Warehousing: more efficient by design

Australian manufacturers are increasingly turning to new technologies in order to make their processes leaner and greener in hard economic times. Katherine Crichton writes.

Australian manufacturers are increasingly turning to new technologies in order to make their processes leaner and greener in hard economic times. Katherine Crichton writes.

TECHNOLOGIES such as RFID, automated delivery systems and innovative storage solutions have transformed warehousing and distribution centres into paperless, efficient and highly productive environments.

With JIT (just in time) manufacturing now no longer a choice but a matter a course, DC and warehouse managers are constantly under pressure to deliver the goods, on demand and on time.

According to PLMA Director Dennis Colusso, in times of increasing cost and time pressures in production, along with ongoing globalisation, logistics has become a key factor in the success of a company.

“The need to deliver JIT/JIS (just-in-sequence), plan and build new production lines and manage global production networks, to name a few, requires objective decision criteria to help management evaluate and compare alternative approaches,” Colusso explained to Manufacturers’ Monthly.

Though even before the global financial situation, there were pre-existing obstacles for manufacturers and distribution companies to overcome, as David Rubie, Industry Logistics Manager with Dematic, notes.

“One of the main challenges for the industry is product proliferation with the marketplace demanding greater variety of items.

“This presents major challenges with manufacturers managing an ever growing number of SKUs which impacts on their production cycles and turnarounds.

“On the distribution side, it impacts on inventory control, warehouse pick path and a far greater complexity of orders,” Rubie explained.

On top of these challenges there is the ongoing concern of environmental pressures, increasing demand for low or carbon neutral products.

Despite these added pressures, new technologies and solutions allowing for better product visibility and control of processes is giving manufacturers more agility in the marketplace and is providing them with valuable data to optimise processes, minimise inventory and reduce costs.

Virtual reality

Imagine the ideal factory: problems are detected and eliminated before they happen; the investment cost of production lines can be reduced without jeopardizing required output; and the performance of existing production systems can be optimised prior to implementation.

Imagine all this and more at your fingertips – welcome to the world of plant simulation software.

Factory and plant simulation software is increasingly being used in factories, warehouses and logistical operations to optimise throughput, relieve bottlenecks and minimise work-in-process.

According to Colusso, using Plant Simulation software (from Siemens PLM), users can optimise material flow, resource utilisation and logistics for all levels of plant planning from global production facilities, through local plants, to specific lines.

“The software enables users to create well-structured, hierarchical models of production facilities, lines and processes, as well as logistical operations and storage and warehousing operations,” Colusso told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“This is achieved through powerful object-oriented architecture and modelling capabilities that enable users to create and maintain even highly complex systems, including advanced control mechanisms.

“The simulation models take into consideration internal and external supply chains, production resources and business processes, allowing you to analyse the impact of different production variations.”

One of the key benefits plant simulation software can offer users is the ability to simulate changing throughput demands and make informed decisions about how to react to these different conditions.

“Avoiding unnecessary spend and improving the efficiency of operations are the two key ways users receive payback from using this product,” Colusso explained.

While in North America and Europe companies have embraced the technology with reported ROI of 12:1, Australia is yet to embrace the technology as much as their overseas counterparts and run the risk of being left behind.

“One of the challenges we have is product awareness, but this is starting to change as companies in Australia realise the benefits that can be gained from using this software to simulate then create their ideal factory or warehouse environment.”

PLMA is running free seminars on Plant Simulation in Melbourne and Sydney in March and April 2009. Visit www.manmonthly.com.au/Article/Plant-simulation-software/432093.aspx

A sound solution

While the technology has been around for the past 10 years, the full benefits of voice directed picking is only now being fully realised.

According to Rubie, more companies are embracing the increased productivity, accuracy and reduced labour costs and enhanced safety that voice picking is said to offer.

“Voice has now established itself as the first choice solution for both full and split case picking, with most users achieving productivity gains of 10 – 15% compared to paper picking or 10 – 20% compared with RF,” he said.

Using Vocollect Voice technology, voice directed computer prompts the operator through a series of pre-programmed tasks with verbal commands transmitted in real-time by a RF system that interfaces with the user’s host platform, typically a WMS or ERP system.

The operator wears a small headset and the lightweight, portable voice-computer is attached to a belt around their waist, keeping both hands free to pick.

Continual developments in hardware, software and interfacing techniques have reduced the cost and complexity of systems integration.

“As voice-directed technology continues to mature, the cost of implementing voice picking has fallen considerably, reducing the payback period to less than twelve months in some applications,” he said.

Advances in voice hardware and software have also increased the performance and functionality of voice picking, while reducing investment requirements.

Voice picking hardware has also become smaller and lighter, and is now available in full wireless integration, including wireless headsets.

The systems are also developed on open standards that allow the voice picking application software to run on third party hardware, including LXE, Motorola or Psion Teklogix hardware.

Rubie says that other developments in warehousing technology including automated systems such as truck live loading and conveying systems are providing manufacturers with good paybacks.

Dematic 02 9486 5463.

PLMA 1800 303 202.