Figures for automation projects across Europe have been growing exponentially over the years, and are expected to increase further in the coming years.
The logistics sector has seen the introduction of automated material handling equipment into the industry, the subsequent increase of its capability, and significance to clients in terms of return on investment.
There are a number of reasons why automation in the sector has increased. Initially, a shortage of skilled forklift operatives, followed by the lower operational cost of automation compared to manual automation.
A thirds reason is the need for a streamlined supply chain that has forced logistic service providers to plan and protect their logistics flow to be able to consistently achieve next-day and same-day delivery, which has become a critical factor during the boom in online shopping during the pandemic.
Also, automated trucks follow programmed routes, which reduce the risks of damaging the infrastructure, the loads being carried, and the risks of causing injuries. Additionally, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) use less energy and wear out less quickly, which is better for the environment.
AGVs are good at performing repetitive tasks and noting the patterns in large amounts of data, but they do need precise instructions to create value.
On the other hand, humans are good at understanding context and adapting to new environments, but can get tired and lose focus on the task at hand. The means the ideal solution is for humans and machines to work together to achieve the best of both worlds.
However, in the logistics industry, automation might not be the solution for every supply chain flow.
The automated solutions trends in the European market have been changing. There is a bigger demand than supply, and the gap is increasing even further. Configurable standardised automation packages can help customers with automation needs to reach their targets quicker.
The automation journey for customers is made of three steps:
- The supplier needs to understand the business, the logistics flow on-site, and the challenges faced.
- The customers’ processes will need to be optimised before automation can be implemented.
- Every customer will have unique requirements, but everyone should be provided with the best passive solution that is tailored to their needs.
Automated solutions may appear to be unique and complex, but the material flow should be logical and systematically move throughout the site.
Using a systematic approach, it is easy to find the commonly used functions that could be applied to automation for configurable modules for repetitive use. Separating the repetitive parts from the one-off and unique operations within the process will find the best automation solutions.
There are common elements within logistics: Inbound goods, picking and good preparation, production areas, final goods storage, and outbound goods. By examining these, common and generic ‘flow configuration’ solutions can be tweaked to support the above main processes, to enable a more efficient operation.
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