Material handling is an indispensable and often overlooked part of manufacturing, logistics and supply chain industries which together represent about 20% of the US economy. It deals with the movement, storage, protection and control of materials in a confined space through manual, semi-automated or automated means. Manual handling involves the usage of a production worker’s limbs to haul equipment and materials.  Automated Material Handling (AMH) refers to the use of any kind of automation to reduce or eliminate the need for humans to move materials, sort and store them or track their location. Provided there is technical and economical feasibility, the benefits of such a system is too vast for any business to ignore. 

What are Automated Material Handling Systems?

A very crucial by-product of the technological boom has been the advent and use of automation in industries to improve efficiency and productivity and to reduce costs. The different kinds of AMH systems in use include:

1) Automated Guided Vehicle: These include Driverless Trains, Pallet Trucks and Unit Load Carriers. They are independently operated and follow a defined guidance circuit with their own propellers. These wonder machines are employed in almost every industry including paper, metal and general manufacturing. 

2) Conveyor System: These include rollers, skate wheels, belts or in-floor towlines. They are especially useful in the safe and efficient transportation of heavy or bulky materials in large volumes, often from one floor to another, which when done by human labor would be strenuous or expensive. These are commonly used in the automotive, agricultural, pharmaceutical and aeronautical industries.

3) Miscellaneous: Other systems include scissor lift tables, tilt tables, dock lifts, dock levelers, check-in machines, sorters, singulators, stackers and trolleys. These are used for efficient assortment and organization. All of these save time and reduce the need for further human intervention.

Benefits of Automated Material Handling Systems:

Better paid jobs and quality control:

Most critics of AMH systems cite the loss of a company’s manual workforce as a major argument against their use. They fear that the implementation of automation has and will result in major displacement of manual labor, workers who work diligently for a modest pay just enough to take care of their necessities. However, with proper selective implementation of automation, not only will workers not lose their jobs but they can also make the crucial transition to a better-paid and better-skilled job with added security and fringe benefits. They can now work as supervisors and managers of automated equipment. This also leaves the repetitive and monotonous jobs of quality management and inspection to the far more capable “eyes” and “ears” of automated inspection equipment. Even the smallest of imperfections can be detected and sorted out.

2) Greater Productivity and Efficiency:

AMH systems greatly reduce the time taken to perform the crucial tasks of movement, assortment, storage and identification of materials. Not only that, they are also much more diligent and fault-proof that manual forms of handling. They are programmed to be efficient and have strict guidelines and thresholds which allow them to carry out the same task indefinitely with the same level of efficiency. This results in a more efficient overall system with less errors. On the human side, the elimination of monotonous and menial tasks results in greater worker motivation. Workers will be incentivized to rise up to the challenge of newer, more complex tasks and will be more likely to work harder and more efficiently.  This is because they have something new and exciting to look forward to on their way to work instead of doing the same repetitive tasks over and over again.

3) Reduced costs:

Companies can also expect to have their overall fixed costs reduced. This will ensure that the return on investment turns positive and allows the company to generate more profit in the long run. Companies can hold onto their existing workforce better and do not have the pressure of hiring more workers to increase productivity. This reduces fixed labor costs. AMH systems also save a lot of time. This allows companies to shift production and shipping in response to market changes in a swift and flexible manner. It gives them a competitive edge over their rivals as the ability to respond quickly to consumer demand results in increased revenue and market share. They can also ship out more products in a shorter time which results in increased sales revenue.

4) Better Workplace Safety:

In 2019, over 2.3 million workers died in workplace related accidents, a number that only increases with each passing year. A large chunk of those accidents occur in factories with heavy or sharp machinery. The reason for the accidents is the interconnected nature of the processes that are carried out. Workers frequently handle hazardous machinery and are often directly in the line of harm. Using AMH reduces the possibility of such accidents by designating clear spaces for workers and for machines. This keeps workers out of harm’s bay while they can continue to work through software and oversight. The use of self-propelling and independent transport systems also eliminates the need for human operation. This reduces accidents related to the movement of materials, especially those in conveyor belts, cranes and forklifts. AMH systems are also programmed with safety measures in mind, which they follow with the utmost diligence. All of this results in a safer workplace. 

5) Better Access to Data:

With the use of ERP or WMS software, information between each individual unit in a factory can be properly stored and shared for better access and operation. This reduces the need for manual spreadsheets and timetables for production and shipping and allows the machinery to follow a set schedule in a fool-proof manner. This also allows workers to respond accordingly to the set timetable.

6) Proper Utilization of Space:

Due to the superior organizing capabilities of AHM systems, space and inventory in warehouses can be optimized for peak efficiency. This reduces improper sorting and cluttering of materials as the system follows a strict identification and sorting system. The space that is saved can then be used to house more materials and equipment. Overall inventory management to reach peak capacity is smoother and more efficient.

In conclusion, AMH systems have a plethora of benefits and is well worth the investment. The efficiency of these systems can be improved even further with the use of proper software. Odoo provides the best software solutions with a smart UI and reliable server support to ensure that your systems keep working at their best. Syncoria is a digital transformation firm and an Odoo ready partner.