Every automation project we get engaged in almost always starts with the goal of increased visibility of Stuff. That “stuff” could be fixed assets, warehouse inventory, WIP processes, labor, etc. It usually centers on what do I have or what are you doing (and then when/where is it happening). Just pulling together that information usually provides all the payback required to justify an automated solution.
The cornerstone of gaining this visibility is a combination of determining exactly what I need to harvest and how to harvest it (i.e. barcode scans, background processes, etc.) that is easy and less intrusive for the team on the floor or in the field to accomplish.
The what in many ways defines itself. The world is already filled with too much data that produces little to no value. Taking the time to look at what the long term use and the value the data potentially offers can usually make the determination of what to collect fairly simple.
How you collect the data generally evolves from reviewing the different AIT technology options (barcodes, RFID, imaging, etc.), computer based processes, and your existing business. Then you determine which combination offers the data capture accurately and in near real-time – without overly burdening your workforce.
Next Step – Optimization
Once you have visibility and can trust its value, the second goal of an automation project always deals with operational optimization. So how do we actually take this visibility and turn it into a strategic value?
Strategic value in an asset management solution means that after we benefit from the initial solution savings (reduced labor, taxes and insurance), there is another level of value surrounding operational investments. That value includes guiding acquisition decisions with new investments and maximizing your existing investments.
Strategic value on the warehousing side tends to be more tactical. In warehouse management and/or shop floor automation, the value visibility brings is how it can impact ensuring the right items/resources/equipment/information is at the right place at the right time.
One at a Time or Both?
Many of our customers say they want to do both together – and it’s entirely possible. The challenge comes from the additional investment in time, expense and delayed benefit a combined approach can create.
Another challenge is something I call, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” This is when you look at everything we learn during the Visibility phase that generally refines some of our goals and tactics for the Optimization phase. Unfortunately, much of that learned information can’t be discovered until that time.
Depending on the type of solution itself, our approach for achieving both if these goals is quite different. With our assetsPLUS solution, we focus on the data harvesting requirement (easy to harvest, fast and reliable data) and team with an ERP specialist, like Accenture or smaller, more specialized firm like Belmero. That partner then works with the client to maximize the strategic value of our data harvesting efforts.
On the supply chain side, the goal of our HighJump Warehouse Advantage projects is to not over-customize the optimization until we learn what we don’t know from the Visibility phase. Taking Visibility and Optimization in a warehouse initiative at the same time many times results in redundant efforts from changes and additional costs.
Don’t Forget Dynamics
Regardless of approach to getting to that second goal of Optimization, your solution must have adaptability. It needs to be easy to implement (packaged, configurable, standardized approach to install) for the visibility goal. But it must allow for expanded strategic use and organizational growth & change – with little impact regarding the previous investment.
What’s Your Goal? And What’s Your Next Goal?
Automated solutions, when executed right, provide a solid return on your investment – and usually fairly quickly. They also frequently provide the means to take your organization to the next level in productivity, efficiencies – or both. The key is to take the right approach, with the right solution to make sure that you reach all of your goals.