In the competitive manufacturing market, getting an edge up on your competition is a constant endeavor. Whether you want to expand production, increase order fulfillment speed or lower operating costs, one solution tends to rise to the surface: automation. But when is automation the right answer?

Though automation can solve many manufacturing — and specifically warehousing — challenges, sometimes the immense upfront investment in equipment, installation and maintenance would take too long to make profitable returns for your facility. It is important to pinpoint your challenges and opportunities before charging forward with automation.

If you are considering automation as a solution, ask yourself and your team these questions before making the investment.

  1. Do you have high operating costs due to manpower requirements for your picking operations?
    Automation can strategically reduce the number of operators required to fulfill orders and maintain your warehouse operations and allow you to reassign those operators to higher-level tasks.

  2. Do you have difficulty filling staff positions or experience high turnover?
    Automated operations can eliminate the stress and expense of maintaining and training a limited availability of skilled labor, as well as allowing you to reassign operators to less physically demanding tasks. 

  3. Do you need to optimize your storage space in a constrained footprint or do you need to increase inventory levels?
    If the constraints of your current facility cannot keep up with the growth of your business, automation can offer solutions to expand the capability of your footprint such as increasing the density of storage or optimizing manual picking operations.

  4. Do you need additional capacity that cannot be achieved with your current process or facility? 
    Rather than investing in a new or expanded facility, automation can enhance your process and increase storage and picking efficiencies.

If you answered yes to even one of these questions, automation may be the right solution for you. But what does that process look like? Automated warehouse design must be customized to your specific needs, processes and facilities. A strategic consultant can assist you with answering these questions, if necessary, and guide you through this decision to make sure this technology delivers the best return on investment for your company.


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Alfredo Valadez is a project manager providing integrated automation solutions for Burns & McDonnell, working from the firm's office in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. He has extensive hands-on experience designing, specifying and selling leading industrial automated solutions for manufacturing and warehouse environments across a variety of industries.