In today’s manufacturing landscape, concerns about skills, experience and even just the number of workers available have affected how organizations operate. According to Alex Ivkovic, Chief Information Officer of Cheer Pack manufacturer of eco-friendly slotted bags, “Labour shortage has been a relevant issue for Cheer Pack even before the pandemic and the recent skill shortage. Along with many other manufacturers, We searched for alternative ways to fill the human void.”
This led to the introduction of industrial robots—machines adept at checking, assembling, and packing products within a factory or warehouse, that could help free workers to other areas of operations. A recent PwC report found that more than a third of US manufacturing organizations plan to prioritize robotics and warehouse automation over the next two years.
On the store floor — literally
In Cheer Pack, robots are not big, smart human beings. Instead, the company designed a robotics strategy to offer a team of six highly efficient, self-charging robots to move critical materials in warehouse operations — at ground level. These ground-level robots take instructions from the ERP system from the Cheer Pack to move between warehouses and ensure critical materials are available where and when they are required on the manufacturing line.
It may be small, but it delivers—the company has unlocked $1.5 million in annual savings thanks to its ERP and robotics integration.
Ultimately, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is all about reducing latency from the manufacturing process, whether it’s ensuring the right parts or materials are available at the right time or assigning tasks to best unlock operators’ skills and experience. When all these elements are combined, it will help organizations to exceed consumer expectations and deliver services at critical moments.
The current state of robotics in manufacturing
The use of robots in manufacturing isn’t an entirely new phenomenon – take robotic welding commonly used in the automotive industry, or material handling applications. However, for many manufacturers, robotics will be a new concept, and the misconceptions surrounding them are often a deterrent.
Robots are best known for their use in real-time operation on a manufacturing line. On the other hand, ERP systems take a back seat approach, working behind the scenes to distribute and schedule bots.
The legacy of ERP is the coordination of operations, and while it is important to large-scale business operations, it can be enhanced by robots and vice versa. RPA already performs a similar role, by automating intelligent work flows – while bots are responsible for automating intelligent actions.
Both must be coordinated to work together to achieve the desired result, for example, entering the correct product number, order number, or ordered materials.
Solve today’s problems with tomorrow’s technology
Before integrating robots, work was a huge challenge for the Cheer Pack — and recent economic events have exacerbated existing staffing problems. The story is no different from many other industries around the world, and now the market has moved to a candidate-driven market. Research by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that as of March 2022, there were 11.5 million job vacancies in the US – so it’s no surprise that manufacturing organizations are looking for technology that can bridge human labor gaps and keep pace with growing market pressures.
“Although IFS ERP systems were already in use, Cheer Pack recognized that there was potential to add more value to their robotic strategy for implementing warehouse procedures. After rolling out an IFS solution for robotics at an event a few years ago, our decision to use IFS as part of the Our Robotics Strategy.” “The integration of six bots with the IFS ERP solution included in the Cheer Pack took nearly two months, as some challenges emerged with Wi-Fi connectivity and lane width. As a result, the Cheer Pack has upgraded its existing Wi-Fi system, especially at lower elevations, and modified the lane width to enable safe vehicle maneuvering, Ivkovic added.
Debunk myths while increasing efficiency
For many years, people have believed in the spirit that robots will replace human activity and will be responsible for many workers losing their jobs. Cheer Pack is a prime example of how this is not the case. Instead, robots work alongside humans and help with monotonous and repetitive tasks to simplify operations. “Since implementing IFS bots a few years ago, the Cheer Pack has been able to redistribute employees into other areas of the business and help find jobs that are more satisfying for them to complete. In fact, no Cheer Pack employee has ever lost a job due to automated installation,” Ivkovic explained.
The benefits are clear to see. Robots can increase efficiency while reducing costs, and the Cheer Pack has proven savings of $1.5 million annually. The bots require no human intervention or interaction, which means that store orders are sent directly to the ERP system, leaving no room for human errors. This, in turn, will increase compliance, processing times, and the overall customer experience. Unlike humans, robots can work around the clock without getting tired, which automatically reduces the risk of error. In fact, Cheer Pack robots can reposition themselves in the cargo bay as needed, with others ready to serve in their place.
Robots Plus AI equals predictive analytics
Robots are already changing the way manufacturers work in countless ways — and for the better. But as technology evolves, robots will also become a “must-have” for manufacturing organizations looking to keep pace with staff shortages, customer expectations, and competition.
Similar to the Internet of Things, the next phase of robotics will include artificial intelligence (AI) where predictive analytics can help improve robotic process flow and give manufacturers a clearer view.
As more organizations look to bots as part of their future operations, increasingly forward-thinking companies will pair them with ERP systems — and reap the expanded benefits of doing so.
From reduced costs to reduced human labor issues, ERP coordination will help companies maximize benefits depending on their industries and use cases.
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