Modern warehouses must deliver unprecedented levels of speed, flexibility and efficiency. Responding to these challenges requires smart choices about the technology that’s specified. Neil Beaumont of Lenze explains how to meet these challenges.
Warehouses have an insatiable appetite – they’re hungry for space; they gobble up time and manpower; they feed off ignorance and indecision; they devour profits. Most importantly, they eat into business efficiency.
Although warehouses are responsible for the consumption, it’s typically the warehouse manager who suffers the indigestion. Thankfully, there is a tonic that can ease this pain and it takes the form of automation.
Today’s warehouse automation systems need to be fast, agile and, above all, available. This, however, poses a dilemma – distribution centres are embracing more automated elements (from conveyor systems to robots and automated guided vehicles) which need to be tightly co-ordinated. This requires more sensor equipment to collect and process a greater level of data but installing this equipment can constrain the storage capacity of the warehouse itself.
At the same time, pressure is growing on machine builders to control costs and reduce the environmental footprint of distribution operations, which places extra emphasis on energy efficiency.
Furthermore, machine builders’ customers are pushing for shorter development lead times so they can respond quickly to new market trends. They want simplicity in operation, minimal maintenance; standard components to control spare parts inventories, and responsive service and support.
Finally, mounting pressure to rein in capital and operating expenses means costs are always under scrutiny.
Responding to these challenges requires original equipment manufacturers to make smart choices about the components and technology platforms they specify. That makes the decision about who to select as the provider for drives and automation critical. At Lenze, we have developed a five-step process to help with this decision based around the needs of machine builders and their customers (see the box).
Even the most sophisticated warehouse automation systems are built from a combination of simple elements. Getting this mix right is the key to efficiency, flexibility and reduced downtime. And selecting the right technology partner can lead to faster machine development, lower purchase costs, easier integration into the warehouse system and optimal performance.
Five steps to a perfect warehouse system partnership
- Developing ideas: Involving a technology partner early in the project can help them identify opportunities to maximise machine performance and minimise costs.
- Drafting concepts: As the project moves into the design phase, the partner should take a holistic view of individual motion and control functions and draw up a consistent drive and automation solution. Automation needs to be simple, safe and easily interfaced with the warehouse master system.
- Implementing solutions: The partner should be able to supply expertise in areas like energy efficiency, optimised product dimensioning and easy-to-use software. The solution should be the one that best suits the requirements of the application rather than the one that the provider prefers.
- Manufacturing machines: Taking automation, visualisation, control, logic and the drives all from a single partner means developers and commissioning engineers benefit from interfaces that fit together by design. This reduces development times and costs.
- Ensuring productivity: Minimising problems and downtime for machines in service requires a strong after sales service. The primary focus is on technical back-up based on the expertise of a knowledgeable support team.