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It's that time again! ProMat 2023, the largest supply chain and material handling show of the year, is taking place in Chicago this month. With a record number of exhibitors and a similar record number of pre-registered attendees, it should be an interesting and busy four days. And just like at Modex last year, MHI’s sister show in Atlanta, warehouse automation will likely be the hot topic of the show.
Whether you are a perennial attendee or a first-time visitor, you’ll want to focus on conversations about automation and the issues surrounding it. Here are five questions to ask automation vendors, software providers and system integrators:
With so much pressure on achieving more with less, many warehouse managers want to test out automation in a simpler way to see if it works for them before diving into a large warehouse automation technology project. When you are touring the various automation vendors, ask "what is the implementation timeline on this?" I suggest you take a look at some quick automation wins that solve simple problems like automated tugs to shuttle goods from place to place around the warehouse.
This high demand for automation, and the major supply chain disruptions affecting automation vendors’ ability to service existing projects, have led to ballooning lead times for implementation of certain types of automation. The larger and more complex the warehouse automation technology project is, the longer you will likely have to wait before you can kick-off the project with some of the larger automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) vendors reporting 18-24 month wait times. If you have already done your research and are heading to ProMat to look at a short list, ensure you ask them about their ability to deliver within your required timeframe.
Most warehouse managers already have warehouse technology in place. Whether it's a warehouse management system (WMS), a carousel or some traditional conveyor-based technology like a divertor, figuring out how any new warehouse automation technology will affect and be affected by those systems is vital to your success. Older WMS simply lack the capabilities to consider automation in their workflows and others make getting the data needed to run the automation a nightmare. If you already have material handling technology in place, the question to ask is, "will it play nicely with the new automation?" The last thing you need is your new system being slowed down or not operate due to existing systems.
Gartner predicts that most warehouses will have at least one type of warehouse automation technology by the end of the decade. The key to that sentence is "at least one type" since it's clear that there are many forms of automation and each is especially good at solving one type of warehouse process for one type of order. If you are going to need several types of automation that work together, has your choice of automation been considered for future implementations or was it developed in silos with little consciousness of the rest of the warehouse infrastructure?
Regardless of your warehouse technology or automation, there will need to be a return on investment (ROI) to make it make sense and an evaluation of the ROI. If this serves you, you will need to produce data around the volume, cube and velocity of your orders. If any of this data is a 'guesstimate' then so will the likelihood of your project’s success. The most critical part of any automation project is having solid data from the very start; ask and understand what those critical data elements are and make sure they are 100% accurate.
Tecsys is a warehouse management system solution vendor that drives automation through platform-agnostic software. With this, Tecsys industry experts will be leading automation tours as a free service to ProMat attendees to introduce warehouse automation technology and present a general 'lay of the land' of modern automation solutions. Each of the major types of automation will be exhibited (e.g., AS/RS, cobots, etc.) while indicating their strengths and what to look out for when considering each specific warehouse automation technology.
Sign up below for a curated distribution, healthcare or retail-focused walking tour that highlights the different types of automation at ProMat 2023.