As business grows in the beverage industry, owners are moving to more automation in their facilities. Some of the biggest distributors are incorporating automation in storage, picking, buffering, and palletizing. These solutions include everything from voice-directed picking to high-speed sortation. For them, automation is the best way to keep up with their demand. For others, though, automation is too costly. Some may sparsely incorporate automation and still rely heavily on manual labor. While dabbling in automation will help beverage companies keep up with orders without breaking the bank, there are some issues to consider.
The first concern to think about is labor. According to the Modern Materials Handling article, “Beverage distributors: Masters of the end-to-end supply chain” by Josh Bond, the labor economics of beverage picking is worse than any other industry. The strenuous nature of the job creates a high turnover rate. Employees may lift as much as 40,000 pounds in one shift. Bond quotes David Clary, system sales account manager for Intelligrated: “If you implement technologies or methods to increase employee pick rates, then at a certain point all you’re doing is driving up employee turnover or injury rates.” It is crucial to ensure you’re not increasing the amount available to pick without ensuring you have the labor and/or resources to handle the increase.
Many companies are moving to a pick-to-order system versus a pick-to-route. This just-in-time initiative has been successful at reducing inventory costs along with waste. When it comes to pallets, automated systems can break down pallets into cases, so there is a tendency to do just that. However, Brian Keiger, sales manager of general industry for Grenzebach Corp. warns against that in the MMH article. He says, “One of the artful things to do is to keep product in the densest form of handling for as long as possible…You’ve got to allow for all these slow-moving SKUs…When they’re palletized, nobody buys the slow-movers in layers. Instead of eight SKUs on a pallet, you have eight on a layer…A facility might do 80% of its business with 30 of 600 SKUs. For those fast-moving SKUs, you want to keep them in pallet form first and layer form second.”
Another trend in orders is the half pallet. It allows for faster deliveries because it can fit through the front door, serve as in-store displays, and lend to faster shelf stocking. However, with half pallets, drivers aren’t using the same equipment to safely and quickly unload the truck. Here is a case where equipment like a power tug would benefit the driver and the delivery. Truck drivers, loaders, and unloaders, will use a power tug to unload more product at one time in a safe manner without strain. What should be reiterated, however, is the mobility of the tugs. Load Movers are tugs made for easy maneuvering, so they can still fit through the front door and travel through the aisles with ease.
Power tugs may also be the answer to a partially-automated facility. They have been used in several industries to streamline productions – they’re known to increase productivity and reduce waste. Load Movers make an excellent addition to a just-in-time operation.
Full automation isn’t for everyone. However, some automation is paramount to any beverage company that wants to grow. With only partial, automation, however, extra factors need to be addressed. Don’t overlook the needs that change creates. A business will not fare any better if automation creates more stress for your employees. Be sure to look into all options and anticipate all problems when gearing up to grow.
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