These questions may apply to many different areas of your business, however, they all have a common connection: Most of the time they involve the need to interface with a manual task or operation, in other words they involve: LABOR.
Most common solutions and expectations for increasing efficiency and productivity and/or maximizing R.O.I revolve around budgeting money on "upstream operations" such as WMS, inventory control and management, storage, picking, conveying and/or automated sortation systems to name a few. The problem is that the "downstream" or "back end" operations typically require people to provide a manual task or operation.
?What happens when these "upstream operations" have to integrate with a person
?What happens if your workers can not keep pace
What happens if that worker is not equipped to handle the task because they do not have the tools, equipment, supplies or space required to do their operation? What happens if the worker can not process at an accelerated rate because of the number or steps required of them?
What happens if the manual work areas have no capacity to expand?
- The operation does not meet expectations
- Bottlenecks start to develop
- The operation is less efficient than planned
- Productivity is not maximized
- Lowered Return on Investment
While in depth analysis and evaluation is often the standard when designing and investing money for Automation, Technology and Material Handling Systems, (ATMHS), time and funds are rarely allocated for designing and interfacing with manual operations. It is also one of the primary reasons why projects end up over budget.
Bidders usually minimize the cost of this portion of the process in order to be as competitive as possible on the primary project systems. The end result often ends with high upstream efficiency and bottlenecks on downstream operations. Bill Gates said it best, "The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency."
"...automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency."
It is extremely important to make sure you focus on integrating manual process with automation, technology and material handling solutions (ATMHS). Manual tasks can occur in a wide range of areas from Receiving to Shipping and can include functions, such as, Quality Control, Stocking, Picking, Packing, and Returns and more.
BREAK DOWN AND ANALYZE THE INTEGRATION OF MANUAL LABOR TASKS WITH YOUR AUTOMATED SYSTEM
As part of our proven workstation solution, conduct a W.I.S.E. study, (Workstation Integration Systems Evaluation) for areas where ATMHS interfaces with a manual operation. The evaluation consists of four components:
Product Flow: Identifying how products/items enter into the work area, identifying the type and location of workspace in the work area and understanding how products/items leave the area.
Task Sequencing: Identifying the sequence of steps, movements, tasks and procedures that are required to complete an operation.
Supply and Equipment Mapping: Using the procedures to design where and when supplies and equipment are required.
Operational Issues: Identifying potential "bottlenecks" to the operation based on space, storage, handling, ergonomics, workflow issues.
Based on conducting a W.I.S.E. study, a variety of solutions can be designed to meet the specific requirements of integrating a manual operation efficiently with the "upstream" ATMHS.
Labor and/or manual operations always impact the efficiency of ATMHS. The rate and efficiency at which a manual operation can process work is a function of how well the manual procedure is defined and how well the operator is equipped to process the work.
Defining procedures for interfacing with ATMHS determines how and where the equipment and supplies will be required in a work area. Efficiency, in the work area is typically the result of providing easy access and availability of the equipment and supplies required, with each step of a procedure and having adequate working space to conduct the task.
A common problem of many manual operations is that the worker has too many tasks. When the number of tasks is large enough a "bottleneck" can be created. It can be useful to break down individual tasks/responsibilities to separate workers. This "separation of tasks" allows for workers to find more efficient methods to complete their work. The fewer tasks required in an operation the more efficient a worker becomes at doing that task.
Small incremental segments of time can be recaptured thru savings in motion, procedures, number of tasks and accessibility to supplies and equipment. While individually these are small savings or improvements collectively they can improve output or productivity upwards of 20%.
Often these savings provide an equipment payback of less than 12 months.
WORKSTATION AND SPACE REQUIREMENTS ARE OFTEN AN AFTER THOUGHT IN BIGGER ATMHS PROJECTS
Frequently workstations and accessory items are viewed as capital expenditures. At times, the significance of these items are minimized or reduced in importance to fit a budget. The result is an operation heavy on technology and automation with little thought about the costs associated with having to integrate the manual operations, down stream.
The unexpected increases in costs for project’s involving ATMHS are typically due to not recognizing the impact on how a manual operation will interface with ATMHS. The cost of having to conduct this WISE study, after implementation of the ATMHS is exponentially more expensive because space constraints, operational procedures and systems may need to be modified which can significantly increase cost. In other cases work areas have to be modified and customized due to factors that could have been accommodated if uncovered earlier in the planning and implementation process.
The RESULTS of the increase in efficiency and output can lead to requiring less labor and reducing day-to-day cost of operations while simultaneously improving the return on investment on the capital expenditure of ATMHS. This leads to maintaining a lower cost basis for day-to-day operations.
As Operations managers are looking more closely at refining and streamlining processes the cost of efficient workstations and work areas becomes less a capital expense and more a tool to lower the day-to-day operational costs.