At first glance, you may think implementing an automation solution for your e-commerce fulfillment center is a daunting task, fraught with risks. Will I put my SLAs at risk? Will I get the increases in the key metrics and ROI as promised? Will it really work in my facility?
While these are certainly all valid concerns, the reality is that today’s robotic automation solutions can be implemented fairly easily with minimal risks. In many cases, you can install an automation solution within your existing facility within 30-45 days – without making any changes to the infrastructure.
But it really helps to have a plan.
I’ve led a number of Customer Success organizations over the years and I’ve learned the value of sharing and leveraging best practices. This becomes particularly important when deploying robotics and automation solutions for mission-critical e-commerce fulfilment centers because, as they say, “failure is not an option”!
If you are considering deploying a robotics solution in your facility, here are my 8 best practices I’ve used when deploying our autonomous mobile robotics at some of the world’s major 3PLs and retail brands:
1. Define Your Goals & Objectives Upfront
It is important to define the specific goals and objectives of the implementation upfront. Definition of the goals and objectives should include both the tactical and strategic goals and include a very specific timeline. Identify each major milestone of the project as well as the related KPIs you will track and measure. Because many e-Commerce fulfillment centers have peak seasons, it’s important to identify the specific requirements and goals as well as resources and support required.
2. Involve Your Key Stakeholders
Implementing a robotic automation solution is generally very straight forward, but having the right resources engaged upfront is critical to success. You should create a collaborative, cross functional project team that should generally include an Executive Sponsor, Operations Management, Network Engineering and IT support for WMS integration. Larger organizations may also have an Innovation Engineering or Solutions Design representative to provide guidance in overall company innovation strategy. This approach helps identify critical issues, challenges, and opportunities early in the process, and allows sharing of critical experiential and operational knowledge.
3. Identify and Understand Your Specific Needs
Many automation solutions today have “out-of-the-box functionality” to meet the most demanding requirements of today’s e-commerce operations. During the implementation process it’s important to review your current “happy path workflow” and exception handling processes to identify refinements for your specific implementation. Most automation solutions such as Locus are flexible and can be easily configured to meet very specific processes and workflow requirements. Also, make sure your provider can easily make configuration changes in the future. This provides significant flexibility to respond to changes that might occur due to growth, changes to the infrastructure or workflow.
4. Get the Labor Model Right
To optimize the ROI and UPH rates of an automation solution, Operations Managers need to have the right ratio of picking associates to robots. The right ratio depends on volume, SLAs, floor space, travel distances and other key metrics. In our case, our Locus Solutions Engineering team collects historical data upfront then works with the Operations team during design and after deployment to refine the system to yield the highest productivity and performance.
5. Properly integrate with your WMS
Getting the integration with your WMS right is critical for a successful deployment and well worth the investment. Seamless integration allows the WMS to easily transfer the orders and priorities to the Locus system and allows Locus to communicate back to the WMS when the task has been completed. Once linked, the integration allows a holistic experience and extension of the customer WMS to support all the functionally of LocusEmpower. We have developed API connectors with WMS providers such as JDA, Manhattan Associates to make integration relatively easy. For homegrown or highly customized WMS solutions, we have a full set of custom APIs to support the implementation.
6. Make Worker Training Easy & Fun
Due to the nature of temporary workers and high turnover rate in fulfillment centers, it’s critical that ease of use and minimal training time are very important in implementing a robotic solution. For example, with LocusEmpower, it couldn’t be easier. Our robots use a touch screen with a very intuitive interface that features product descriptions and images that quickly train workers and let them be productive in minutes, not days.
7. Use Data & Analytics to Continuously Improve Performance
As mentioned earlier, measurement is important to ensure you’re tracking to your key goals and objectives. Most automation solutions today produce a tremendous amount of data that can be used to optimize performance. At Locus, we have a process to continuously monitor system data to determine what tweaks if any, that need to get made to the deployment to optimize the UPH and LPH rates. Locus displays much of this data in a custom Locus Management Portal, allowing our clients to continuously measure and track the performance against KPIs – in real time.
8. Communicate Constantly
Understandably, communication is fundamental to any successful implementation. In fact, it is the most critical factor to encourage collaboration and ensure a successful implementation. Near constant communication among the team members and your vendors provides a great basis for a great partnership, trust and relationship.
Of course, there are many other elements that factor into successfully implementing a robotics solution. In my experience, paying attention to these 8 main areas has allowed us at Locus to consistently deliver smooth, fast, and truly seamless implementations for our customers. If you’d like to learn more about how we can build a collaborative, flexible, and scaleable solution for you, let me know. I’ll be happy to share some more best practices!