Getting the most benefit from evolving products, systems

Every Day, New technology products and services designed to increase productivity, reduce costs, and improve the bottom line are introduced into the market. The trick for companies is to determine which ones have the most potential for them. The purpose of the Future Trends in Technology panel discussion was to help attendees do just that.

Participating in the session were Dave Carp, senior national accounts manager, UPS Logistics Technologies, a business unit of UPS that provides transportation and logistics solutions; Art Eldred, business development manager-grocery and foodservice, Dematic Corporation, a supplier of integrated and automated material handling and logistics solutions; and David Stitt, senior engineer with Cadec Global, a provider of mobile information solutions for the transportation industry.

Leading off the discussion, Stitt said that in the case of onboard computers, it must be decided where data can be collected, and how it can be integrated into other information and business systems to better manage resources. Three key areas for this are information distribution, business intelligence, and security and safety.

Integration of data can be used for routing, dispatching, maintenance, and warehouse management systems, he said. Beyond that, it can be used to help with financing and resource management, for customer portals and cold chain management, and for “business intelligence” for an enhanced overall management view of operations.

Onboard computers combined with multi-source dashboards allow for the “drilling down” for Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and root-cause analysis by tapping into multiple data sources, Stitt said. Alerts can be issued by event and calculated condition.

As for security and safety, he noted that onboard technology can be used for anti-rollover detection, stability control, remote vehicle monitoring, and remote vehicle shutdown.

UPS Logistics Technologies' Carp said technology should be judged on how well it will help an operation rapidly maximize efficiencies and better utilize resources because “it is critical that you react very, very quickly to changing market conditions.

Benchmark

He recommended that companies “do proactive what-if planning to develop plans for circumstances to prepare for change, not just react to it.

At the same time, he said companies should also be working to better utilize resources, maximize route efficiency, and minimize costs through least-cost routing to offset rising fuel and delivery costs.

This is where fleet management technology can be a great aid, said Carp. Among other things, such systems can help with:

  • Strategic palling for territories, routes, and services.

  • Daily dispatching of orders and routing — based on customer/order information, business characteristics, and priorities.

  • Monitoring and GPS tracking to provide real-time route visibility for increased operational efficiency.

  • Generation of reports to make transportation information available for analysis.

To get the most benefit of any technology, a company must know delivery territories and how they perform, Carp said. “If you don't, you certainly can't change things to make it better. If you just make changes, you don't know if the changes were good or not.”

Carp said there are three steps to creating territories and routes:

  • Maintenance information — who, how much, how often, and when.

  • Territory definition — strategic method (clusters, spokes), resources (available trucks), customer characteristics (time windows), route characteristics (total run time), prioritized characteristics.

  • Service set-up (assign days)

  • Service patterns and service pattern sets.

When technology is used effectively, it can result in a number of benefits, he said. These include a reduction in miles driven, vehicles, time/overtime, and routing time; increased vehicle capacity; and improvements in customer service.

Automation

Eldred of Dematic Corporation discussed automation in the warehouse, focusing on robotic mixed case pallet building.

The company, in developing its robotic pallet building system, took into consideration the top 10 customer needs identified by a Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) study:

  • Increase throughput.

  • Reduce operating labor.

  • Reduce energy costs.

  • Accommodate more stockkeeping units (SKUs).

  • Increase capacity of existing facility footprint without expansion.

  • Reduce number of product “touches.”

  • Create store friendly shipments.

  • Improve “perfect order” performance (reduce number of returns).

  • Reduce order processing time.

  • Improve ergonomics.

Today, manual pallets have a density of 70% to 80%, which means a lot of air is being shipped on trucks and trailers, said Eldred. A lot of product is damaged due to improper loading, where heavier items are placed atop lighter, more crushable products, for example.

“We're achieving greater than 90% density on our robotic pallets across all categories, with very little damage.”

The Dematic system uses articulating arm robots because they are very flexible, Eldred said.

“It's what you do at the end of that tool to make it smart and intelligent. There are no limitations on these robots as long as the grippers are able to act and simulate the hand of a human.”

Another key to a robotic mixed case pallet building system is the software that controls the building process. The software includes rule sets for building pallets, taking into account SKU sets, and such things as open-top boxes, unstable products, products with high-crushability, and the different configurations and weights of products.

After the pallet is built, the system automatically stretch wraps it so that it is ready for transfer to storage or loading.

ASRS

To handle more SKUs in a warehouse, Dematic also has developed a single-aisle Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) solution for slow moving SKUs - those items that move less than three to four cases per week yet take up a lot of storage.

The modular design solution, said Eldred, comes in different and adjustable configurations, and can operate in cold environments to ambient -20° F. It has a smaller footprint because it trims down required aisles down to one.

As such, pick pattern are reduced because there is no need to go up and down aisles.

When the slow-moving products are received, they are loaded onto trays and don't have to be handled again. The trays move to their appropriate positions in the Automated Storage and Retrieval System.

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