“More Thought, Less Steel” – What Does it Mean?

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Published June 15, 2017

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As a supply chain professional specializing in the design and implementation of distribution and fulfillment operations, I get opportunities to frequently tour Distribution Centers (DC) and Fulfillment Centers (FC).  A growing and concerning trend that I have encountered during the past five to ten years,  over automation of these operations.  In the past, over automation was limited to extending conveyor paths and accumulation, with recent advances, this has now extended into excess implementation of robotics, goods to man, and unit sortation solutions, in which the users are finding it difficult to obtain the payback promised.

Let me be clear that I am not against this technology. I have recommended and implemented these systems with tremendous results.  However, the recent trend for some material handling systems providers seems to be recommending these solutions without providing alternative, less automated options for comparative purposes.  Automation should not be added or increased simply to satisfy a single issue or exception as that will rarely deliver a return on investment.  Instead, to truly understand their value, automated solutions need to be properly vetted against the full spectrum of the user’s operational requirements. 

At Tompkins International, we believe DCs are not properly engineered, but instead simply apply the latest in automation technologies.  Our tagline “More Thought, Less Steel” means that each of our designs are engineered from the ground up, starting with requirements and evaluating varying degrees of technology and automation, to find the optimal blend of order cycle time, flexibility, space, equipment, systems, and labor.  Our analytical approach results in world-class distribution operations that are economically justified and provide efficient, straight forward functional designs.

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