Getting an ROI on Your Material Handling Automation Investment


Material handling has moved beyond the world of conveyors and pallets. New advanced technologies, equipment, and software are now presenting exciting opportunities for warehouses and fulfillment centers. With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), automation, and systems development, all facets of material handling can now be integrated into a highly efficient network, driven by data.

Though this is the way of the future, automation can still present pitfalls to early adopters unsure of the intricacies involved. At this year’s Institute for Supply Management (ISM) conference, Matthew Kuper and Aaron Jones spoke of these promising new technologies and how to best navigate them

Jones described several new technologies either in development or already at work — such as mobile robots, which are increasingly popular in warehouses, allowing for greater efficiency and enhanced safety. Augmented reality, virtual picking, and virtual reality allow users to effortlessly complete tasks, provide training, and perform maintenance. Tags placed on objects for tracking can chart the entire lifecycle of a product, providing data that can, in turn, be used to enhance system efficiency.

Kuper also described how simple automation can yield a significant return on investment (ROI). For example, just by incorporating voice-directed picking into a warehouse management system, users get twice the productivity of radio frequency (RF) picking. And more advanced technologies, like light-directed picking and automated palletizing, yield even better returns.

However, Kuper explained that such systems are only as good as the forethought that went into them. “Many companies make automation decisions uninformed,” he said. Businesses often invest in a robust, advanced system with little consideration given to specific system needs and capabilities. Then, after the fact, vendors will try to charge additional fees for support and maintenance that should have been addressed in the initial agreement.

Here are some tips to avoid these pitfalls:

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