Ahead of the 16th Global Forum taking place September 24-28, 2018 in Philadelphia, PA, we sat down with keynote speaker Tom Bonkenburg, Director, European Operations, St. Onge Company. Below is a preview of the interview:
"Since their beginning, robots have always lived in the ‘make’ side of the supply chain. Robots are very good at precisely repeating the same tasks hour after hour with high quality. This is a good fit for manufacturing where exacting precision is often an important requirement and robots are used to improve quality while reducing the cost of labor.
"The challenges typically found in the ‘deliver’ side, however, often require flexibility rather than exacting precision and the traditional manufacturing robots have not been a good fit. We now see new robotic concepts being developed that are about to enter the distribution arena allowing organizations to improve quality and reduce labor in the customer facing half of the supply chain. I find this an exciting development that will change the way we design our supply chains of the future."
"One of the main challenges that I see
companies facing is their outlook on capital
spending and ROI. Many corporations
require a payback of 3 years or less for new
projects and this often makes it difficult to
implement automated technologies. I see
this changing, however, as businesses are
having trouble finding quality labor and now
view automation as a longer term strategic
investment. In addition to this shift in
thinking, newer technologies coming onto
the market will be more flexible in their
finance models allowing operations to lease
rather than buy robots or move them from
site to site as needed to help keep capital
spending lower than it has been in the past.
A second challenge is that what works well in one industry does not always work in another. Every supply chain and every distribution center is different. Just because a technology works for Amazon does not mean it will work for you. Very often the CSuite does not understand this and tries to push in a technology direction that is not a good fit for them. Really understanding how the needs of your particular supply chain maps against available technology is key to making a good decision and getting buy in from the entire organization."
I try to never predict what will happen by a specific date in time because we have been disappointed by technology projections in the past. In my opinion, however, the current trends will eventually lead to automation allowing smaller DCs to be productive throughout the day and night, faster service to customers, lower inventory levels, and an overall reduction in cost. Automation will continue to shape the supply chain and changes seem to come faster and faster every year.
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