Each year, many manufacturing plants around the world traditionally take advantage of the period between Christmas and New Year’s to perform facility maintenance and repairs on equipment. Any downtime can be extremely expensive for a manufacturing operation, so it’s crucial to operationally make the most out of scheduled breaks, optimizing operations to not only fix existing issues, but to drive continuous improvement and address workflow inefficiencies. With more companies advancing toward an Industry 4.0 model with integrated robotics, holiday shutdowns are now taking on an entirely different meaning.
Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are the way of the future. As manufacturing facilities, warehouses, and distribution centers look for solutions to maximize time and money this holiday season and beyond, AMRs are top of mind. Not only do they handle dangerous tasks that previously belonged to human workers and improve the overall safety and efficiency of a facility, AMRs also provide data with direct visibility into productivity levels, mechanical issues, and overall material flow in real time. AMRs are designed for maximum flexibility, enabling companies to continuously make improvements and optimize traffic based on real-time data.
Will this be the year you invest in automation? If you’re ready to increase productivity, reduce costs, and decrease downtime, an AMR investment may be the solution you’ve been searching for. Follow these three steps to maximize your holiday shutdown.
1. Understand, Analyze, and Evaluate with a Facility Evaluation for Automation
Before investing in AMRs, take stock of your entire operation. In order to make impactful improvements, it’s essential that you fully understand your current processes, pain points, and strengths. This will help you align planning and address immediate needs as well as long-term goals.
Include your facility employees when evaluating the manufacturing operation. Conduct surveys, host open forums, or check in one-on-one to gather employee feedback and gain a better understanding of workplace hazards, procedural weak points, supply chain bottlenecks, and physically demanding or mundane tasks. By including their input, employees will feel empowered and involved in the integration with AMRs, which could result in boosted employee morale and worker retention. Use the holiday shutdown to gain employee buy-in and begin education efforts around the new AMRs. Assure workers that they aren’t being replaced by automation; rather, automation will make their current jobs safer by taking on the dangerous, repetitive tasks, giving employees the opportunity to focus on more mentally stimulating and rewarding functions.
Also, make sure to include your automation provider in your facility evaluations. It’s essential that the vendor is up to speed with your daily operations and long-term economic growth objectives. Seegrid representatives perform facility scopes, helping customers understand their starting point and creating a custom automation plan with objectives to help accomplish both short-term and long-term goals. The consultation is truly a collaborative and custom process with Seegrid industrial engineers and material handling automation experts. Planning and scoping is a step you can’t skip. Luckily, Seegrid makes it easy and available at no additional charge, so you’ll start off on the right foot to maximize the value of your fleet.
2. Focus on Flexibility
Now that your objectives have been defined, it’s time to create an effective robotic solution. Based on your business case, you may decide to begin replacing manual forklifts with self-driving pallet trucks or lift truck AMRs as an initial step toward automation. As you deploy the robots, consider factors like worker safety and labor costs. Is this investment worth expanding on a larger scale? As you begin tracking toward your goals, continue adding to the number of AMRs within your fleet to further optimize additional workflows.
Set yourself up for success during your holiday downtime by defining employee responsibilities surrounding the robotic technology (including the AMRs themselves and the automation software), workflows, and training. Seegrid Palion AMRs are consistent, reliable, and predictable, but you always want to make sure your employees feel comfortable with any new technology and processes. If workers see the benefits of collaborating with automation and feel confident in their role, they will be more likely to quickly adapt to their new robot coworkers. Internal support of new technology is critical to success. One way to boost internal adoption is by designating a few of your employees as project champions. These individuals are facilitators and trusted advisors who can answer questions from their peers and act as a liaison between the new AMRs and the workers while they get comfortable working alongside the technology.
Seegrid’s service and support team offers classroom and hands-on training sessions for everyone who works alongside, manages, and reports on the success of the AMR fleet. Education is key because once all employees feel comfortable with the new technology, adoption and the return on investment will accelerate.
When selecting an AMR vendor, make sure that the solution is flexible. After the initial set up, there are bound to be changes on the production floor that necessitate retraining the AMRs to follow new routes. For example, new product offerings, changes in demand, and new workflows could require a new route or additional AMRs altogether. Luckily, Seegrid Palion AMRs are incredibly flexible and can be retrained without the help of a Seegrid representative. This means that you don’t have to wait until a manufacturing or warehouse maintenance holiday shutdown to reprogram your AMRs. Changes to existing and new routes can be programmed while production is running, ensuring your regular schedule isn’t disrupted.
3. Continuous Improvement
Analyzing and optimizing your supply chain material flow shouldn’t be a one-and-done task. Without the pressures of production, you can take this holiday shutdown time to get a holistic view of your operational health status and make changes to address routine maintenance and larger management issues. Once AMRs are up and running, they’ll immediately begin collecting real-time data that allows facility managers to consistently analyze material flow to increase efficiency and inform better operational decisions. The data collected by analytics software, like Seegrid’s Fleet Geek, also provides insight into individual robots and performance across AMR fleets, making it easy to boost productivity, perform wellness checks, and continue improving on an everyday basis.
Give Yourself the Gift of Peace of Mind
The new year is an excellent time to invest in automation. Take advantage of a holiday shutdown to evaluate your daily and long-term goals and have your chosen automation vendor help you scope an effective and successful automation project. Industrial automation removes human error, making for a safer and more efficient facility.
Infographic: Mapping the Route to Automation Success
Download this infographic to learn how to get your automation investment up and running quickly to drive continuous improvement.