Automation in the Supply Chain

Share

Written by: James Dolan, Director of Logistics, Vincennes University, LTEC

supply chain automation
Image Credit: 6 River Systems

Perhaps the most common misconception associated with supply chain automation is that it is replacing jobs. While this may hold some truth with regards to entry level jobs, companies who implement automation are, in fact, adding numerous new positions throughout the technology, manufacturing and logistics sectors. Automation solutions, such as robots, being introduced to warehouses have to be manufactured, creating jobs that previously did not exist. Once robots are placed in the warehouse, they must be programmed and monitored by an operator and technicians must be properly trained to provide ongoing maintenance service. therefore, new skilled jobs are created for individuals to make sure successful workforce automation integration is accomplished. There are a variety of other aspects in which automation will alter the way that the supply chain historically has functioned. These aspects will not only aid to increased efficiency, but will also help to bring additional opportunities for advancement and career development for current warehouse workers who are up to the challenge of increasing their skills.

Labor Management

Once automation is implemented, there must be a shift in the warehouse workforce which can be broken down into two distinct groups of people interacting with automation equipment. There are operators, who are tasked with programming and running these machines on a daily basis. These workers are thoroughly trained on system processes and ensure the machines are completing their tasks correctly. There are also maintenance technicians and engineers, the people associated with keeping the machines fully operational. Both groups are thoroughly important to a fully functioning warehouse, because a breakdown in equipment can mean costly distribution delays.

Skills – Training & Safety

When new technology and automation presents itself in the workplace, there is a new skill set that needs to be learned. There are a variety of ways that this skill set could be cultivated and developed. Many times, the manufacturers of autonomous equipment provide training opportunities for the operators. By providing training on their new equipment, manufacturers are ensuring everyone is successful. After this initial training, companies may additionally invest in their workforce by providing supplementary courses for further development, ensuring their team can effectively and safely operate this new equipment. Automation also brings a need for increased safety in the warehouse so employees are always aware of their surroundings. Training opportunities allow your team to effectively and safely run equipment while achieving peak performance. When not supplied in house, these training courses are often provided via colleges and training centers, like the Vincennes University Logistics Training and Education Center (VU LTEC) in Plainfield.

Increased Efficiency

Automated warehouses reduce the need for human interaction with simple, repetitive tasks, but that doesn’t mean they completely eliminate workers. Automation was introduced into the warehouse to compliment the traditional warehouse associate, thus making their actions more purposeful and increasingly efficient. This increased operational efficiency has the opportunity to provide decreased fulfillment times, improved customer satisfaction and improved profitability. Consider how automation has already impacted your daily life at home. Have you ever spoken the phrase, “Hey Siri”, “Hey Alexa”, “Hey Google”? Whether or not the technology currently works correctly is not the point; it will eventually. The message is that without simple home automation, you would still be turning on your lights at the switch, standing up to change the TV channel, watching the news to guess at the weather or any of the ‘simple, repetitive tasks’ we are faced with daily. Wouldn’t you want this same level of increased efficiency at work?

Maintenance

Sophisticated technology like robotics, require complex maintenance processes to keep equipment fully operations. In the event a piece of machinery needs repaired, there are specific skill sets that an individual must possess to troubleshoot, diagnose and repair. These skills are developed not only through training processes, but also by familiarizing yourself with the equipment through hands-on learning. The more you know about the machine and how it works, the easier it becomes to troubleshoot the error and the less amount of costly down time there is as a result. If automation can replace multiple employees, then every time that machine is down it’s like all of those employees just took a break at the same time. Uptime is of the highest importance for maintenance technicians.

How VU is Responding to the Need in the Market

Here at the Vincennes University Logistics Training and Education Center, we think there is a bright future for automation in the supply chain. That’s why we have responded to current and future market needs by introducing a new program to our current education offerings. The Industrial Maintenance for the Supply Chain program is designed for students to learn the entry-level skills to become a Maintenance Technician and effectively maintain many systems found in modern warehouses, distribution and fulfillment centers. Comprised of 3 one-week long modules, students can either complete and earn their electrical certificate in three consecutive weeks, or the modules can be completed separately. This program is open to anyone wanting to learn a new skill set in developing area of warehousing and distribution. From new college students, all the way to adults seeking continuing education courses, there is an opportunity for everyone. Anyone who is interesting in learning more information is invited to check out our website www.VULogistics.com, send an email to vultec@vinu.edu or give us a call at 317-381-6099.