“Automation is a process, not a one-time purchase”: a 360° look at industrial automation

Patrick Wozniak is the General Manager of ASAP Rental. We spoke to Patrick about how automation can transform the industrial logistics and handling industry.

Automation is a process, not a one-time purchase. The first steps come well before you look at any specific products. Automation needs to start with a careful analysis of your facility, its equipment and operations. It’s only after you’ve built this deep understanding of the situation and real needs that we start talking about equipment and strategy: which company’s AGVs, which equipment to automate, and so on.

The scope of automation is only expanding. More and more, industrial logistics can be automated, from the simplest tasks to the most complex. In terms of hardware, there’s automated equipment to handle almost every kind of warehouse item. Nowadays, you can see automation all along the industrial process, from raw-material handling to finished-goods storage.

There have been real jumps in robot intelligence. You see it in things like automated equipment’s ability to solve queueing and be more responsive to its environment. That environmental awareness is also improving navigation. New-generation handling robots can get right to work with much less advance preparation of the environment.

Especially in China, automation will not be optional. The old manpower economy is dying fast. A growing share of the Chinese population is moving into white-collar work. Meanwhile, overseas competition is getting cheaper and stronger. This situation is the “new normal”; automation and robotics are quickly changing from business advantage to business necessity.

If our company hasn’t given serious thought to automation, start now. You can be sure that your competition has.

Focus on agility and strategy. Automation technology changes all the time. Every year, AGVs and automated handling equipment become faster, more precise, better at working in teams, etc. At ASAP, we avoid focusing too much on “the next big thing” for equipment – even if we’re happy to source the latest and greatest hardware. Our focus is creating agile facilities where new automated equipment can be plugged into the existing systems whenever the business timing is right.

Robots are good for business. They can be good for people too. When AGVs come in, workplace accidents plummet – that means eliminating the small bumps that add to maintenance cost, and heavy-duty work incidents, where accidents can be fatal and assets badly damaged. As for daily operations, automation means you can shift human labor away from exhausting, repetitive tasks and towards jobs that create more added value for the company.

The biggest mistake people make about automation is thinking equipment-only. Automation requires more. First, you need intelligence. Here, I mean industry experience and an understanding of each specific facility’s operations. Second, you need to create a perfect match with the ERP or WMS that runs your client’s facility. The key is getting this balance, being able to thoroughly connect the hardware (your automated equipment) and the software of the facility’s systems.

The best Formula 1 car in the world can’t win without a good pilot and crew. At the end of the day, success in handling-fleet automation comes from a combination of factors: perfect upfront preparation and communication between the end-user and the supplier; efficient equipment that’s adapted to the specifics of each facility, whether it’s a simple auto-guided cart or a heavy-duty AGV; and a smart automated control system that’s integrated into the customer’s ERP or WMS systems. Establishing these fundamentals is as strategic as automation itself.

The market offer in China is huge on paper, but often paper thin. Serving high-quality automation solutions is very challenging. It’s a business requiring high skills in multiple domains, and all the details count. Looking at the Chinese market, there’s no shortage of companies that produce handling robots, but most of these products serve simple purposes: Point A to Point B and back to Point A again. That’s why the choice of a trustworthy, high-skill automation partner is so crucial.

We are an automation partner, not a producer. The difference matters. Once you start making and selling automated products, your incentives change. At ASAP, instead of selling a particular brand, we sell automation expertise and solutions, based on whatever works best for our clients. As a matter of practice, we don’t even sign exclusive contracts with automation producers. It’s about having the freedom to give the best solutions, every time.

We believe in a 360° approach because real automation solutions require a total approach, covering the full automation lifespan of an automated fleet. That means starting with the careful analysis and survey of the project, organizing and managing automated handling fleets, service and maintenance, and rental off-balance solutions including maintenance and services. It’s a big scope, but the only way to get automation right every time.

ABOUT ASAP RENTAL

ASAP Rental is your strategic partner in Asia for renting, organizing and managing Smart handling fleets. ASAP’s Digital Fleet Management platform allows active monitoring and rich performance data that can simultaneously assess whole fleets and individual drivers, down to the minute.

ASAP provides a full menu of options for optimizing your handling fleet and equipment. If tracking and servicing your fleet has become a time-consuming headache, ASAP is ready and able to partner with you, taking on the full weight of fleet management so you can better pursue core business goals.