Automation in material handling refers to automated systems that reduce or eliminate the need for human intervention in the process of material handling. This includes manual labour, check-in, check-out and sorting material. Automated material handling systems (AMHS) ensure fast and efficient transportation of material from one place to another in the facility – within the same department or bay, on opposite ends of the manufacturing floor, or in two separate buildings of the facility. AMHS use route and process step information provided by Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) in order to move material using conveyors, vertical elevators, and autonomous vehicles. There are new-age technologies used for the identification of material such as RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification), bar-coding, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), near-field communication, or ultra-wide band indoor tracking to detect the location of a material or carrier for transport by the AMHS. In this article, we will discuss the feasibility and viability of automated material handling systems by outlining their pros and cons.
- Efficiency & Quality Control
One of the biggest benefits of automated material handling systems is of course, the efficiency that it brings about in the facility. These systems are faster at sorting and handling material as compared to manual labour. Automated equipment also involves inspections and quality control processes. Automated inspection uses machine vision which detects more errors and cuts waste by reducing rework as compared to manual inspection.
- Better Workplace Safety
Companies can improve their bottom line by improving safety with automated systems such as pallet trucks and even robots that pick to totes. This technology ensures safety due to clearly marked operational areas for keeping humans and machines from colliding. Moreover, advancements in sensors have made automated material handling bots safe and sure-footed.
- Flexible Production
AMHS can help factories and distribution centres assemble or move more products in any given period. Supply chain and logistics managers are able to get data from a central location and issue new commands to automated guided vehicles and make adjustments to other connected machines on the fly. This makes a facility far more flexible and better equipped to switch over to manufacturing a different product — or making another process change — without gathering up half your workforce to get it done.
The most obvious disadvantage of automated systems is the cost factor. Not only the initial investment in AMHS proves to be expensive, there are additional costs of integrating your existing infrastructure to the new automated systems. Moreover, training your workforce to work in tandem with the newly installed systems is another added cost.
- Integration with existing systems
Automated systems might not easily integrate with your existing machinery and equipment. You might have to revamp your entire infrastructure in order to install AMHS. Moreover, it can cause a significant amount of downtime when you are installing AMHS and integrating it with your material handling devices.
- Not suitable for small enterprises
AMHS might not be suitable for small and medium sized enterprises as the cost of investment outweighs the utility. Organisations where output is limited don’t need sophisticated systems in the manufacturing or warehousing facility.