Supply Tech: Partial Automation Warehouse Systems
Be sure to check out this story in August's issue of Supply Chain Digital. Trust us, it's way cooler!
Full-warehouse automation can deliver significant returns for high volume repetitive tasks, but due to the high cost of such systems, decisions to automate need to be based on a careful analysis of the long term benefits. In many instances, automated handling delivers a fast payback.
Given current pressures on budgets and the emphasis on cost containment, in some cases it can be more beneficial to introduce ‘partially automated’ areas of the warehouse. The idea of ‘partial automation’ is a term developed by Zetes and differs from full warehouse automation because it offers a way to optimize standalone processes to improve productivity and accuracy levels, without having to re-engineer the rest of the warehouse operation. Consequently, it is much less costly to implement, and allows for greater flexibility should future changes to the warehouse be required.
Order picking and dispatch are two examples where quick wins can be seen with partial automation because these processes are highly labor-intensive and costly, and they directly impact end customer satisfaction levels. Many manufacturers have introduced a manual final-checking stage after stock picking to validate accuracy levels because they need to achieve ‘on-time in-full’ KPIs and avoid possible customer penalties for delivery mistakes.
Retailers shipping e-commerce orders also find this extra stage of checks necessary to ensure they get things right the first time. Enter partial automation as a possible solution.
A recent site analysis conducted for a consumer healthcare products manufacturer with this identical issue proved how partial automation would deliver a fast investment return in their dispatch area. To ensure they were shipping the right goods for e-commerce orders, the company had introduced manual label checks that were validated against its picking sheets.
Calculations showed they would achieve a payback of four months from a capital expenditure of £100,000 by introducing partial automation in the form of an automated verification system, Visidot, which uses image capture to decode multiple barcodes simultaneously.
Over three years they would save an additional £1.1m on labor costs from not having to individually scan boxes manually because the system automatically reads 30 boxes in one pass. In addition to cutting costs and turnaround times, the system also brought a secondary benefit of full traceability in the supply chain.
In the future, we anticipate partial automation solutions will become an alternative to full-warehouse automation because their ROI analysis is so compelling. They offer similar benefits, the same ability to integrate with an existing warehouse management system or enterprise resource planning system, but are more flexible and less costly than for the customer to consider as a long term option.
Written by Steven Binder of Zetes
UK Food Supply Chain to be Exempt from COVID-19 Isolation
Vital workers in the UK’s food supply chain will be exempt from isolating after contact with COVID-19 under new emergency measures announced by the British government.
More than 10,000 people working in supermarket distribution centres, manufacturing plants and other food logistics services will be affected by the initiative. Staff who are told to isolate by test and trace or are notified by an official app will be allowed to continue working as long as they test negative.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the scheme would undergo a limited trial this week after consultation with the country's biggest food retailers. It plans to extend the measures through a wider roll out next week, impacting around 500 sites dedicated to stocking supermarkets and producing staple foods such as bread and milk.
“Food businesses across the country have been the hidden heroes of the pandemic,” said Environment Secretary George Eustice. "We are working closely with industry to allow staff to go about their essential work safely with daily testing.”
Speaking to Sky News, Eustice added that the exception would not be extended to other sectors.
"The reason we have made a special exception for food is for very obvious reasons,” he said. "We need to make sure that we maintain our food supply. We will never take risks with our food supply."
UK Supply Chains Under Strain
The news follows reports of empty shelves and widespread shortages in British supermarkets after a record number of people were told to isolate via the NHS app. Branded the ‘pingdemic’, more than 600,000 alerts were sent out to phones and mobile devices in the week beginning 8 July, warning people that they had come into contact with those infected by the virus.
It left already strained food supply chains under staffed and unable to cope. The mass alert has also caused disruption in other supply chains, exacerbating a prevailing shortage of drivers and other essential logistics professionals.
Savid Javid, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who was appointed last month following the departure of MP Matt Hancock, said: “As we manage this virus and do everything we can to break chains of transmission, daily contact testing of workers in this vital sector will help to minimise the disruption caused by rising cases in the coming weeks, while ensuring workers are not put at risk.”