January 11, 2022

What does the Future Hold for Autonomous Vehicles?

A look at the what, when, where, why, and how of autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles are slowly but steadily reshaping the way people work, travel, and live. While we do not have the Jetson’s flying Space Car yet, the innovations and technology driving autonomous vehicles means this is a real possibility. 

From autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) reducing workplace accidents to autonomous farming equipment helping to fill in skilled labor gaps to robotaxis moving tourists from point A to point B – autonomous vehicles are here, and the future looks bright. 

However, the design, development, and market adoption of autonomous vehicles is slowed by a range of real-world challenges. Supply chain pressures and delays, consumer skepticism, cybersecurity threats, and technology costs are just a few of the barriers holding AV adoption and application back. 

In this blog we take a deep dive on autonomous vehicles, looking at:

  • What an AV is and the history of these vehicles
  • Level 5 autonomy and why it’s so hard to achieve
  • Real-world applications for autonomous vehicles
  • The benefits of autonomous vehicles
  • The trends shaping autonomous vehicle design, application, and adoption

What is an Autonomous Vehicle?

An autonomous vehicle (AV) is a vehicle that drives itself using a range of in-vehicle sensors, AI, and technologies including LiDAR, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), GPS, cameras, and ultrasound. 

Examples of AVs include driverless and autonomous tractors, self-driving cars, AMRs, autonomous bulldozers, autonomous underwater vehicles, autonomous transport trucks, and more. 

The roots of AVs can be traced as far back as the 1920’s with the radio-controlled “American Wonder”, a 1926 Chandler developed by Houdina Radio Control. 

Recent innovations and expectations for AVs are linked to developments in the 1980s leading to the 1991 passage of the ISTEA Transportation Authorization bill to demonstrate an automated vehicle and highway system by 1997.

Fast forward to the 2000’s, the Internet, IoT, smart-technology, AI, machine learning, GPS, radar, and ADAS – and we have high expectations for AVs including self-driving cars, robotaxis, and even the Flying Space Car. 

As excited as lawmakers, vehicle manufacturers, and inventors were about the prospect of AVs, the fulfillment of this technological promise is coming – just not as quickly as many had hoped. 

Not even Elon Musk predicted delivering on self-driving autonomous cars would be so hard, tweeting on July 3, 2021: “Generalized self-driving is a hard problem, as it requires solving a large part of real-world AI. Didn’t expect it to be so hard, but the difficulty is obvious in retrospect.

The Challenges in Reaching Level 5 Autonomy

In 2020, experts predicted that 1 in 10 vehicles will be fully autonomous by 2030. However, it is harder than many realized to align technology, legislation, consumer adoption, the logistics of parts manufacturing and assembly, and system expertise to make this a reality. 

To be considered fully autonomous, vehicles must achieve Level 5 driving autonomy defined by the Society of Autonomous Engineers (SAE) and adopted by the US Department of Transportation.

The levels are best described with an image. This is the latest SAE image: 

Driving is not a simple task. Whether it’s backing out of a driveway, navigating a 6-lane highway, or maneuvering a tractor in a field – there are thousands of decisions, distractions, and factors that come into play.

Beyond driving being a complicated task, key challenges in reaching Level 5 autonomy include the ability to address:

  • Weather and environmental conditions including snow, rain, sun glare, wind, etc. 
  • Cybersecurity risks and threats
  • Legislation and regulatory standards
  • Existing road and highway infrastructure
  • Consumer acceptance

Complicating this for autonomous equipment and machinery such as tractors, combines, and trucks is the lack of curbs and road markers for LiDAR system references, the additional tasks this equipment needs to perform, and equipment and machinery add-ons such as buckets, blades, booms, and shovels. 

Putting Autonomous Vehicles to Work

The business applications of AVs are far-reaching and limitless. Consider these examples of how AVs are used today and what they mean for the future:  

  • AMRs are used in manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution for a range of applications from shipping to receiving. Key examples of AMRs include pallet movers and stackers, tuggers, and forklifts. 
  • Semi-autonomous and self-driving construction equipment is being used to perform repetitive tasks including excavating, bricklaying, demolition, welding, hauling, pouring concrete, and drilling. 
  • Semi-autonomous trucks and freight movement with truck platooning is becoming more common. The ACEA describes truck platooning as the linking of 2 or more trucks in a convoy, using connectivity technology and automated driving support systems. This technology reduces fuel consumption, allows trucks to travel more closely together, reduces traffic congestion, and helps address labor shortages. 
  • Semi-autonomous and self-driving farm equipment including tractors, combines, planters, and sprayers are being used worldwide, allowing farm owners and operators to remotely control their equipment.
  • Autonomous mining equipment: mining is one of the early adopters of autonomous solutions. An autonomous haulage system (AHS) is technology that equips machines with vehicle controllers, a high-precision GPS, an obstacle detection system, and a wireless network system. Like AMRs, the autonomous fleet is able to operate predictably through prescribed route mapping and utilize enhanced safety features such as collision avoidance systems.
  • Autonomous last mile delivery with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being used to transport and deliver a range of products including food, emergency supplies, healthcare materials (including organs for transplant), and household goods. 
  • Autonomous underwater vehicles have been widely used since the 1960s for ocean and underwater exploration, mapping, and surveillance. 
  • Robotaxis were recently rolled out on public roads in Shenzhen, China. These driverless cars, including the Fiat Chrysler Pacifica, navigate through the city completely autonomously, transporting people, packages, and even dogs. 

The Benefits of Autonomous Vehicles for Companies and People

From solving labor shortages to streamlining productivity to making it easier to park your car, AVs have a deep range of benefits for companies and people. 

  • Solving labor shortages. There is a global shortage of skilled labor, hampering every industry from construction, trucking, mining, manufacturing, robotics, farming, through to warehousing and distribution. Autonomous last mile delivery, for example, means that hospitals do not need to rely on costly planes and pilots to transport organs, saving time, money, and lives. 
  • Improving efficiencies. AVs such as autonomous tractors, haulers, combines, and last-mile delivery AUVs can operate 24/7 with little to no human intervention. This frees employees to work on more demanding tasks, eliminates scheduling challenges, and helps to limit the wear-and-tear on equipment. 
  • Creating safer workplaces. Across a range of industries, employees are dealing with workplace safety issues such as repetitive tasks, overscheduling (due to labor shortages), risky working environments, traffic collisions and accidents including forklift tip overs, and general fatigue due to work demands. Whether it’s the robust safety features of AMRs or the use of autonomous underwater vehicles for deep-sea exploration, workplace safety can be increased and more easily monitored. 
  • Reducing operating costs. According to an article by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the construction and mining technology investor Fundamental estimates an average increase in mine productivity of 30% when AVs are used. The company attributes this to longer production hours, a 15% reduction in load and unit costs, and a 40% improvement in tire life due to a reduction in quick accelerations and abrupt steering. 
  • Environmental and climate benefits. The electrification of AVs would mean less greenhouse gas emissions, less air pollution, and less vehicles on the road and in the workplace. With advances in IoT-enabled farm, construction, and mining equipment we will see less damage, erosion, and waste of natural resources.  
  • Safer roads. Cars, trucks, heavy machinery, and equipment do not cause accidents – humans do. One of the big promises of AVs is in making roads safer with smarter vehicles that  behave predictably and are not prone to distraction, human error, or lapses in judgement. 

From self-driving robotaxis through to autonomous forklifts and truck platooning, companies and people benefit from smarter, safer, more efficient, and less costly ways of working, living, and traveling. 

We are in the early days of understanding the full potential and benefits of AVs, but as manufacturers get closer to full autonomy, there will be a continued trickle-over in improvements for both companies and individuals. 

4 Trends Shaping the Autonomous Vehicle Industry

These 4 trends stand out as keys to shaping the future of the AV industry and moving it closer to Level 5 autonomy: 

  1. Automotive standards: we are seeing the adoption of a range of autonomous vehicle standards including cybersecurity standards, functional safety development processes, guidance on software updates, and improved management of open-source licensing and compliance. 
  • Vehicle-to-everything (V2X): machine learning, AI, and 5G networks combine to enable V2X technology, allowing AVs to share details such as location, speed, and traffic conditions with other AVs and road/highway/traffic infrastructure. This should ultimately mean safer, less congested, and more efficient roads and travel.
  • Truly smart vehicles: advances in AI and machine learning mean that vehicles will be smart enough to self-diagnose problems, predict and prevent breakdowns, adjust routes in real-time, detect cybersecurity threats and risks, provide personalized in-vehicle infotainment, and protect against theft.
  • Autonomous Things (AuT): this involves improving and enhancing machines with sensors and AI-based analytical capabilities, allowing machines to make data-based decisions autonomously. For AVs, along with enabling V2X technology, AuT helps improve computer vision with intelligent cameras and sensors, enables building 3D high-definition maps with real-time traffic flow, traffic light, construction, and accident information, and detection and awareness of pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, stray basketballs, and other road concerns. Ultimately AuT is critical to achieving Level 5 autonomy. 
Credit: Hanna-Barbera Productions

We cannot predict the future, but we do know we’re much closer today to the Jetsons and their Flying Space Car than we were in 2018. 

Advances in AI, machine learning, LiDAR, ADAS, autonomous haulage, IoT and AuT, and public acceptance of autonomous vehicles and robots mean the gains in innovation and development are happening quickly. 

This is the time to start learning how automation, AMRs, and AVs can benefit your company and your employees. From improving worker safety through to improving productivity – the benefits of automation are clear. 

Contact us to discuss how your company can benefit from our AMR technologies and capabilities.

November 15, 2021

Understanding Data Analytics and the Benefits to Lean Manufacturing

Learn how data analytics support warehousing and manufacturing efficiencies

Big data is here, and it is making waves in every aspect of work and life. From predicting customer demand to highlighting gaps in productivity, through to algorithms controlling brand awareness – big data is a key player in warehousing and manufacturing operations. 

The good news is that warehousing and manufacturing companies are using big data and data analytics to automate, power, and streamline operations. However, many companies are drowning in data.

Data is coming at companies from all angles – RFID sensors, IoT devices, the machinery powering operations, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), logistics data, ecommerce and marketing, etc. The challenge is understanding how to quickly process this data to benefit operations. Your approach to data analytics must be unique to your business goals and customer expectations. 

Just as there is not one approach to automation or how to use continuous improvement strategies in your operations – the same holds true for data analytics. Decisions on automation, market demands, and using continuous improvement strategies to support your operations must be based on data.  

In this blog, we take a deep dive on data analytics and manufacturing to help you understand how to use your data to optimize your operations:

  • The link between big data and lean manufacturing
  • A refresher on continuous improvement in operations
  • How data helps you think critically about your operations
  • How big data optimizes continuous improvement
  • Strategies for using data in your operations

Data is your ally in streamlining operations, improving warehouse management, making informed decisions about market demands, predicting gaps in the supply chain, understanding what your customers want, and supporting change across all facets of your operations. 

Big Data, Data Analytics and Lean Manufacturing

In 2001, Gartner analyst Doug Laney, defined big data as:

Big data is high-volume, high-velocity and/or high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing that enable enhanced insight, decision making, and process automation. 

Big data is unique due to its volume, variety, and velocity:

  • Volume: data is collected at all stages of design, production, manufacturing, distribution, and warehousing. 
  • Velocity: the rate at which data is generated and collected to be processed, analyzed and understood, as a means to positively affect the business is constant – 24/7. 
  • Variety: this includes all data collected from machines, IoT devices, RFID sensors and tags, AMR feedback, logistics, shipping, marketing, and more. The data ranges from structured numerical data to unstructured data in a range of formats such as messages, emails, text documents, etc. 

The challenge for companies is knowing how to use this data – how to identify data that can benefit your operations, understanding what to do with it, and then capitalizing on it.  

Within lean manufacturing, data analytics is the best way to proactively respond to the 8 key wastes of manufacturing: 

  1. Defects – are there process changes you can make to minimize product waste and damage, limit production downtime, reduce injuries, or address gaps in product inventory?
  2. Overproduction – how can you ensure you do not have product sitting on warehouse shelves? Are there process changes, automation, or communication adjustments that can improve just-in-time (JIT) management?
  3. Waiting – where is your idle time in your manufacturing and warehousing processes? What is causing this downtime – labor shortages, inefficient training, lack of automation, materials shortage, etc.? How much does this waiting time cost your operations?
  4. Non-utilized talent – do you have employees who could be doing more high-value skilled work? Is there a way to use automation and AMRs to reallocate employees to high-value roles?
  5. Transportation – are you moving goods efficiently through design, production, packaging, and distribution? What is slowing your shipping and distribution process? How well is your supply chain operating?
  6. Inventory – do you have too much or the wrong inventory sitting on shelves? Are customers left waiting for products they want? Where are the gaps in your JIT management?
  7. Motion – are people spending too much time walking, bending, lifting, and doing complicated repetitive procedures? How can automation and AMRs minimize extraneous motion and streamline efficiencies?
  8. Extra-processing – do you have redundant steps in your design, production, manufacturing, and distribution process? What is slowing decision-making, interrupting the design process or causing confusion?

The insights derived from big data give companies the ability and opportunity to unlock potential, improve quality, lower costs, streamline production, and strengthen all aspects of their operation. 

Ultimately, companies who act on their data become agile, responsive, resilient, and better equipped to introduce change under pressure. 

What is Continuous Improvement in Manufacturing and Warehousing?

Continuous improvement in manufacturing and warehousing uses small constant measurable change that results in an efficient production process free from waste, interruptions, delays, and unnecessary steps. 

As we wrote in Sustaining a Lean Supply Chain in 2021 and Beyond, incorporating continuous improvement strategies throughout your operations is key to lean manufacturing and JIT success:

  1. Always be looking for opportunity: Continuous improvement means you’re constantly looking for the barriers to success, ways to speed time-to-market, increasing flexibility and agility, sticking to a zero-errors culture, standardizing processes to ensure safety and quality, and building a supportive employee environment.
  2. Take advantage of Industry 4.0: Technologies such as IoT, 5G and 6G, automation, artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing, and 24/7 connectivity give companies the tools and insight to be responsive and agile.
  3. Streamline warehousing and distribution: Co-locating warehousing and distribution, using automation such as robots to move goods safely and securely, and redefining JIT inventory level benchmarks are just some of the ways companies can fix one of the largest bottlenecks in modern supply chains.
  4. Eliminate waste: Core to lean manufacturing is reducing waste within the supply chain. Look for ways to eliminate defects, under-utilized employees, transportation slowdowns, excess inventory, inefficient processes in moving goods, and delays.
  5. Focus on the customer: Your goal is to provide value to the customer, and the best way to do this is by optimizing quality and reducing cost. 

Taking continuous improvement to the next level demands using the data you have to understand where change needs to happen, what the change can produce, and how to measure the effectiveness of this change. 

For example, using big data to understand and predict customer patterns, or using automation and machine learning to improve product quality, eliminate waste, and speed time-to-market. 

Continuous improvement in your processes is supported by capitalizing on the volume, variety, and velocity of AI, automation, IoT, and robotics data and information to drive informed decision-making, process improvements, and product development. 

Big data is your ally in making small measurable process changes that add up to noticeable improvements while eliminating the risk that comes with change. 

5-Step Roadmap for Powering Continuous Improvement with Data Analytics

Alone, big data and data analysis have zero value. The value comes when companies accept that they must be proactive with their data. This demands taking action, even action that can be difficult or introduce change people are resistant to. 

This 5-step roadmap for powering continuous improvement with data analytics can be customized to your unique needs and challenges:

  • Know Why You’re Using Data Analytics

Data is powerful when you know the problems or challenges you need to solve. What do you need to improve? Where are your wastes? What are your customers telling you? What are your business goals? 

  • Create A Plan for Continuous Improvement

Use your data to inform how and where you introduce change. For example, does your data highlight gaps in productivity due to a labor shortage or non-utilized talent? Can you introduce AMRs and automation to fill these gaps and move high-value employees to other tasks? What is your rate of product and production waste and how much does this waste cost?

  • Be Ready to Communicate

Change is hard. It’s critical you communicate the why, how, what, when, and where of change. Do not do this in a top-down manner. Get the people affected by this change involved in deciding how best to roll out the new process or procedure. Do not overlook the firsthand data and information your employees can give you about current processes and how they can be improved. 

  • Define Measurable Outcomes

Measurement is critical in creating lasting change. This measurement must start from day one, you need to know where you are, where you want to go, and understand your success rate. 

For example, you want to improve how products move from manufacturing to packaging because the current process is too slow and results in delivery delays. To create effective change in this process, you need to measure the current process and continue to monitor, adjust, and measure any changes you make. For example, is the process faster and less prone to risk when you use AMR pallet moversand tuggers – what does your data tell you about this change? What other improvements do you see because of this change?

  • Trust the Data

In the early days of GPS, many people resisted trusting the GPS to get them from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. The same holds true for big data and data analytics – remember, the numbers do not lie and hold no bias. The data is not always going to tell you that everything is perfect – in fact, the value comes when your data highlights opportunities for improvement. 

Ultimately, this circles back to building and supporting a culture of continuous improvement. Big data and data analytics are critical in helping you make the right changes that will benefit your processes, people, and products. 

Finding the Real Value in Big Data

In lean manufacturing, the value in big data and data analytics is in enabling continuous improvement and ultimately eliminating waste from your operations. 

However, it’s critical companies do not expect overnight success and introduce too many changes at once. Starting small, and continuously measuring and adjusting makes it easier to create lasting change that leads to further improvements.

Remember your data – do not ignore the data analysis that says your change is not working or is creating more waste and risk in your operations. The value in big data is in listening to it, understanding it, and using it to support your culture of continuous improvement. 

We’re here to help you build a culture of continuous improvement using our people, processes, and technology to support change in your operations. Contact us to discuss how our AMRs can help you eliminate waste and enable measurable change.

July 28, 2021

Sustaining a Lean Supply Chain in 2021 and Beyond

Strategies for continuous improvement of supply chain agility and growth

Never before has so much attention been given to supply chain agility and resiliency. Today, everyone is talking and thinking about the supply chain.

Whether it’s the cost of lumber, the delays in deliveries of new home appliances, the slowdowns for automotive manufacturers due to chip shortages, or the limited selection of bicycles and other outdoor gear – everyone is feeling the impacts of supply chain interruptions.

The combined forces of Brexit, the semiconductor chip shortage, trade wars and tariffs, the boom in IoT, natural disasters, labor shortages, and the pandemic have exposed the fragility of the tenuous links keeping the supply chain afloat.

There is renewed debate and question marks around lean manufacturing principles, just in time (JIT) manufacturing, and the balance between efficiency and resiliency.

Source: goleansixsigma.com

Lean manufacturing and six sigma have reshaped thinking around supply chain management, encouraging companies to focus on reducing waste, streamlining efficiencies, and cultivating a culture of continuous improvement.

While some are blaming JIT and lean manufacturing for today’s shortages in products and parts, and the general chaos in moving goods from manufacturing/assembly to distribution, it’s important to look deeper than this.

The nature of buying and selling in both B2B and B2C markets has changed dramatically in the last two years. Consumer demand for personalization and same-day delivery, and the boom in automation and IoT devices bring to light gaps in supply chain management strategies. What worked before, wasn’t necessarily broken – it just didn’t keep up with the times.

Lean supply chain practices are the way forward. But what is needed is an adjustment to how companies adhere to the principles of lean and six sigma – molding them to meet their needs and the demands of their customers. At the core of this is the value and importance of continuous improvement, contingency planning, and change management.

As this quote from Ford Motor Company Chief Executive Officer Jim Farley underscores, future supply chain resiliency starts with change:

As the industry changes, we have to in-source now, just like we in-sourced powertrains in the ’20s and ’30s,” said Farley, who has shut down half his factories and seen his dealers’ lots emptying because of a dearth of chips.

We have learned a lot through this crisis that can be applied to many critical components,” Farley told analysts last month as he announced Ford would lose half its production in the second quarter and take a $2.5 billion hit to earnings this year, citing a lack of chips. “We’re also thinking about what this means for the world of batteries and silicon and all sorts of other components that are really mission critical for our company.” Financial Times

Lean Six Sigma Supply Chain Management for Today and Tomorrow

The key for companies is finding the common ground between lean, six sigma, and the customer-driven supply chain. This is not an easy task, nor is it one that companies have been ignoring.

Stimulating change amidst high pressure situations such as a pandemic, labor shortages, floods and fires, stuck container ships, and the forced shutdown of international parts suppliers and manufacturers is a very big ask.

The good news is the five principles of lean six sigma are inherently flexible, giving companies the structure, guidance, and freedom required to enable purposeful change that shifts with the times.

  • Always be working for the customer. In today’s customer-driven market, where personalization, customization, and competition have taken on new meaning, companies cannot afford to lose sight of customer wants, needs, and challenges.

    What represents quality and satisfaction for our customers? How are our customers driving the market? How can we adapt to meet their new demands? What do we know about the technologies and market forces reshaping our industry?
  • Acknowledge your barriers to success and quality. Do not get caught up in change for the sake of change. Keep your focus on identifying key problems, risk areas, and barriers that are preventing you from delivering consistent quality and satisfaction.

    What does our research and data tell us about our gaps and areas for improvement? What are our biggest barriers and risks? How does change ensure these are eliminated? Will this change bring improvements for our customers? How can automation improve efficiency and eliminate delays?
  • Remove the inefficiencies contributing to these barriers. You cannot and should not change everything. Focus on removing inefficiencies, waste, and processes that cost you and your customers money and time. Ensure that any change in process is truly value-added. Work with a proven team who understands the challenges that come with change and the best way to strategically remove inefficiencies.

    How long does it take to get from idea to design to production to the customer? How can this process be streamlined and tightened? Where are the weaknesses that could put us at risk? Does this change still have the best needs of the customer in mind?
  • Always be communicating with your employees. Change is hard. It is critical you’re always communicating with your employees. Learn from them about the inefficiencies and gaps they deal with on a daily basis. Encourage your employees to speak up and be involved in changes to process and strategy.

    What are our employees telling us about areas for improvement? What are our customer-facing employees telling us about customer satisfaction, wants, and needs? How can we train employees on new processes and strategies? Who are our internal leaders who can help foster a culture of continuous improvement?
  • Be flexible, agile, and responsive. There is not one way to do anything. What worked yesterday likely won’t work tomorrow. Remember the lessons from the last two years and use these to reinforce a culture that can be agile, flexible, and responsive. Take advantage of the people, processes, and technology available today so you can be ready for the next disruption.

    What are the market trends? How have customer demands shifted? What technologies are available that can help us eliminate waste and streamline our processes? How can we learn from what didn’t work and apply this to new strategies for resiliency and agility? How can technologies such as automated mobile robots (AMRs) and big data bring resiliency and agility to our processes?

Supply Chain Realities and Challenges

I’ve turned down a million dollars’ worth of work in the last two weeks. Doing that, it’s hard to go to bed at night when you put your head to the pillow. I have open capacity, but I need more people.” Matt Guse, owner of MRS Machining, Augusta, GA

We’re seeing gangbuster levels of orders. But the sector has a lot of challenges, like a rise in raw material costs, supply chain disruptions, logistics bottlenecks and worker shortages.” Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers

It was a lot easier to turn the lights out than to ramp up. Manufacturers weren’t prepared for a surge of demand in goods. They’ve been caught a bit flat-footed.” Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton, Chicago, IL

These three quotes from a recent New York Times article titled, As Economy Rebounds, Manufacturers Face New Hurdles, sum up the core supply chain challenges.

Across every sector – manufacturing, hospitality, travel, health care, education, and technology – companies are operating within a fine balance. Success and survival are directly linked to readily available people, products, knowledge, and demand.

Consider these three examples of disruption to people, products, knowledge, and demand:

Lean supply chains did not cause these disruptions, rather it was the accumulation of mounting pressures that ultimately caused the breakdowns and interruptions.

  • With an estimated 2.3 million women leaving the workforce due to the pandemic, the pre-pandemic labor shortage was exacerbated.
  • 5G, IoT, the surge in mobile technology in the automotive industry, and semiconductor chip manufacturing capacity operating at full capacity meant there was zero room to respond to increasing demands or to rebound quickly after forced plant closures.
  • Customer demands for personalization, same-day delivery and the rise in ecommerce triggered a change in what customers value most. The pandemic then caused a change in buying patterns – shortages of swimming pools, lumber, appliances, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer – and a lack of workers. These factors coupled with new health and safety requirements, and the grounding of distribution links, meant very few companies were able to respond quickly and efficiently to this surge in chaos. 

There is opportunity within these challenges. With a commitment to continuous improvement, focusing on the customer, eliminating barriers, streamlining efficiencies, and agility – companies can recover and be ready for the next disruption.

Five Strategies for Continuous Improvement

In the peak of the pandemic there were numerous articles and discussions about how JIT and lean manufacturing were the root of supply chain challenges. However, it is important to acknowledge that too many companies are attempting to utilize JIT and lean manufacturing within supply chains strategies that are too long, have too many dependencies, and are using outdated technologies.

Ultimately JIT and lean supply chain are about giving customers what they need.

Doing this effectively demands attention to the core principles of lean six sigma and building in continuous improvement strategies that take advantage of experience, technology, and people.

  1. Always be looking for opportunity: Supply chain management is not a static process. Continuous improvement means you’re constantly looking for the barriers to success, ways to speed time-to-market, increasing flexibility and agility, sticking to a zero-errors culture, standardizing processes to ensure safety and quality, and building a supportive employee environment.
  2. Take advantage of Industry 4.0: Technologies such as IoT, 5G and 6G, automation, artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing, and 24/7 connectivity give companies the tools and insight to be responsive and agile.
  3. Streamline warehousing and distribution: Co-locating warehousing and distribution, using automation such as robots to move goods safely and securely, and redefining JIT inventory level benchmarks are just some of the ways companies can fix one of the largest bottlenecks in modern supply chains.
  4. Eliminate waste: Core to lean manufacturing is reducing waste within the supply chain. Look for ways to eliminate defects, under-utilized employees, transportation slowdowns, excess inventory, inefficient processes in moving goods, and delays.
  5. Focus on the customer: Your goal is to provide value to the customer, and the best way to do this is by optimizing quality and reducing cost. For example, use big data to understand and predict customer patterns. Use automation and machine learning to improve product quality and speed time-to-market. Technologies such as AI, analytics, robotics, and more deliver real insight into what your customers want and why they want it. Use big data to define, measure, analyze, design, and verify new products, services, and processes.

The Toyota Product System (TPS) was developed in response to the production and delivery issues Ford experienced in the 1930s and post-World War II.

And now as we emerge from a global pandemic, we are on the cusp of the next wave of change within lean manufacturing and the application of lean six sigma to supply chain management.

This is an exciting time – never before has there been the experience, people, processes, and technology available to build truly resilient and optimized supply chains. Contact us to learn more about our approach to lean supply chain management and how automation can be a key partner in your lean manufacturing strategies.

January 18, 2021

Ready to Bring AMRs into Your Operation? Make Sure You Know These Five Keys to Success

Questions to ask and features to look for in your AMR solution

You know your operation could run more efficiently. You know autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are the future. But how do you take the next step and successfully automate your operation?

It all comes down to knowing the challenges you need you to solve, the benefits AMRs can bring, and what you should expect from them. And it can be difficult to know where and how to start integrating AMRs into your operation.

The key to a successful transition to AMRs starts with identifying aspects of your operation that can benefit the most from automation and focusing on incremental changes that set you up for future growth.

To successfully move forward with AMRs, you need to know the five keys to AMR success:

  1. Costs, savings, and return on investment
  2. Right tool for the job
  3. Infrastructure matters
  4. Integrating software for long-term success
  5. Growth, flexibility, and adaptability

With this knowledge you can understand how AMRs, when deployed in the right way, can transform your operation – delivering cost savings, improving safety, allowing you to better utilize employees, and ultimately increasing efficiency.

Watch The Five Things You Must Know Before Bringing AMRs Into Your Operation webinar to learn from our experts about how to bring AMRs into your organization.

1. Know Your Numbers

The number one reason to introduce AMRs into your organization is to improve efficiency. With AMRs you are able to grow your revenue with fewer resources.

For example, your warehouse currently operates two shifts a day with a fleet of forklifts that requires a driver per vehicle. With an autonomous solution, an entire fleet of AMRs could run autonomously with only a single person overseeing the entire operation. This makes improving efficiencies and growing revenue a reality.

The best way to understand how AMRs can improve operational efficiencies is with a return on investment (ROI) calculation. This ROI calculation details your fully burdened labor costs, where you’re spending money, and lets you understand how AMRs can deliver cost reductions and improve your operational efficiency.

View the webinar to see a complete ROI calculation

In our webinar, The Five Things You Must Know Before Bringing AMRs Into Your Operation, we provide a detailed ROI model to help you quantify the savings offered by AMRs for your operation.

When you understand the ROI of bringing AMRs into your operations, you can realize these four key savings opportunities:

  1. Increased throughput efficiency: eliminating delays in replenishing raw materials, preventing costly bottlenecks, and increasing operational efficiency are just a few examples of the productivity benefits of AMRs.
  2. Reduced operating costs: with AMRs working for you, you can allocate labor to value-added tasks and further improve efficiencies.
  3. Reduced liability costs: manually-driven machinery is a huge safety liability. AMRs mean fewer vehicles, predictable paths and robust safety features that ultimately result in fewer accidents.
  4. Improved product quality: AMRs eliminate the human errors that cause damaged goods, unnecessary waste, and misplaced inventory.

2. Right Tool for the Job

When you know what to look for in an AMR system, you know you’re choosing the right tool for the job from the beginning. Forklifts, tuggers, autonomous storage and retrieval systems, and other specialty robots each have a distinct role to play in your operation – make sure you’re deploying the right tool for the job.

If you’re new to AMRs and aren’t sure how to get started, consider these four steps to guide you in your initial deployment:

  1. Keep it simple. Identify small inefficiencies in your system and choose an AMR system that lets you solve them quickly.
  2. Start with a pilot. A pilot allows you to learn what does and doesn’t work for your operation and makes it easier to prove the value of AMRs to colleagues.
  3. Easy wins first. Look for efficiencies that can be solved with minimal AMR investment and integration.
  4. Strategically expand and grow. Choose an AMR system with the flexibility to grow and adapt to your evolving business needs and challenges.

3. It All Comes Down to Infrastructure

Implementing an AMR system should not be complicated. If it is complicated, you need to step back and make sure you’re choosing the right AMR solution.

When you know why you need AMRs and the challenges they will solve, you can put your energy into evaluating AMR solutions based on the requirements they place on your infrastructure. A truly autonomous solution shouldn’t require a lot of changes to your existing facility. An AMR solution should only need:

  • Natural features for navigation, such as existing walls, doorways, and columns
  • Battery charging location, which can even be implemented as opportunity charging that allows robots to be charged while being loaded or queuing for work.
  • IT computing and network resources so the system can manage day-to-day operations for you. SurePath, our fleet control software, integrates seamlessly with your IT infrastructure.
  • Small maintenance area to complete preventive and general maintenance tasks.

During the AMR assessment and discovery process, make sure you know exactly what your AMR manufacturer needs from your infrastructure. Look for an AMR solution that has the capabilities to integrate with your existing infrastructure.

4. Software Integration for Long-term AMR Success

The right software can make or break your AMR experience. As important as the autonomous robots you choose is the software used to manage and control them.

As part of your research, ask questions about the fleet control software and how it integrates into your existing systems. Remember, your robots are only as smart as the software powering them.

Ask these questions about the fleet control software and integration:

  • What does the software do? Is it capable of managing all AMR traffic, coordinating activities, and managing orders?
  • How does the software prevent collisions, accidents, injury, and damage to goods?
  • Does the fleet control software really help me save money and cut costs? Is it possible to use this software for inventory management and optimal traffic routing?
  • I’m already using a warehouse management system (WMS)/manufacturing execution system (MES). How do I integrate your software with my existing tools and infrastructure?
  • What type of device does the software run on? How and where is our data stored?
  • What kind of data can I pull from the software? Is there a way to create custom reports?
  • Do you offer training and support for your fleet control software?
  • When my infrastructure changes, how hard is it to adjust the robot’s paths? Is this something I can do on my own or do I have to call you to do it for me?

Watch our webinar The Five Things You Must Know Before Bringing AMRs Into Your Operation to learn from Dave Levasseur, Head of Software, about how SurePath, our fleet control software, integrates with your existing system.

5. Grow, Adapt and Stay Flexible Always

Your operational needs and goals today will not be the same six months or five years from now. And this demands an AMR system designed to grow, flex and adapt with you. Your AMR solution must be capable of giving you what you need when you need it.

For us flexibility means designing a system that meets your needs today and enables you to expand the use of AMRs in your future operations. With a modular platform that supports a range of different adapters there are no limits on what AMRs can do for you.

For example, your needs may change based on the season or holiday period. Know that you can easily change adapters to meet operational demands, for example converting tuggers to pallet stackers as needed.

You need an AMR system that is: modular, flexible, scalable, adjustable, accurate, reliable, safe and deploys easily when, where, and how you need it. You get this when you choose an AMR system that is designed from the ground up to meet your needs, goals, and challenges.

Be Future-ready with the Right AMR Solution

Do not get left behind. AMRs are not just the future of assembly, manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution – they are making huge impacts now.

Contact us to learn how AMRs can help you. From productivity improvements, cost-savings, a safer workplace through to more efficient operations – AMRs can make a difference.