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.

Are cobots the next wave of warehouse automation?

Robots are being used in the space of automation since a decade back and have undergone several updates during this period.

Collaborative robots or Cobots, are currently facing its boom period leveraging its easy configuration and app-based controls. Invented in 1996, cobots have just started making impact on various industries across the globe. These robots unlock the way to automation for almost every size of business. It is renowned as one of the cost-effective automation solutions which will work alongside humans, enhancing their capacities and simultaneously building their skills.

What is inside?

Cobots have built in safety mechanism including power and force limiting technologies which make them safe to collaborate with human operators. Cobots are fashioned with inherent safety features like force feedback and collision detection. Hence, they are more precise, powerful and collaborative and take lesser time to deploy as compared to their conventional and bulky counterparts. For companies with seasonal demands, dynamic product lines or multiple process can opt for cobots which can also be moved between different tasks.

They are equipped with sensors, smart technologies and systems which are linked with IOT and specific systems. For the purpose of distance sensing, cobots are in-built with vision or radar sensors. This helps them to implement speed and separation monitoring. Non-ergonomic workstations can be greatly improved with the help of robots. Cobots are enabled with verbal command functions and incorporate voice interpretation.

Market speaks

As per BIS Research, by 2021, the collaborative-robot market is expected to grow to approximately $2 billion and 150,000 units. Several other industries are also looking towards cobots as a way of introducing the new automation future.

How do they add value?

Many businesses which are at their nascent stage of automation can see cobots as their tool to take their next step towards automation. One of the major benefits of cobots is its built with easy programming that allows even an inexperienced user to learn the process by simply moving the robotic arm to the desired waypoint and using a touchscreen to set the required actions. It involves a user-friendly software and mobile applications for the cobot to learn new actions on the go by leveraging the capabilities of artificial intelligence. By using a cobot, the programming can be performed on one unit and can be copied to others, making it quickly redeployable to different processes. This also include a much lesser cost than the traditional robots and generate a better ROI. As already mentioned, it provides safe collaboration to work alongside humans, providing the worker with an extra set of hands. Unlike cobots, the guarding and safety mechanism of traditional robots is bulky and expensive. Cobots are lightweight and easily movable to different places as well as different tasks. They are more consistent and accurate than humans and hence the errors are minimized in the operations.

Cobots play a big role in the development of Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things. These days cobots area being used for various tasks such as pick and place, finishing tasks, Process Tasks (which requires a tool to interact with a workpiece), packaging and palletizing, quality inspection etc. Right now, we’re at a tipping point whereby there aren’t too many hurdles anymore to leverage this technology. We may count it as the day 0, when cobots will transform the trends in the automation sphere and will realize the implementations of Industry 4.0.

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.

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.

Have you met this duo yet, to transform your storage space?

Mother-child shuttle system aka shuttle-based ASRS has been having a bit of a moment from the last few years due to its extensive adoption in warehouses and order fulfillment operations. This technology utilizes the capacity of the warehouses in cubic feet over the earlier means where it used to utilize its capacity in square feet. It is designed to optimize the space used within the warehouses in order to obtain a higher level of productivity and efficiency. This system integrates the automated hardware with the software for the accurate picking and replenishment process. This results in a reduction of inventory level and material handling inconveniences while increasing the productivity and accuracy of the warehouse as compared to the manual storage systems. But why we are calling it Mother-child specifically and how is it different from the already known ASRS of your dictionary? Let’s delve deeper into its functioning to unravel all these mysteries.

How does it function?
The mother-child shuttle system is a fully automated and equally versatile storage and retrieval mechanism for multi deep pallet storage. It consists of a Mother shuttle powered by bus bar, which runs on a track perpendicular to the pallet storage in the racking system. It has a pallet shuttle aka child in it which performs the function of storage and retrieval. This system is integrated with vertical lifts that carry the load to its destined position. Once the vertical lift reaches its designated position, the mother shuttle reaches there along with the child. The child takes the load and gets inside the Mother shuttle to again move on the track in order to reach the next destination. Retrieval of loads also happens through the same process.

Industry 4.0, individualization and digitalization are making such storage technology more important than ever, especially in retail, e-commerce, and multi-channel. The mother-child shuttle system is suitable for multi-deep storage and provides high throughput & facilitates storage up to 10 pallets per square meter. You can avail the benefits mentioned below by adopting Mother-child shuttle system in your warehouse:

• Every loading level has one mother and one child aka pallet shuttle which can go up to 15 levels high.
• In this system, the Mother shuttle offers a carrying speed of up to 3 m/s, and the child gives a speed of 0.8 to 1.1 m/s with an acceleration of 1.5 meters per second squared. The Lift offers a throughput of 60 to70 pallets /hour.
• It has a high load-carrying capacity. The whole system can carry a load up to 1500kgs.
• With a fast battery charger, it can get charged in 30 minutes and lead a cycle of 10 hours.
• It involves advanced safety and accuracy features that provide 100% accuracy in the positioning of the load and the pallet.
By incorporating the mother-child shuttle system into your warehouse operation, you can achieve a significant boost in efficiency, cost-savings, and productivity. Today automation is the key and is being adopted by many industries where storage is one giant task. There are various Automated Storage and Retrieval systems in the market and which technology ultimately makes the most sense for you to include in your operation depends on a number of factors including rate, your typical order, the type of product that you handle, and more. If you are also looking for an efficient storage and retrieval mechanism for your warehouse, then Addverb technologies are one such stop.

Light Up Your Warehouse: Pick to light

Light directed picking has emerged as one of the important picking technologies for faster order fulfillment with great accuracies. Before implementing the PTL systems into your warehouse storage zones/aisles, here we take a look at the important points that need to be thoroughly worked upon to earn the best ROI from automation:

1. Know your product SKU volumes: Pick-To-Light systems are the fastest picking methodology in the segment – “person to good” system. They are used for high throughput (fast-moving) SKUs. Light directed picking gives the highest pick rate in case of break pack picking and is equally effective for full case dispatch. These fast-moving SKUs are brought together to a picking zone, which is different from the storage zone. They are stored close to each other in a dense form. Every SKU has 1-12 cartons (cases) stored in this pick zone. They are regularly replenished. They are either stored in a shelving rack or carton flow racks. An SKU can get more than one lane depending on the velocity of the SKU. Usually, these light-directed systems are used in zone picking formats, where an order tote moves on a conveyor/ trolley, stopping at individual zones, and the pickers in that respective zone pick & place the items required for the order from that zone. Typically a warehouse deploys 500 to 10000 lights for their top SKUs in light-directed picking.

2. Integration is the Key: Swift integration of the Pick-To-Light systems into the existing WMS/WCS/Enterprise software of the warehouse is very critical to realize the productivity gains through automation.

3. Throughput: Pick-To-Light systems are highly accurate and usually give a very high throughput Generally, with Pick-to-Light systems, the order pick rates would run between 120 and 400 lines per hour with an accuracy of 99.5 to 99.7%. This would entail a redesigning of the picking philosophy to reap the benefits of the light directed picking in true sense.

4. Evaluate alternatives: Do Cost-benefit Analysis – Once the objectives are finalized, the next thing is to check for the best possible way of achieving the solution. For a stated objective there are multiple ways of order fulfillment so evaluate all the other options, RF Picking, voice, vision. Light directed operation is an umbrella of various lighting techniques like sequential and simultaneous picking.
Evaluation of vendors to be carried out taking multiple factors into consideration like the technical expertise to integrate PTL into the existing systems; the light technology being offered – the processor, number of lights, functionality; flexibility of the vendor to customize hardware and software, etc. Deep understanding of the warehouse operations, warehousing design & the proficiency in handling smooth integration of new technologies is of paramount importance in choosing the vendor.

5. Semi-Automation is the new norm: Semi automation is the latest norm across the warehouses, where only the critical parts of the supply chain are being automated to boost productivity. With the growing variety of products stored in warehouses & the complexities of the warehouse operations, one solution/technology does not serve the purpose well. In order picking also, it is very common & cost-effective to use PTL systems for the critical zones/ aisles & the rest of the picking zones can be with other picking technologies.

6. Use data efficiently to realize full benefits: Data speaks volumes & data is everything in the world of IIoT. With the ever-rising competition for providing superior customer experiences & achieving operational efficiencies every step of the order needs to be traced. Light directed picking systems provide real-time analytics that can be utilized to study the storage patterns & the performance analytics for performance improvement in terms of speed/accuracy/overall productivity etc.

As the saying goes, “One that gets measured can be managed & improved”. Automation comes at a cost, and to measure the return on investment, businesses need to be crystal clear on the objectives they wish to achieve through automation. For the PTL solution to achieve the desired goal it is very important to have a comprehensive understanding of the challenges that business is facing in order fulfillment. For instance:

1. Picking speed of the people
2. Time to train the workforce
3. The attrition rate in the warehouse
4. Lower picking rates than the industry average
5. Demographics of the labor (multi-lingual people, gender), etc.

By proper analysis of these challenges, a business can arrive at measurable goals in terms of no. of orders to be picked per day, reduction of labor costs by x%, reduction of reverse logistics costs due to mis-ships by y% .etc. In the end, a light-directed picking is for sure going to drive these parameters up north.

P.S. Light is also used for sorting applications. More about it in the next blog. Keep watching this space.