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The Balanced Business Case for Supply Chain Automation: Planning for Efficiency, Not Just Speed

In the world of supply chain management, automation is often hailed as a game-changer. It promises increased efficiency, reduced costs, and improved accuracy. As enticing as that result may be, the journey towards automation is not always as straightforward as it seems. The key to successful automation lies not just in the technology itself, but in the strategy behind its implementation.

The Allure of Automation

Supply chain automation, with its potential to speed up processes and reduce human error, is undeniably attractive. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of what automation can do: the speed, the precision, the cost savings. However, focusing solely on these aspects can lead to an oversight of a crucial element in the automation process: strategic planning.

The Importance of Strategic Planning in Automation

Strategic planning in automation involves understanding the entire supply chain process, identifying potential bottlenecks, and ensuring that the automation process addresses these issues. Without a well-thought-out strategy, automation can lead to new inefficiencies and bottlenecks.

Consider a warehouse where the picking process has been automated to handle 100 widgets per hour. This might seem like a significant improvement. However, if the packing process downstream can only handle 10 widgets per hour, a bottleneck is created. The increased speed of picking becomes irrelevant as the packing process cannot keep up, leading to inefficiencies and wasted resources. The solution here would be to either increase the speed of the packing process or adjust the picking process to match the packing process’s capacity.

The Holistic Approach to Automation

To avoid such scenarios, it’s crucial to adopt a holistic approach when planning for automation. This involves considering the entire supply chain and not just individual processes. By doing so, you can ensure that the automation process enhances overall efficiency rather than just improving individual processes.

In the warehouse scenario, the solution could be to either increase the speed of the packing process or adjust the picking process to match the packing process’s capacity. By considering the entire process, from picking to packing, you can ensure that automation truly enhances efficiency and does not simply shift bottlenecks from one place to another.

The Challenge of Implementing Automation

Implementing automation is not without its challenges. It requires a deep understanding of the existing processes, the ability to identify potential bottlenecks, and the foresight to anticipate how automation can impact the entire supply chain. It also requires a willingness to adapt and change existing processes to ensure that they align with the new automated processes.

For instance, if a company decides to automate its warehouse operations but neglects its transportation logistics, it may end up with a surplus of goods in the warehouse and no efficient way to transport them. This is why it’s crucial to consider all aspects of the supply chain when planning for automation.

The Future of Supply Chain Automation

Despite the challenges, the future of supply chain automation is bright. As the technology evolves, so will the opportunities for automation. Embracing automation can revolutionize supply chains, increasing speed, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. However, this potential can only be harnessed through careful planning and strategic implementation. By taking a holistic view of the supply chain and ensuring that automation is implemented in a way that enhances overall efficiency rather than just individual processes, companies can avoid creating new bottlenecks and truly reap the benefits of automation.

As we move forward, it’s important to remember that automation is not a silver bullet that can solve all supply chain issues. It is a tool that, when used correctly and strategically, can greatly enhance efficiency and productivity.

About the Author:

Bill Denbigh serves as the vice president of product marketing at Tecsys. Bill started working in supply chain software some 30 years ago; his entire career has been laser-focused on designing and building pragmatic supply chain solutions that address the real problems that customers are facing in their supply chain operations. Bill has worked on virtually every aspect of the software in the supply chain, gaining insight into the inner workings of some of the industry’s most complex challenges; Bill, however, tackles those challenges with a no-nonsense levelheadedness that has earned him great repute both internally and among customers.

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