Earlier this year, material handling company Twinlode Automation named Richard Kooistra as its new vice president of automation. Twinlode provides high-density storage systems and automation systems for warehouse operators in the food, beverage, automotive and other industries. Kooistra is a long-time supply chain veteran who previously worked at Swisslog. He spoke to Aftermarket Business World about how automation can improve warehouse and logistics operations.
Q. What do you see as the most critical challenges companies face when it comes to material handling and warehouse operations?
One big challenge I see is, how do you deal with e-commerce and omni-fulfillment? With e-commerce, you get a lot of customers who order more than what they require, then there is a returns factor. How do you deal with those returns? How do you put them back into inventory, and when do you do it? That’s a huge challenge.
The labor force is another challenge. There is a distinct supply shortage of workers. Another challenge I see is being able to track and trace throughout supply chain. Do companies have the software technology in order to trace goods right from manufacturing through distribution to the end user?
Productivity is a huge one. What I see, especially in distribution, is that there is a lot of employee turnover. When you have that turnover, how can you most quickly get those new people up to speed and highly productive?
Q. How can material handling solutions and other technologies help these companies?
You have to be able to look at the entire supply chain and look at different methods of picking. Companies are looking at goods-to-person picking that involves some type of automation. If you can move the goods to the picker at a fixed workstation, then you can get the same level of productivity whether that person has been there two weeks or 20 years. There’s no tribal knowledge required to get a high pick rate.
Q. What new innovations in material handling technology do you think are having the most impact on how warehouses operate?
The first step is to have the right WMS, and not all companies have a proper WMS.
Number two, you have to find the right picking technology that will work for your company, with your culture and in your building. There are so many different platforms, from voice to multi-level pick modules, forward pick buffers, or shelving units that are moved around by robots and bring the goods to the person at the picking station.
There are multiple ways of getting goods to a workstation, whether that’s through a roving robot on the floor to a roving robot on a grid system. Eventually, you’ll see the worker at the workstation replaced by a robot that does the picking. We’ll also see collaborative robots that can work right alongside a human.