What to Consider Before You Automate and How to Prepare Your Team for Change. (Part 1 of 3)

Ease the pain of workforce shortages, market changes, and the relentless pressure to perform more efficiently with automation. Whether you’re currently implementing automation or considering it for the first time, this blog series is for you.

Over the next week, we’ll be sharing what to consider as you move toward warehouse automation and a plan to help you do it successfully. In today’s post (Part 1), we’re covering how automation improves your business, why companies are adopting new and innovative technologies, and the advantages these solutions offer your operation.

Automation can be costly. It takes a lot of work (and time) to implement successfully. But the results are exponential – reducing operating costs, increasing productivity, and staying ahead of the competition.

If your company culture isn’t ready to embrace automation or you haven’t planned strategically, you may spend a lot of time and money on a failed project. Conversely, a successfully implemented new initiative like robotics or automation has the potential to improve your margins and set the stage for continued growth – ultimately, increasing performance and serving your customer with speed, accuracy, and precision.

The goal of this mini-series is to prepare you for a positive outcome and avoid the pitfalls we’ve seen other companies make when it comes to warehouse automation.

Here at Riekes, we’ve implemented millions of dollars on automation across the Midwest, and offered consultation and planning to companies for more than 30 years. We’ve partnered with many industries including manufacturing, distribution, e-commerce, and food production.

Before COVID-19 took our nation by storm, finding and retaining skilled workers was a challenge. Unemployment was low, and the aging workforce was on the brink of retirement, leaving a shortage in the workplace. But within weeks, a viral pandemic disrupted our nation’s labor force and resources worldwide.

Industry growth will require companies to add 700,000 skilled employees – which means the manufacturing will need a total of 3.4M workers and is expected to fall 2M workers short.

So the question is – how do you hit productivity goals and stay ahead of the competition amidst uncertainty and market changes?

The answer is automation.

Let’s dive in.

What Does Automation Mean to You?

Automation comes in many forms. We’re surrounded by it, and often, we don’t even realize it. Have you ever seen a Roomba vacuum? A robotic lawnmower? A self-parking car?

The use of robotics and technology is revolutionizing our world, and more specifically, the manufacturing industry. Automation is starting to touch our everyday lives, and it can be as simple as a semi-automatic device to automate a repetitive task or as elaborate as a sophisticated control system that runs an entire operation.

Take a look at the following examples:

  • Automated Conveyor Systems
  • Automated Manufacturing Equipment
  • Robots (welding, packaging, etc.)
  • Cobots (collaborative robots)
  • Mobile Devices (AGV’s, forklifts, stacker crane systems, etc.)
  • Automated Packaging Equipment

We’ve helped companies implement everything from inexpensive conveyor systems to fully automated lights-out warehouses – and everything in between. Your needs may be simple or complex, cheap or expensive. Keep an open mind and think about the possibilities. Later in this series, we’ll be telling you exactly how to identify areas of your operation to automate; but in the meantime, the two key factors that determine your level of automation are needs and budget. These two things will determine how sophisticated you can get.

Why Automation?

Most people think expense is the most significant factor when it comes to automation. However, automation does more than reduce long term costs. The benefits are diverse and multifaceted.

The 2019 MHI Annual Report included a list of the top challenges companies are facing today. It’s no surprise that hiring workers was at the top of the list. In fact, 65% of respondents said it’s hard to find the right people for the job. Automation solves many of the biggest challenges facing companies in the material handling industry today. For example, safety and ergonomics are essential to be able to hire and retain employees. Physically demanding jobs are now being replaced with automation so employees can focus on more meaningful tasks.

Most importantly, competitive pressures are causing companies to rethink their processes – using technology to innovate across the supply chain.

In MHI’s most recent 2020 Report, they highlighted the importance of companies “embracing a digital mindset.” The lack of skilled laborers is only escalated by customer expectations for a more accurate and speedy process.

It’s crucial companies stay ahead of the competition by creating agile processes and adopting new technologies to thrive in the future, opening up the possibilities to better performance and higher profit margins.

Understanding the New Labor

In the US alone, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day.

Students are going off to college seeking white-collar careers. Even if they don’t, it seems like the younger generation does not want to do the physical labor and repetitive tasks their parents did. But contrary to popular belief, recent reports claim that millennials have strong work ethics paralleled with technology chops and a willingness to expand their skillset. Millennials are far more connected and more likely to work alongside automation and robotic solutions.

However, the average tenure for workers ages 25-32 is 3.2 years. Which begs the question – is there anyone that will have a 40-year career at one employer? Who will replace the baby boomers in industry jobs?

Combine a retiring workforce with generational differences, high turnover labor-intensive jobs, and a newfound fear in the workplace (thanks to COVID-19)… and it’s no wonder that hiring employees is at the top of the list for challenges manufacturing companies face today.

The Answer is Automation.

Robotics and automated solutions will continue to disrupt the industry and create a competitive advantage for companies that embrace them. Safety and ergonomics are a constant concern in warehouse environments, and they play a significant role in a company’s ability to hire and retain employees. Labor-intensive jobs result in more workers comp claims, lost time, early retirement, and disgruntled employees.

But more importantly, the competitive pressure in the marketplace is here to stay. Customers want more for less. Management pushes for increased productivity and higher margins, while the cost of materials and labor continues to rise.

“As the pace of supply chain innovation escalates, so does the price of inaction. Leaders will outpace their competitors faster than ever,” emphasizes George Prest, President of MHI.

Where does your operation fall on the scale? Are you leading the pack or following a few steps behind? If your competitors are automating to stay ahead of the curve, how do you plan to compete?

The answer is automation.

Take, for example, the robotic forklift. It operates without any added infrastructure, and it’s unrestricted by fixed routes. This simple, automated piece of equipment offers great flexibility to any application and increases productivity. Automated trucks minimize product and facility damage, reduce operating costs, and improve overall performance.

Advantages of Automation

According to the 2020 MHI Report, 67% of respondents reported that robotics and automation have the potential to create a competitive advantage – with an adoption rate that’s expected to reach 73% in the next 3-5 years. Working faster than humanly possible – productivity increases, and as a result, so do future profit margins.

Automation can do the same job over and over again with incredible accuracy and reliability. Better yet, it never complains, gets hurt on the job, or has to leave work early. These innovative solutions free your employees up to do more meaningful and valuable tasks.

Many operations face compliance issues. These may include mechanical compliances, such as tight tolerances on machining of parts or quality compliances, such as consistency of product, the accuracy of orders, or the number of defects. All of which can be improved with automation.

Additionally, most automated solutions are flexible. If a process changes, it can be reprogrammed or easily modified for optimum performance.

Next Steps

Although employees sometimes fear automation is taking their jobs, surprisingly, it results in higher employee satisfaction.

That is… if the right people are involved from the beginning. But we’ll share more on that in our next post.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this mini-series on automation, where we’ll be explaining how to get your people involved early and why it matters. We’ll also be covering how to lead a team that embraces change and how to identify the best processes to automate.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog, so you get notified when the next post drops.

Call for your free consultation today, and we’ll recommend solutions that fit your specific application.

(844) 992-1389

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