Deloitte’s most recent Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index forecasts the U.S. to overtake China as the most competitive manufacturing nation in the world soon as 2020. This growth has a substantial effect driving economy, while also applying pressure on individual operations to find innovative ways to control costs and improve performance.
For manufacturers in search of that competitive edge, automation is a go-to solution to optimize myriad processes and overcome a variety of challenges, from sourcing labor to managing increasing complexity and finding sufficient storage.
Here are four common scenarios today’s manufacturing operations face – and how one particular automation solution – automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) – can help.
- Insufficient inventory or operational space – Many factors contribute to the storage issues facing manufacturers. Chief examples are an imbalance of inbound and outbound materials, SKU proliferation driving greater variety and the need to allow space for certain parts to cure and dry. Inadequate storage space is detrimental to efficiency, productivity and profitability, and many operations are forced to consider off-site storage or facility expansion. Both of these options come with extensive and costly drawbacks, including additional land, labor and construction costs, and greater risk of product damage.
But what if a manufacturer could avoid new construction altogether and simply … look up?
Most storage systems are limited by the maximum height reach of an employee or lift truck. However, AS/RS allows operations to build up and use existing vertical space within the facility. The AS/RS racks are located close together and extend high up to the ceiling. This enables operations to maximize storage density per square foot and increase the overall capacity of existing space – eliminating the need for new construction or off-site storage altogether.
- Inaccurate or inconsistent release of components for assembly – Assembly operations rely on the accurate sequencing and controlled release of inventory. Parts and components must be released in the correct quantities at the right time to keep assembly operations moving swiftly and without error. Storing essential components off-site complicates the flow of components to assembly, and using manual processes threatens efficiency and quality.
An on-site AS/RS releases components with the necessary level of precision, in the exact quantities and sequence that downstream operations require. While external factors like weather would threaten to derail off-site storage schemes and labor-dependent processes, AS/RS-driven operations keep moving at peak efficiency through critical peaks.
- High labor costs and scarcity – The retirement of baby boomers and a lack of skilled younger workers to replace them contribute to labor sourcing challenges. This issue is compounded by management assuming the hiring and training burden that comes with filling high-turnover positions in manufacturing facilities. Furthermore, facilities with repetitive manual processes that involve reaching, twisting and turning run a greater risk of injury.
AS/RS reduces labor requirements and establishes a safer working environment by helping automate the material flow through the facility and eliminating repetitive manual inventory retrieval tasks. This reduces fatigue and enhances safety, enabling workers to be more efficient, focused and productive for longer.
- More diverse inventories – Whether new cars, electronics or beverages, today’s consumers expect a wide variety of options when they shop. This has a direct effect on manufacturing operations, as they must manage an expanding lineup of components and ingredients to meet demand.
Of course, while inventories get larger and more complex, the competitive imperative of speed does not change – operations must meet the same benchmarks for overall output and accuracy. This creates conditions ideal for an . They provide a solution for greater capacity and quick access to the right inventory at the right time – just what manufacturers need to handle the increased complexity that comes with delivering a more diverse output of products.
Any of this sound familiar? In that case, explore an investment in an AS/RS shuttle system. To learn more about what the right AS/RS can do for manufacturing operations, download the Elevate manufacturing efficiency with shuttle systems white paper.