Six ways to improve productivity with automated material handling systems

Manufacturers and warehouse owners will need to expand to meet demand of increased consumer spending in a post-pandemic world. Six ways to improve productivity with automated material handling systems are highlighted.

By Brendon Turner March 30, 2022
Automated material handling system in action. Courtesy: FlexQube

Industrial automation, including the automated material handling systems, provide industrial facilities with an agile solution to improve productivity and deliver optimized service levels.

Productivity within industrial facilities is calculated through several key performance indicators (KPI). These key performance indexes include the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) ratio, machine utilization, and throughput. Implementing automated material handling systems can optimize the majority of the KPIs used to track productivity, as the following examples will show.

Six ways to improve productivity with automated material handling

The increased adoption rate of Industry 4.0 business models means the industrial sector continues to recognize the benefits of industrial automation and optimizing industrial processes. Automated material handling systems can enhance productivity in the following ways:

1. Optimized machine utilization

Shop floor equipment does not operate in a vacuum. Multiple interrelated operations occur to ensure the machine gets the tool heads, materials and information it is expected to work with. Inadequate material handling negatively affects the production flow and how quickly materials get to workstations, reducing machine utilization durations.

To eliminate the downtime caused by inadequate material flow or handling, automating material handling systems reduces human errors and eliminates the shop traffic that stalls material delivery. Getting materials and tools to the correct workstations ensure that equipment works optimally through their work cycles and operators have the tools required to produce components.

2. Reduced operational cost

The total cost of production or warehousing includes the power expended to move materials across the shop floor and the energy material handling systems consume. For manual carts, power consumption is minimal; however, increased shop floor traffic can cause accidents or delivery delays, which adds to the total production cost. Forklifts are also responsible for most safety incidents on the shop floor. Furthermore, they consume a considerable amount of energy.

Automated material handling systems such as automated guided vehicles are industrial automation solutions that can carry heavy loads, unlike manual carts, and use less power compared to forklifts. Automated material handling systems also reduce the labor cost associated with manually moving materials across the shop floor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, order pickers and material handling equipment operators are paid approximately $20 per hour. Despite the initial expenditure on purchasing an AGV, an AGV working three shifts will be more serviceable than paying 3 operators working full-time.

3. Supporting Lean manufacturing initiatives

The concept of lean manufacturing is to reduce waste at every phase of the production cycle, which leads to increased throughput. The implementation of industrial automation to automate material handling leads to a more efficient material handling process. One example is the ability of automated material handling systems to accurately follow operational schedules and ensuring materials arrive on time.

Implementing a just-in-time material transportation process reduces queuing on the shop floor and the amount spent on waste. An optimized material handling process reduces waste in industries that handle raw materials with limited shelf lives. For example, the food and beverage industry rely on raw materials with short shelf lives that can reduce waste through an automated material handling system. The stability automation brings ensures proper handling, which limits scoffing or damage when handling sensitive materials.

4. Decongesting the factory floor

Factory floor traffic caused by the transportation of materials and tools across the shop floor causes unplanned downtime as materials take longer to reach their destination. The implementation of an automated material handling system drastically reduces shop floor traffic as heavy equipment follows a defined pathway across the factory floor. Providing operators and equipment with the tools they work with on time leads to increased productivity.

5. Reduced effects of workforce shortages

The manufacturing industry is going through a transitional phase as older employees retire. The younger generation expected to fill the shoes of older employees does not find jobs in the industry attractive enough to build careers. This has led to a worker shortage that must be remedied for factories to improve productivity levels.

Industrial automation is a solution to reducing the effects of an aging workforce and shortages. Automating the material handling process eliminates the need for transport operators and frees up the time of the available operators. Operators can then spend the freed-up hours on other crucial activities on the factory floor.

6. Increased scalability 

Automated material handling systems support flexible manufacturing systems because of the scalability they offer. Expanding operations require a scalable material handling system to meet the new production capacity of the expanded facility. Automated material handling systems such as AGVs are easy to scale up, compared to the application of fixed material handling systems within the shop floor.

Courtesy: FlexQube

Courtesy: FlexQube

Conclusion

An automated material handling system is crucial to implementing Industry 4.0 business models as it also supports the collection of layout data from the shop floor. The captured data can be integrated into industrial cloud platforms and develop data-driven strategies to optimize productivity. Automated material handling systems can be customized to meet a facility’s specific requirement, making it easier to scale up with increased demand.

Original content can be found at FlexQube.


Brendon Turner
Author Bio: Brendon Turner, regional sales manager, FlexQube