Predicting the future is never easy. The automotive industry continues to evolve at a rapid pace as regulations change and new trends dominate the market. Manufacturers are increasingly turning to automation to save money and increase efficiency, but automating your facility is only one part of the puzzle. Simply turning on a machine may not be enough to set you up for success in this increasingly competitive industry.
If your company wants to stay ahead of the curve, add these five essentials to your automated facility to prepare for a new chapter in automotive manufacturing.
1. Onsite Talent Development and Recruitment
Automation may be the future, but machines can’t do all the work. Human workers are still essential throughout the manufacturing process. They are there to supervise the machines while they do their work and respond to real-time issues as they arise. In other cases, replacing a human with a machine may not be an option. This technology still has a long way to go, and some companies may use automation to assist workers as they complete tasks by hand.
The human-robot relationship will continue to evolve in the years to come, which is why it’s important to invest in the human side of your operations as well as the machines. Consider training existing personnel that already know your products to use this technology as it comes online. This is often easier than replacing your workers with individuals with a background in technical support.
The number of people working in the warehousing industry is growing fast, going from 827k people in 2018 to 876k people in 2019, marking an increase of just under six per cent. Competition for talent is only expected to get worse in the years to come as new players enter the industry. Finding talent with a background in warehouse automation will only be more difficult as more companies utilize this technology. Do your best to keep your employees happy as your company evolves over time.
2. Fixed vs. Flexible Automation
Knowing when to implement fixed vs. flexible automation is key in the automotive warehouse. The former refers to systems that automatically fill orders and manufacture goods without human assistance, while the latter refers to machines that require human interaction, including cobots (collaborative robots) and exoskeletons that improve physical performance. The flexible automation market surpassed $600 million in market value in 2021, marking a noticeable uptick from years past.
Fixed automation is best for large-scale facilities that process or manufacture thousands of orders in a single day. However, smaller companies that use automation on a case-by-case basis will likely prefer flexible automation. This gives workers more than one option when completing certain tasks while improving the ergonomics of your workplace. Flexible automation is often introduced gradually, giving a chance to make sure it’s the right choice for your business.
3. A Plan to Scale Your Operations
Your automation should be built to scale. This technology is designed to improve efficiency, which helps you grow your business in more ways than one. Be ready to scale your operations as new opportunities arise. You may decide to expand to another location or invest in more automation. Decide whether you will continue using the same technology as you take on new products and clients.
Your warehouse management system should be designed to scale with your business, including maintaining customer relationships, training and hiring new employees and making room for additional inventory. Look several years down the line to make sure you have the right technology in place to weather the changes that lay ahead.
4. Demand Forecasting
It’s difficult to scale your business without predicting future demand for your automotive products. You should have an accurate idea of how many people will want your products before investing in automation or making other investments. Demand for automotive parts and supplies can change on a dime due to factors beyond your control.
Do your best to prepare for the unexpected by incorporating data from your past. Your warehouse management system should incorporate data from a variety of sources when making predictions, so you can make a more informed decision. Discuss the latest trends with your colleagues and business partners to stay up to date with what’s happening at dealerships all over the world.
5. Manual Backups
Automation has its limits. As beneficial as this technology can be, it’s important to remember that the system likely won’t be accurate 100 per cent of the time. Even the most advanced automotive warehouses can make mistakes from time to time. Come up with a strategy for backing up your digital system. Print off paper copies of your records in case you can’t access your information. There’s also a chance some of your items didn’t make it into the system at all. Conduct regular spot checks to double-check the numbers in the system to ensure an accurate count.
Your workers should get in the habit of inspecting items as they fulfil orders, whether they’re doing it by hand or supervising a machine. Use bulk wire baskets to keep your inventory visible on the shelf, so your workers can easily verify and inspect the contents as your goods move through the supply chain. They should be able to count the inventory without opening the container or stopping the machine.
Smaller items like nuts, bolts, screws, caps, plugs and other essential components often don’t make it into the system. Use industrial metal bins to keep these items secure on the shelf to prevent unexpected shortages.
Budget for Automation
Automation is here to make your life easier, but implementing this technology is often easier said than done. Factor these items into your budget to make the most of your warehouse automation.