In automated distribution there is always a new product that will revolutionize the industry. But most companies are still using fairly standard and traditional distribution tactics. So what will be the tipping point for whole scale automation and product-to-person distribution?
Space? As land becomes more expensive and environmental concerns over development increase, will lack of space be the tipping point to automation?
There is less and less land accessible to the transportation trunks on which distribution relies. As fuel becomes more expensive the value of having a distribution center close to these trunks increases as well.
As high-bay warehouses which go up instead of out, become more attractive, that could be the tipping point of using space saving automation technologies.
Accuracy? With transportation cost increasing, returns become more expensive. Customer satisfaction is growing as a major component of business and accurate orders are critical.
The accuracy of 99.9% that product-to-person automation offers will be very tempting when building a new distribution center.
Labor? There will always be people that are willing to work in distribution, but are they qualified? And can you trust them in your distribution center?
As the economy strengthens and the underemployed move on, where does that leave distribution? Companies will have to spend more to retain talent. With automated order fulfillment, your workforce shifts become smaller and more skilled so keeping only the best is feasible.
Perhaps that will be the tipping point.
Throughput? All of the above lead to this hurdle. Companies want to do more with less; less time, less labor, less space. However, the level of throughput must be maintained or even increase.
Automated storage and retrieval systems and automated picking can increase throughput exponentially over manual solutions. So is throughput the tipping point?
I don’t know what the tipping point will be. It may be one of these, a combination of the above or even something entirely different. How are you preparing for the transition?
Let me know what you think the tipping point to automation will be by commenting below.