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Intralogistics: The need to maintain momentum

19 November 2021

At a time when the digital transformation of the intralogistics industry is accelerating, it is essential that maintenance keeps pace, as James Billam explains

Every industry has undergone a forced reckoning as it adapts to the COVID-19 pandemic. More orders are being placed online and growth in demand is putting huge pressure on automated supply chains to fulfil a greater number of orders faster.

Businesses invest heavily in their logistics infrastructure and, understandably, expect their supply chain solution to perform to the very highest standards. A machinery or component failure is likely to result in a costly operational shutdown with hundreds – or even thousands – of orders being delayed.

Once a company has installed a system, ongoing investment will ensure that the solution and supporting software operate at peak performance throughout its lifespan. Servicing and maintenance programmes are now seen as critical to ensure that the business sees a return on its investment. Put simply, to get the most out of the initial investment, operational uptime must be maximised. Repairs or replacements must be kept to a minimum and the technology updated.

Supply chain operators should focus on integrating a comprehensive range of service and support solutions and take this opportunity to engage with their solutions partners who can expertly guide them on maintenance and servicing options.

Preventative maintenance reduces costs

The biggest priority is having access to service teams with the skills to help customers overcome the challenges posed by a growth in e-commerce. Preventative maintenance, where a company undertakes scheduled servicing of machinery, is fundamental in promoting reliability and longevity of performance of automated supply chains. Scheduled maintenance programs should be tailored to support specific machinery requirements and have the flexibility to fit in with the operational demands of the business.

Over time, a system will begin to show signs of wear and tear that will need to be reviewed on a regular basis to maintain maximum performance. Damaged parts can be identified, refurbished, or replaced as part of an ongoing maintenance programme. This preventative approach, whereby areas of poor performance are rapidly identified and fixed, is far more cost effective than waiting for a machine failure scenario that results in a shutdown.

In the future, the world will begin to see a slow return to normal that will start to ease pressure on supply chain systems. When this time comes, access to service teams and robust maintenance programmes will continue to play a critical role to keep the supply chains rolling.

Software key to a predictive future

The future is about investing in the technologies that will enable the world to move towards a predictive approach to supply chain maintenance and management. Software is going to be fundamental to this predictive future.

With the right automation hardware, underpinned by big data analytics, IoT sensor technology, and warehouse management systems, supply chain operators will be able to move from reactive, to proactive, to predictive maintenance. The benefit is that it significantly reduces the lifetime cost of automation while delivering agility, reliability, and efficiency into a supply chain solution.

Companies should be looking to invest in these new technological advancements. For instance, Dematic offers its customers a smart, cloud-based asset management solution. This unifies all operational, maintenance, and equipment data within and across facilities, maximising uptime and providing actionable intelligence through real-time alerts, analytics, and visualisation.

Software-based solutions like this provide up-to-the-minute information about the performance of specific equipment to onsite teams, giving them the data they need to ensure everything operates at maximum efficiency.

This IT-led approach to supply chain system management is the future as it means service teams do not have to wait until a problem occurs. Minimising disruption is important as consumer expectations have shifted and expedient delivery is now the most valuable commodity.

Almost half of all deliveries are next day services, and many customers will abandon a brand if they face unexpected delays once an order has been placed. Businesses cannot afford maintenance-related delays if they want to retain consumer loyalty.

Cloud delivers data monitoring bandwidth

Companies with intralogistics operations are increasingly looking to move their systems to the cloud. The cloud offers flexibility and scalable computing power to meet the demand for a more intelligent and responsive supply chain as software can be managed, updated, and maintained remotely.

The cloud delivers the bandwidth to capture data from automated processes within the supply chain to help facilitate resource management and reduce machinery malfunctions. As well as tracking the location of items, data can be gathered from multiple sensors located within the entire hardware portfolio.

Monitoring of motor performance, temperature fluctuations, and machine vibrations, for example, provides a clear picture of how any piece of equipment is functioning. This enables service teams to run a programme of predictive maintenance and to detect mechanical failures before they become critical.

Using the power of cloud computing, software-based warehouse management systems can be linked to additional data analytics tools across the supply chain to help businesses identify and analyse trends and patterns in demand and fulfilment. Having real-time access to business intelligence significantly improves efficiency and end-to-end fulfilment times and gives companies the ability to connect, monitor, and manage their entire supply chain infrastructure.

A future driven by artificial intelligence

Businesses are also now beginning to explore how they might use Artificial Intelligence (AI) within their warehouse execution systems. For example, a computer algorithm capable of adapting its behaviour might learn to analyse data trends to deliver fulfilment forecasts, make efficiency decisions and even assign maintenance tasks.

AI will assist in machine-to-machine communication and the exploitation of the internet of things (IoT). This learning technology will be integrated into automated machinery to deliver self-monitoring capabilities that can analyse and diagnose issues requiring remote maintenance or alert supply chain managers to where intervention is needed.

New generations of technicians will require a different skill set as their jobs shift from manual intervention to a role focused on software and AI. The challenge will be to use this advancement in technology to help companies increase productivity, develop more highly skilled roles, and become more economically and environmentally sustainable.

The requirement to handle more products in a shorter period of time is key to remaining competitive. The entire supply chain process has been supercharged and any downtime has a major impact. With distribution centres running at near capacity to meet delivery times, servicing and maintenance programmes have become ever more critical.

James Billam is regional maintenance manager for customer services at Dematic Northern Europe.

For further information, visit: https://www.dematic.com/en-gb/