Autonomous Warehouse Transportation

Three Considerations When Evaluating New Autonomous Warehouse Transportation Solutions

Guest blog by Lou Micheletto, Director of Integrated Solutions, MHI Member, Yale Materials Handling Corporation

Today’s operations face an ever-changing, increasingly demanding world, with growing SKU counts, the desire for faster delivery times and a labor climate characterized by high turnover, scarcity and rising costs. With so much riding on supply chain investments, companies are flocking to this year’s ProMat show to see the most innovative warehouse solutions.

As managers expand operational capabilities to deliver on the complexity of these demands, simpler tasks are prime opportunities for reduced costs and greater efficiency. For basic point-to-point materials transport, robotic lift trucks may offer an answer to these demands. These advanced automated guided vehicles, enable infrastructure-free navigation – no magnets, wires or tape required – for flexibility, expanded functionality and efficiency.

Here are three considerations when making decisions to adopt new technology designed to help operations take control of their future and stay ahead of the competition. 

1. Labor availability

MHI has written extensively about the skilled labor and talent crisis the supply chain is currently experiencing. The field cannot find qualified drivers, pickers, managers – you name it. What’s more, even when operations do fill positions, they have trouble retaining employees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the turnover rate for warehouse workers is 36 percent. Some experts peg the cost of finding and training a replacement as twice an employee’s salary.

Using robotic lift trucks for basic point-to-point material transport tasks enables operations to reassign labor from repetitive tasks to more engaging, higher-value positions. A Wall Street Journal guide on reducing employee turnover states that giving employees opportunities to learn and move up is a critical tactic to bolster engagement and improve retention.

As companies build supply chains of the future, developing a stable and committed workforce is crucial to ensure business continuity and to control costs. The right application of automation can help achieve these goals.

2. Visibility and connected devices

Whether driven by traceability, regulation or the ongoing quest for greater efficiency, organizations everywhere are reckoning with the disruptive force of total supply chain visibility. This visibility extends to operations within the four walls of a warehouse, as companies seek to optimize equipment and processes for consistent outputs, at lower cost.

Choosing an autonomous solution is a critical component of building an operation capable of supporting such visibility initiatives. These solutions are capable of interfacing with warehouse management systems and can be tracked in real time through a management portal. This not only enables management to see exactly what the truck is doing at all times, it also allows the truck to communicate with its control system and work adjustments. For example, if it detects another pallet in need of retrieval, it can communicate with the control system to send another lift truck.

3. Flexibility

As businesses change so too must their supply chain infrastructure, whether that means making temporary adjustments for seasonal peaks or more permanent changes.

Robotic lift trucks use navigation technology that allows the truck to adjust on the fly – using its onboard sensors and mapping technology to adapt to changes in its environment. This allows for operations to make more frequent adjustments – even seasonal changes – to ensure that they have the most efficient layout year-round.

Of course, supply chain operations must be nimble and warehouses should be conditioned to expect the unexpected. On those days when everything does not go according to plan, robotic lift trucks can change from automatic to manual mode by simply touching the control handle, enabling operations to reinforce their manned fleet when circumstances dictate.

For more information on robotic lift truck technology, click here and make plans to attend ProMat 2017 in Chicago.