November 2016 | How-To | Ten Tips

Using a Systems Integrator for DC Automation

Tags: Distribution, Materials Handling, Logistics, Supply Chain

Implementing materials handling automation within a distribution center requires an experienced systems integrator, which acts as a matchmaker to ensure the software communicates fully and freely with the facility's equipment. Systems integrators are also responsible for the deployment's speed, progress and outcome; they are the keepers of schedules and standards, the maestros who ensure that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Joe Colletti, CEO and president of DMW&H, a materials handling systems integrator, offers these tips for effectively using a systems integrator to implement materials handling automation.

1. Look for experience. Materials handling is a broad field, so make sure your systems integrator candidates have successful work experience in the industry and type of project you're undertaking. Review their track record and check references from clients, software and equipment vendors, and other industry sources.

2. Review objectivity. Systems integrators should not have an allegiance to any particular software or equipment. They should just pick the best solution for the job.

3. Think spatially. When designing the distribution center, think in a spatial or 3D relationship. Visualize the overhead conveyors, line conveyors, sortation units, and mezzanines. See how items interact with each other to avoid potential design or fit problems.

4. Examine key workflow patterns and operating areas. Before adopting a complex automation system, identify which areas are most stable and efficient and which have the potential to be streamlined. This objective evaluation will help pinpoint the processes that are appropriate for immediate materials handling automation and which ones should await further consideration.

5. Implement in steps. Don't just add new equipment; run it in parallel with existing operations so you can still fulfill orders during installation.

6. Select order-picking technology first. Order-picking systems decisions are closely tied to location and storage mode decisions. Different order-picking technologies are best suited to SKU velocity profiles for a given unit of measure. Order-picking technology investments offer different ROI, depending on the level of activity within a pick zone.

7. Have staff availability. Make sure the systems integrator can commit the personnel and resources to meet your project's goals and schedules.

8. Provide a Statement of Work. The statement defines all deliverables, timelines, obligations, and responsibilities, which form the foundation of a successful project. This statement should precede the contract, and then become part of the contract to govern all project activities, including problem resolution.

9. Evaluate compatibility. DC automation is an intense process, so count on a reasonably long-term relationship with the integrator you select. As the de facto team leader, the integrator needs to collaborate with a range of internal and external colleagues, and engage and motivate all players. Are the candidate's temperament, communication style, and personality a good fit for your environment?

10. Make sure your DC is flexible. Flexibility during seasonal peaks enables you to speed picking and packing operations. Don't have processes and procedures in place that are so rigid you can't add labor or conveyors and other equipment to improve fulfillment rates and productivity.