By: Alex Escovar, JBT Araraquara

Alex is a Sales Manager with JBT. He serves the South American market and is based in Araraquara, Brazil.

Consumers are changing the way they used to do things. The globalized economy allows people to have access to different products from almost every corner of the world. While many may fret the consequences of the empowered consumer, the truth is that these changes result in greater competition, which benefits companies as much as consumers. Organizations need to stay alive in this competitive environment. This is where automation comes in.

According to McKinsey & Company, automation has a few key drivers:

“to free human workers from dirty, dull, or dangerous jobs; to improve quality by eliminating errors and reducing variability; and to cut manufacturing costs by replacing increasingly expensive people with ever-cheaper machines.”

Automation also standardizes processes, making them repeatable and controllable from a technical and economic standpoint.

Organizations need to invest time into examining what really matters for their core business. Any non-value-added operation is a candidate for automation, and even complex and very delicate jobs can now be automated because of technology’s constant advance. More and more often, we see robots performing very precise operations which were impossible to think about even as little as five years ago. Plus, collaborative robots are breaking paradigms by sharing work space with humans.

To put this in perspective, the increasing global demand for automated guided vehicles (AGVs) demonstrates that automation has become a strategic decision implemented in order to achieve far-reaching, financially-driven goals. These vehicles, which can improve efficiency in a logistics operation by automating mundane material handling, features different guidance technologies such as laser triangulation, natural-feature, optical guidance, and wire. Most often, a host computer supports the system by using a pre-programmable management system to control the fleet and by integrating into the customer´s production system. This host manages all the requests according to priorities previously established by the customer. This is where the system’s intelligence resides – it can process several complex jobs simultaneously. As production changes, the entire system has to be flexible enough to support it, so choosing the right technology makes all the difference.

By adding automation into your production, you can expect significant savings and a variety of benefits.

Labor

Not surprisingly, labor threatens any operation, not only because the associated cost which is constantly increasing, but also because it is becoming increasingly difficult to find reliable and qualified labor. Automation solves both issues. The cost of labor comes down over time, and automation offers a form of reliable, qualified labor.

Productivity

Productivity is a buzzword within many organizations. Everyone is looking to produce more while keeping costs down. Automation, and AGVs in particular, can help companies achieve this, as operational efficiency can reach as high as 99% utilization. Systems rarely stop and can work non-stop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Overtime

Inevitably, higher uptime creates the need for working additional hours. What if organizations had the option to add or to extend a third shift without raising operational costs? As seen above, automation works continuously for exactly the same cost. In most of the cases, a three-shift operation can barely work 20-21 hours a day due to stops for lunch, unpredictable maintenance, bathroom breaks, and workplace exercises, resulting in three to four hours of waste. Think about this: if automation enables operation during additional hours, say something between 1500-2500 across a single year, does that make a difference in your operation? How much money does your company make for every additional working hour?

Safety

Safety should probably lead this list. We all know what happens when an accident occurs. No matter how big it is, a simple near-miss can cause huge problems for the company, an unions are there to remind us all the time. Automation is much safer than manual operation, and AGVs are much safer than forklifts.

Damage-related Costs

Automation means no more damage to your equipment, product, and/or facility. Even skilled operators are exposed to errors, and this can be a small issue to a significant accident, where hundreds or even thousands of pallets are effected.

Inventory Tracking

Accurate inventory is essential for the traceability of your products. The last thing you want is for things to get lost. With automated material handling, your products are delivered to the right place at the right time. Is this important for you? How much time – and therefore money – could this save you?

Increased Efficiency

Automation improves your process and eliminated unnecessary movements. AGVs, in particular, are more efficient than manual vehicles and can combine different operations into one. When you eliminate redundant operations, you reap the real benefit. How much does it cost you every time you need to touch a pallet?

Are the above items beneficial for your business? If so, automating your process will result in some real savings. Obviously, results vary from application to application, but if enterprise organizations, which have common operations between their multiple sites, decide to invest in automation like AGVs, then their savings are significantly boosted. Their ROI becomes very attractive, very quickly.