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How Long Will Your System Last? The Reality of Upgrading to Automation

By Contributing Author | 11/07/2018 | 2:45 PM

By John Garrett, Service Manager, PeakLogix

As smart e-commerce methodology proliferates the industry, many organizations are turning to automation upgrades to advance their operations. While it's easy to become hyper-focused on the presale side of integrating automation – getting the drawings right, refining the equipment specifications, negotiating pricing and timing – consideration for what happens after“go-live” is worthy of equal attention.

In our industry, the words “preventative maintenance, service, and continuous training” are often treated like four-letter words. However, the industry’s transition from traditional fulfillment to today's mission-critical, automated conveyor picking and sortation systems, complex robotics cells, warehouse control systems, and data-powered decisions creates an opportunity to reinforce the importance of each, especially maintenance.

When is the right time to think about maintenance?

The short answer is as soon as a company starts thinking about automating their fulfillment processes. As automation and complex systems continue to become more integrated, it’s clear that those who prioritize maintenance will do better long-term, from ensuring fulfillment and delivery to maximizing customer satisfaction and revenue.

While not every business has the budget to run its own maintenance department capable of keeping complicated systems running, every business can invest in the maintenance of their systems and have a strategy for ongoing service while maintaining contingency action plans for unexpected downtime.

Maintenance should be a major consideration when an initial project budget is being created, including a budget forecast for ongoing annual maintenance and training. Clients have asked us what’s the most important part of the maintenance line item in the budget? It’s owning critical spare parts and knowing what you have and where they are being stored. The industry norm, and what we advise for our clients, is to allot approximately 4-5% of the system’s total cost in an inventory of spare parts.

Many organizations may disregard the need for allocating a budget for spare parts or training while the equipment is under warranty. During my career, I’ve seen that this can be a big mistake. Eventually, all equipmentwill need maintenance, service, and spare parts. The most successful companies have invested in an inventory of critical parts as the first-line of defense for minimizing downtime.

The unintended consequences of not stocking spare parts could mean several days of lost productivity – and profits – should a system falter. Investing in this “spare parts insurance policy” could save an organization a substantial amount of time and money over the long term. When the system and its component parts are under warranty, we provide service and maintenance, as do most integrators. But if something breaks in the middle of the day or night, requiring a replacement part that’s not in stock, it can cause several days of system downtime while you’re waiting for the parts to be manufactured, shipped, and installed.

Clients aren't buying automation. They're buying solutions.

While many facilities look to automation for greater productivity or cost savings, what they’re really looking for is a solution that incorporates automation and transforms their business. This isn’t possible without a holistic solution that includes ongoing training.

When we talk with clients about training, we look beyond the buildup to the go-live date. As turnover rates remain steady at about 30% industry-wide, management needs to incorporate continuous training into everyday operations to ensure a workforce that is trained on its systems.

We’ve developed a program at PeakLogix that includes yearly system inspections to ensure our clients’ equipment is running optimally, but also to spend time training their new employees and walking their veterans through any updates or changes.

Employees can't be trained to handle every problem that may arise within a complicated system. Sometimes unanticipated issues occur and worn out parts break. It’s important for facilities to choose an integration partner that can both install the equipment and be available as needed – around the clock if necessary – to address system issues or other items that are bound to happen.

There are issues that need to be handled more urgently than a yearly service contract allows, which is why PeakLogix also offers a hotline and VPN for immediate access and support. We have many stories of clients facing challenges they thought would equate to days of downtime, but, with the right service and maintenance team in place, issues are resolved very quickly and many times with just a phone conversation as we watch the system remotely.

It’s worth noting that these systems need to be treated like your personal vehicle. We wouldn't skip the maintenance on our car or truck for years on end and expect it to keep getting us around town.

And when a machine is run two or three shifts a day, seven days a week, the need for regular maintenance is even more critical – three years of constant running might be the equivalent of ten years of run-time by the manufacturer’s guidelines.

For companies who have poor or non-existent maintenance schedules, they’re at risk of missed commitments, shutdowns, lost productivity, and reduced revenue. The companies that prioritize maintenance and training? They’re typically “Best in Class,” growing their market share and maintaining a strong distance between themselves and their competitors.

 

Garrett  John (PeakLogix)John Garrett joined PeakLogix in 2001 as an installer and has been the company’s service manager since 2008. John is responsible for support of existing and newly commissioned equipment through onsite assessments, training, repair and emergency response, troubleshooting services, and more. He provides and manages the timely and high-quality service support that minimizes customer downtime as well as oversees specialized client projects.

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