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What You Need to Know About Warehouse Automation

As a warehouse manager, your aim is to maximize productivity and profits while best serving your customers. Warehouse technology is rapidly advancing and automation is more cost-effective than ever, making 2018 the perfect year to incorporate robotics into your warehouse operations. Here are five reasons why investing in warehouse automation can be a strategic business move.

1. Automating repetitive tasks

The original assembly lines at Ford Motor Company were notorious for mind-numbing, monotonous tasks as workers assembled the first vehicles. The beginning of the Industrial Revolution was characterized by dull and sometimes dangerous work as a manufacturer. However, vast improvements in robotics and machinery have replaced these repetitive jobs. As the warehouse industry continues to grow to meet the demands of an increasingly global customer base, automating picking strategies, inventory collection, and barcode scanning are becoming essential.

2. Protecting from human error

Unfortunately, humans are prone to mistakes. When something goes wrong in a fast-paced warehouse that is struggling to meet the demands of two-day or overnight shipping, even a small mistake can cost the company big money. Although automation isn’t perfect, it has a higher rate of accuracy than human employees. A shortage of skilled labor coupled with the expense of hiring and training a new workforce has pressured managers to seek out automation. Although the initial cost is high, the machines have an excellent ROI. Plus, they won’t leave your warehouse for a competitor’s. The most common human errors occur when documenting, shelving, or retrieving inventory, so automating these processes can vastly improve your warehouse’s efficiency.

3. Saving time

While forklifts continue to be a staple of warehouse operations, automated forklifts are becoming widely available. Unlike their more traditional counterparts, these self-guided forklifts and pallet carts rely on programmable digital pathways instead of human operators. The automated guided vehicles (AGVs) can save time and increase productivity. Since some AGVs can be leased or taken for a trial run, they don’t require as much up-front investment as other automation. Radio frequency identification technology (RFID) also saves time and labor by using wireless signals to track and locate inventory.

4. Providing real-time data

Without access to real-time data about incoming and outgoing inventory, employees may incorrectly count the number of items in stock or make other potentially catastrophic mistakes. Real-time data allows warehouse operations to run more smoothly and can help discover inefficiencies in picking or slotting strategies. Excess inventory wastes money and space, whereas a shortage of inventory causes delays and can anger customers. Today’s warehouse managers have the opportunity to automate replenishment, ensuring that items are available when needed but not overstocked.

5. Optimizing software systems

The age of automation is driven not only by machines but also by sophisticated systems that increase productivity. A wide variety of Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) are available for purchase. The best software will depend on your business’s individual needs, but most systems will be capable of controlling the warehouse receiving, storing, and shipping strategies for maximum efficiency. Any automated machinery you buy for your warehouse will likely require integration with a WMS. The WMS guides and simplifies the transactions by efficiently managing inventory. Even if you decide to wait to incorporate automation into your warehouse, you should still consider investing in a WMS. The system can quickly train employees and help them discover the fastest, most efficient pick paths while providing real-time data about inventory.

KION North America is a member of the KION Group–a global leader in industrial trucks, related services and supply chain solutions. Our team is committed to helping you grow your warehousing operations with the best technology and forklifts available. Discover how our equipment can revolutionize your warehouse.

Collaborating with Robots in Manufacturing: Industry 5.0

Set aside your dystopian fears about machines replacing man in the near future. Robotic technology is more sophisticated and accessible than ever, but this has also given skilled workers the opportunity to collaborate with robots. Industry 4.0 involved digital communication and automation while Industry 5.0 merges human knowledge and skill with artificially intelligent and highly productive machinery.

Humans will be in charge of guiding the production process, while collaborative robots, called cobots, will do the literal heavy-lifting. This connected workforce will enable vast improvements in output while continuing to value human contribution. Industry 5.0 has the potential to combine the best talents of machines and people to create jobs, customize new products, and improve working conditions.

Combining machine and man

Although machines are more efficient at performing monotonous tasks, human possess two important attributes that robots lack: empathy and common sense. Despite enormous strides in artificial intelligence during the last decade, even the most advanced machines cannot compete with our analytical problem-solving and cognitive thinking. Industry 5.0 warehouses combine these human attributes with the dependability, productivity, and quality of robotics.

Create jobs

Although some have expressed concern over the potential of job loss for low-skilled workers as a result of automation, the ability to produce more output at a lower cost can vastly improve the global standard of living. For example, if automation makes the production of cars cheaper, then this reduction may be enough to offset slight decreases in wage or provide new jobs in fields such as taxi driving. Cobots will replace monotonous and dangerous jobs while freeing up higher-skilled individuals for better employment.

Customize new products

Robots are well-suited for assembly line production, but the human employees are much more capable of product customization and personalization. Art, design, and innovation are three uniquely human qualities. Robots can only perform the tasks which they are programmed to do over and over again. Without a spark of human creativity and ingenuity, we could never see improvement or deviation from these repetitive actions. Cobots’ purpose is to enhance the human labor force by specializing in fields we are unwilling or unable to work in.

Improve safety

The beginning of the Industrial Revolution was marred by the grievous injuries suffered by assembly line workers. However, improved safety regulations and better machinery have systematically eliminated these dangerous jobs. Robots are not at risk of losing life or limb in a workplace accident, and they are relatively indestructible. While robots are performing the difficult and strenuous tasks, their human co-workers can practice ingenuity and creativity while monitoring multiple robotic systems.

KION North America is a member of the KION Group–a global leader in industrial trucks, related services and supply chain solutions. We offer an impressive line of industrial forklifts including Linde and Baoli. Our sister company Dematic offers a comprehensive range of intelligent supply chain and automation solutions. For more information visit our website.

How “Digital Twins” Are Revolutionizing Manufacturing

Technological advances have come a long way in helping warehouses operate more efficiently. The latest software promising to shake up the manufacturing industry are “digital twins,” a virtual representation of a product, machine, or factory. Sensors in the physical warehouse are linked to a virtual model and generate real-time information about the factory. The ability to simulate, analyze, and control the factory or product, as well as test alternate strategies, will radically change warehouse operations. Deciding whether or not digital twins are the right fit for your warehouse operations could put you ahead of the latest technological curve.

Business Applications

Digital twins have numerous applications for manufacturing industries and warehouse operations. Linking the digital twin to each stage of warehouse production, beginning with designing and testing a new product, will help managers release the best model to customers. Businesses are more productive when they can control the entire production chain from start to finish. NASA was the first company to develop and test digital twins for their space exploration programs, but many other industries are adopting the twins. The software is also able to improve customer service by modifying existing products to better suit customer needs.

Advantages of Digital Twins

Digital twins have many advantages for business owners. The simulation feature allows managers to test potential improvements or changes to the system. Real-time monitoring of the warehouse can lead to safety improvements and could prevent accidents before they occur. Pairing a virtual model with a physical asset can help train new employees and allow technicians to operate or fix machinery remotely. In some cases, a digital twin may not even need human management. High-functioning AI units can observe the digital twin and order maintenance accordingly. Creating a digital twin for each existing product can help managers compare data. Based on data comparisons, managers can make informed decisions that account for a range of otherwise-unknown factors.

Disadvantages of Digital Twins

Although existing warehouses can benefit from the implementation of a digital twin, startup factories will have an advantage. To create even one digital twin, businesses will need a sophisticated IT system. Although the Internet of Things has helped drive down the cost of digital twin software, developing a twin for machinery with a lifespan of 30 to 40 years can still be prohibitively expensive. During this timeframe, the virtual interface will need to be updated along with the machines. Training employees or purchasing AI systems to manage the digital twins presents another expense. Before investing in digital twins, managers will have to ensure that the rest of the factory’s systems are compatible. Companies that can incorporate this technology into a warehouse from the start will benefit more from the system than a late-comer.

At KION North America, we are committed to providing facility managers with information about cutting-edge-technology with the products to match. To modernize your factories, check out our material handling and supply chain solutions.