Seven-point checklist to warehouse systems design

Low-capex technology is leading SMEs to look at flexible and scaleable warehouse automation as a means to overcoming capacity issues and labour constraints. Craig Whitehouse, Managing Director of Invar Integration, suggests a plan

1. UNDERSTAND FUTURE BUSINESS GOALS The future may be difficult to predict, but important questions on business direction need to be asked. Beyond short-term objectives, such as sales targets and planned promotional peaks, it’s essential to gain insights into the future strategic ambitions of the business. Any level of investment in automation will be justified by its return on investment over a given period – the faster the better. But corporate goals can change, new opportunities may arise, and this could impact product profiles, volumes and formats, along with customer service offerings. Gaining a full understanding of C-suite plans and objectives to a five-year horizon will be invaluable in determining the scope and scale of solution that may be required. Big questions include: what financial resources are available for any automation project? Limited capital may not preclude automation, as point


solutions and scaleable technology can be deployed in stages over time. What are the constraints on the warehouse – long or short lease, physical layout, ability to expand? What level of growth is the business expecting year-on-year – is it 20% or more? These are prime considerations for shaping any solution. Above all else, be clear in setting objectives. What problems are you trying to solve?

2. EXAMINE YOUR PAIN POINTS Automation may be adopted for any number of reasons, such as: increasing capacity, reducing reliance on labour, overcoming space constraints, lowering costs, increasing storage density, speeding processes, introducing higher levels of accuracy or enhancing operational resilience. But where in the warehouse can technology be best applied in order to deliver the desired objectives?

It’s important to determine where the bottlenecks and pain points are

Simulation software brings a concept to life, states Invar

within current warehouse processes and hence where technology would bring the greatest gains. The answers are not always obvious, or may not be as obvious as they sometimes look. Relieving a pressure point may introduce problems elsewhere, so a holistic approach is needed, backed up by comprehensive data analysis.

3. ANALYSE THE DATA Careful analysis of operational data lies at the heart of the design process and is critical to reaching the best solution. It’s essential to understand the performance of each process. Information relating to order profiles, order volumes, throughput rates, labour costs, volumetrics etc., provides the basis for determining the shape of possible solutions. But it’s a task that requires specialist skills, clever tools and expert advice. Analysis can be undertaken in a number of different ways. An Excel spreadsheet may be used to generate a broad profile, so a complete set of stock data and orders could reveal what products would make sense to group together in an automated system, and what products may, say, be too large, needing a different handling solution. Of course, automation may not always be appropriate – perhaps, volumes are not high enough or the product profile is more suited to a manual process.


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