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Is Supply Chain Automation Always a Good Thing?

As a business leader, you are always watching for new trends to stay on pace with competitors. Like great leaders do, you do your research and look for any opportunity to grow and improve. From that research, you see a plethora of information about the benefits of supply chain automation. It is all pretty persuasive. One search and you’ll see that it is, “essential to growing your business,” and “you cannot go any longer without it,” so why wouldn’t you?  We want to urge you to take a second and understand the nuances of automation and what it would entail. 

We are passionate about making long-lasting changes in your business that can be replicated and utilized for years to come. To be frank, we could also follow the trend and push you to automate too quickly and incorrectly, eventually leaving you high-and-dry. We are not going to do that. We come from a place of seeing too many automation mistakes and failures and spend most of our time working with business leaders on how to avoid being the next bad example. You have put too much time and effort into your business to see it fail due to a well-meaning misstep.  

At this point, you might be thinking that we are anti-automation. This could not be further from the truth. Automation is a wonderful example of how our industry has pushed the bounds to constantly improve with the main goal of taking business and products to new heights; we love that. What we do not love, however, is seeing companies push to automate quickly based on the trending headlines, only to end in failure. Is automation the answer, or is simplification? Let us explain.  

Automation can be a powerful tool – when done correctly. Throughout our time working in automation and production processes, we have found three glaring mistakes that show up time and time again.

  1. Applying automation as a blanket: 

Be wary of anyone who says they have created the perfect automation process for you – without having even taken a single look at your facilities first. It is tempting to see others, specifically competitors, succeed with certain automation and not want to implement that yourself. It worked for them, so why not? You would be making a huge mistake by adopting a cookie-cutter, universal, blanket solution for a business that deserves a customized approach. Your business has intricacies unique to only you, so you should expect your automation to be designed specifically for that. 

  2. Using automation as a solution to any issue: 

This one seems like an easy decision, we get it. You are having problems within your supply chain, so why would automating processes create more issues? Shouldn’t it make everything more efficient? What you may be overlooking, however, is that there is waste in some of your processes that is causing issues. Or, alternatively, you have not pinpointed what the root of the problems are. You cannot create a solution without knowing the cause. One step in identifying where the problems lie is to follow a Lean approach.  

Learn More About Lean Plant Layouts

To summarize the article, implementing Lean principles into your business will allow you to gain a deeper understanding of where the excess – or waste – is in your process and how to begin to simplify it.  

  3. Underestimating the power of manual processes:  

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much automation. Just because you can automate it, does not mean you should. There is a likelihood that all a manual process needs  are some tweaks and simplification to bring it to maximum operating power. Getting back to the previous point above: if you do not have a thorough understanding of your issues, how do you know if they come from a lack of automation, or merely from a lack of simplification? Additionally, in an attempt to reduce human labor or error, you might also be reducing the benefits that can come from this. There are some human- centric systems that are proven to be extremely effective and are utilized at some of the highest-operating and most efficient facilities. One example is the Kanban system, which you can learn more about here: https://kanbanzone.com/resources/lean/toyota- production-system/

We just threw a lot of information at you. So, what are the most important things that we hope you take away from this section? Simplify, then automate. And even then, there is a sweet spot of manual vs. automation balance that is specific to your business. 

Reach out to us today to begin the process of analyzing your internal processes and creating a supply chain plan that is unique to only you, so that you can succeed and operate on new levels.

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Okay, now that we have hammered in the most important parts of the automation decision, we can move to a couple real-world supply chain examples. 

  1. ERP 

ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) is an organization software that can streamline processes in procurement, accounting, operations, and much more. The software provides a centralized system for data flow, keeping everyone from different branches of a company in the loop together. Here you can create and share best practices, collaborate productively, and see detailed reports on the efficiency of every moving part. The difficult part about automating these processes and utilizing ERP (once you have achieved simplification) is data migration and training your employees in on the system.

  2. Dispatch Software 

Dispatch software encompasses everything that happens once your products leave the warehouse. You might have a hundred different trucks going in a hundred different directions. Dispatch software is a way to hyper-manage your fleet, down to the exact location and minute so that you can give your customers highly accurate delivery times and updates. Using automation to plan routes and schedules is an easy way to reduce lost time due to route errors or communication mishaps. You don’t have to feel so disconnected from your product once it leaves the warehouse; follow it every step of the way. 

These are only two – of many – uses of automation in your supply chain. You will not be surprised when we say that which ones are right for you depends on the specific needs of your business (tired of hearing that yet?). Start a conversation with us today to see how we can help you make the visions for your company come true.