tools, the entire production process can be tweaked. This is in stark contrast with the special purpose machines which generally have hard tools that cannot be tweaked. In the case of a manual process, the human workforce clubbed with archaic labor laws makes the production process very inflexible.

Overheads: Once the upfront investment has been made in Robotic Automation, the cost of running the entire system is very less as compared to a manual system. Robotic Automation ensures low or no maintenance and administrative costs, which are quite high while managing a manual workforce. These costs are often not included in the ROI calculation, also the administrative costs (Overheads) generally tend to increase as the number of years of operation increases. Taking this into account results in a very low-cost of total ownership for Robotic Automation.

Labour: At present, the majority of the jobs that absorb most of the labor are repetitive in nature, these kinds of jobs do not add any skill to the people who are employed. This, in turn, results in stagnation of labor which creates a hostile industrial relations scenario. With Robotic Automation, the labor that is required to maintain the robots is highly skilled and as such this provides better employment opportunity, resulting in harmonious industrial relations. Quite a few jobs in manufacturing take place in an environment that is hostile to the human body, using robots for such processes is a great investment that also ensures harmonious Industrial Relations.

Dependability: The manual process often results in variability and quality defects. Robotic Automation is highly dependable, and robots often prove to be superior to humans in terms of quality of the work for most of the production processes. Robotic Automation can drastically reduce the number of defects and improve the quality of the inspection. As Robotic Automation displays zero deviation from the production process, the resulting quality of the finished products is quite good. This cost often gets overlooked as a manual process usually results in high-quality defects, affecting the overall brand of the company as well.

Usage: This is the most important criterion that must be factored in while implementing Robotic Automation. Robots allow three-shift operations, 7 days a week and 365 days a year without any interruption and stoppage. While comparing with a manual process, this must be compared to an equivalent workforce that shall be required to manage such operations at this scale. It ensures continuous production without any stoppages due to administrative issues.

Productivity: Apart from non-stop usage, one of the most neglected aspect of Robotic Automation is the increase in Productivity. Having a Robot is like having a highly skilled resource available, round the clock. Unlike Robots, the human body is susceptible to short-term fatigue, injury and disability. Many jobs in manufacturing typically either because of the hostile environment or being repetitive in nature result in low productivity after some time. This is not the case with Robotic Automation, which ensures constant productivity throughout.

Even with all this, the most important factor that determines the success of Robotic Automation in a factory is an “Integrator”- a company which completely understands the nuances of Robotic Automation and can design complete solution that will maximize the output by selecting the right robot, designing the layout, integrating the vision system, etc.

Robotic Automation offers a very reliable and efficient production process, robots typically can be refurbished and used again after a period of 10-12 years with ease. All these factors make the ROI on Robotic Automation attractive, a good rule of thumb is to target a minimum of three years for calculating the ROI. After these three years, typically Robotic Automation results in positive cash flow for the company with minimum variability and high-efficiency. That’s the stage when actual value unlocking happens for the organization. It becomes imperative for small and medium enterprises, who aim to grow, to look beyond the near future to truly ascertain the gains obtained from Robotic Automation.

Daag ache nahee hain: Vision Management System

Cleanliness is key to holistic healthcare and laundry is an essential but often under-served component in healthcare, addressing this area is “Shubhram Hospital Solutions”, it provides holistic, high-quality linen management and laundering services, guaranteeing infection-free linen that complies with international standards. With their state of the art facility, they ensure that thousands of patients need not face any problems in hospitals.
In order to add more reliability to its process, Shubhram used to manually check the cloth after it was cleaned, this was done to ensure that no stain remained on the cloth and also to add more reliability to the process. In order to make this process more efficient and agile, Addverb provided Shubhram with a “Vision Management System”. VMS captured any stain, wrinkle and identified the torn bedsheets as well. Vision Management System consisted of cameras which were installed at a location that could capture and identify stains. With the help of a sensor and a PLC, VMS could detect any abnormality in bedsheets resulting in rejections and the rejected bedsheets could be further rewashed or discarded.
Quality is a prime business principle and becomes extremely critical in the healthcare sector. Addverb’s VMS added more reliability to the process and enabled Shubhram to operate at 98% accuracy in its daily operations and delighting the customers.

Does Your Forklifts Take The Road Less Taken ? Try Smart move

Today forklifts are the most common sight in a warehouse. They are heavy vehicles with a pronged device for moving goods from the unloading areas to shelves and taking them for the dispatch area. They carry bulk weights and facilitate easy movement of the inventory. These are very costly equipment, so they have to be utilized to the best of their capacity in order to realize an effective ROI on them.

In fact, the trickle-down effect of forklift efficiency flows down to the bottom line not only by reducing warehouse operating costs but also by improving safety & maximizing warehouse space utilization. However, the reality is otherwise, an Industry survey shows that 94% of material handling businesses do not have an accurate record of their forklift fleet!!

With IoT finding its way into warehouse management systems, smart forklifts can act as change agents to realize better efficiency through forklift management. So, now let us discuss how smart forklifts Improve Efficiency?

1.Tracking Forklift Movement: When a warehouse is operating heavy machinery like Forklifts for material handling, it’s important to know how the forklifts are moving, and where they are moving, because each movement of a forklift has the insight to be looked into & work upon.!
Is the forklift carrying optimal weight per kilometer of its travel?
How many kilometers per day it is traveling with null weight (Empty movement) & how to reduce it?
Which forklift driver is consistently performing well? Which forklift driver is below the expectation? and the list goes on.
Smart forklifts equipped with indoor RTLS systems enable 100% visibility of forklifts and forklift drivers. We can track every movement of forklift including speed and direction.

2.Safety: The man-machine interface is one of the key parameters to evaluate the safety of operations. This interface should be minimum to ensure smooth and safe operations. In this context, it’s inarguable that forklift movements have to be continuously monitored for safety of the drivers, forklifts & inventory.
With the ever-rising complex structures of the warehouses & volume of operations, the safety managers should take decisions about safety routes & loads on the basis of the most reliable data. Smart forklifts can give recommendations on less congested routes by analyzing the data on forklift density over a path in real-time. It also provides the speed profile of forklift operators on a monthly basis, which helps the safety managers to plan training sessions & safety guidelines at blind spots.

3.Warehouse Space Utilization through Analytics: With changing customer requirements and the production of a multitude of new items every day, warehouse slotting cannot afford to be static anymore. The Bin selection logic should be such that the right items are placed at the right places and the design of optimal paths should facilitate optimal forklift movement.
With smart forklifts, the software plots historical forklift movement on the warehouse layout. It gives insights on routing patterns and also identifies locations – that are hidden but eating on the productive time of the warehouse. The heat map analysis gives insights into any changes of A class, B class & C class items and subsequently their storage pattern. It suggests optimal routes on a real-time basis, which improves performance as well as safety.

4. Improve Drivers’ Productivity: By making forklift operators aware of their driving pattern, indicating strengths, weaknesses, peak & low-performance hours, it’s possible to give individual feedback and training sessions.

The Smart Move solution from Addverb comes as a power pack with all the above features. It is also capable of providing insights at a deeper level like the impact of driver’s fatigue level on the productivity, easy integration with any WMS, preventive maintenance module, Forklift Battery Management system and many more, all of which helps in improving the performance of the drivers, easy supervising for managers, and ultimately to realize the best operational efficiency in safe environment.

Khushi: Power your Warehouse by Voice based picking

You are sitting in your office and discussing an important project. You suddenly get a birthday reminder for someone important in your life. Since you didn’t remember the birthday, you haven’t sent any gifts. What do you do?………. You open a shopping app, pick same-day delivery, and voila! The app helps you order a gift that will delight your loved ones. But, what took you a few clicks to finish is, in fact, the result of heaps of teams working in tandem around the year. The most important part of this entire chain is the “Warehouse” which stores these “gifts”. Warehouses are the hidden fulcrum of supply chain management, without their smooth functioning, the entire supply chain would collapse. There’s a lot to proper warehouse management than what meets the eye. From taking care of time-critical packages and dealing with inaccurate inventory to employing strategies to minimize labor costs – the world of warehousing is as tricky as a “dusra” cricket delivery indeed!

Out of all the activities in a warehouse namely in-warding of goods, storage, order picking, and dispatch, order picking forms the backbone of the entire operations. Picking up the correct order is critical as it directly affects supply chain productivity. Collecting articles for every order placed by the customer, as per the right quantity, while making sure it’s the exact product as was ordered- for millions of customers, every single time – is a Herculean task indeed!

To make this task easier and increase efficiency, it is recommended to use Voice-directed warehousing, or Pick-by-Voice as many call it. It comes to warehousing operations as an improvement upon the older version of HHT based scanning system for picking and is a new opportunity to win the upper hand in the aggressive supply-chain market.
Voice Picking Software- What’s In the Voice and How Does It Function?

Pick-By-Voice is a speech recognition and voice direction software installed in a small, wearable device. Here’s how it works:

1. Warehouse employees carry the voice unit with them
2. They receive verbal prompts from the mobile unit
3. They are directed to predetermined locations in the warehouse as per the algorithm
4. They read confirmation codes (check digits) of the products and speak predefined commands into the mic of the headset
5. The speech recognition module verifies the worker’s response and reverts with the picking quantity
6. After confirming the quantity picked, the worker collects the product and moves on to the next location

The entire system is designed to optimize the pick path of the operator thus improving the overall efficiency of the system

Pick-by-Voice Versus Traditional Warehouse Management Methods- What Makes the Former Special?

For one, a system that is entirely centered around speaking and listening gives your employees freedom from holding anything other than the product that they’re supposed to be handling. There are no instruction sheets, code scanners, devices, or checklists that they may need to put down and pick up before and after dealing with a product.

This subsequently simplifies employee functionality. In fact, this causes a 35% to 85% increase in productivity and accuracy respectively.

Then, there is a matter of labor safety. With fewer obstacles in the way to divert the attention of your operator, the potential of any harm to the product or injury to the personnel reduces as well. Even if they are picking an exceptionally heavy object or handling a fragile item, the chances of hurting themselves or vandalizing the product go down significantly.
Ultimately, this system eliminates any paperwork requirement. And, voice picking training is not only quick but also hassle-free. Plus, since it makes the operator’s job a tad bit smoother and easier, it gradually leads to a more satisfied and hence dedicated operator.
But, Why Would You Jump on this Bandwagon at All?
Here are the problems voice picking solves for you:
1. Improves inventory accuracy, picking accuracy, and employee productivity
2. Increases operator-safety
3. Reduces training time for operators
4. Eliminates paperwork, and hence redundancy
5. Leads to a better customer experience

The system converts speech to data with advanced speech recognition software. This software learns what each word sounds like – regardless of language or dialect, so the operator of any region irrespective of their mother tongue, can adjust as easily as those whose first language is English or Hindi. Today, Voice Technology is available in Indian regional languages as well. In other words, this system can work anywhere around the world without any difficulty.
The global reach for this tech is expected to touch a staggering USD 2.5 billion by the end of 2018 from its previous value of USD 900 million in 2017. It’s not just flexible but also offers a stellar increase in productivity and efficiency for warehouses. And, the market is expected to adopt voice picking systems in the upcoming years readily. With the scale of warehousing picking in India, voice is expected to be the next technology that will hit a tipping point. We suggest you jump on this ship while the good seats are still available.