Manufacturing and supply chain expert, Lisa Anderson, president of LMA Consulting Group Inc., discussed factors that are driving the move to automation.
Amazon recently introduced the world to Ernie and Bert, its latest generation of warehouse robots. The giant retailer has long been a leader in warehouse automation, but these days anyone who moves inventory is taking a long look at what functions machines can perform. And that includes HVAC distributors.
Several factors are driving the move to automation. One is the challenge in staffing warehouses. At the same time, e-commerce places new customer demands on warehouse operators. Third, the competition for space drives up operating costs. Automation can solve many of these challenges if applied properly. As other industries such as auto manufacturers have learned, automation is only as good as its implementation.
“If you automate a bad process, it’s only going to get worse,” said Kristi Montgomery, vice president of innovation, research development at Kenco Logistics Services LLC.
Kenco provides logistic solutions to a variety of clients. The company recently helped an HVAC warehouse set up an AutoStore system that will be fully operational in a few months. This arranges bins in a cube and then uses robots that ride over the cube to collect the bins and deliver them to humans at work stations. This frees people from having to walk through the warehouse gathering parts, increasing productivity and safety, Montgomery said.
Lisa Anderson, president of LMA Consulting Group Inc., said distributors need to make some investment in warehouse automation. It doesn’t have to be as extensive as an AutoStore system, Anderson said, but they need to find something that will reduce costs and make them more responsive to customers. If they don’t, Anderson said, their competition will. And if it’s not the direct competition, it’s a competitor who can move into an area quickly. Those competitors will then be more profitable and have an easier time scaling up operations to meet demand.