Automation’s Image Improving

March 7, 2011
The Integrated Systems and Controls (ISC) Council of Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) has released Sentiment Towards Automation in Warehousing, Distribution and Manufacturing, the second in a series of Automation Reports. Several key takeaways important to the material handling and logistics industry emerged.

There is a high degree of satisfaction among the material handling automation users surveyed. Eighty-one percent of manufacturing respondents and 86% of warehousing/distribution center respondents are satisfied, very satisfied or extremely satisfied with their systems.

More than 90% of users report that automation is an asset to their operation, a career enhancer and a competitive advantage to their company.

Of these facilities with automation, 76% plan to add more automation in the next 18 months.

Despite a challenging economy, 61% of manufacturing users and 53% of warehousing/distribution center users say current business conditions are influencing their plans to buy more automation hardware. Meanwhile, 42% of manufacturing users and 50% of warehousing/distribution center users say the economy is influencing their decision to buy software.

Among non-users, however, the perceived cost of automation is still the number one reason why non-users say they have not considered automation or considered and rejected plans to automate (53%). Forty-seven percent (47%) say automation is tough to justify to top management.

Still, roughly a third of non-users believe that automation may be considered for their facilities in the next 18 months due to increased sales, business growth and an improved economy.

According to the survey, automation has made inroads in every department in manufacturing and warehousing/distribution facilities. In both instances, automation is most prevalent in processes with a high labor component. These include order picking, shipping and order consolidation in warehousing/distribution and the production line, finished goods handling and assembly cells in manufacturing.

However, there are still barriers to justifying and implementing an automation project. Respondents were asked to identify the leading drivers influencing their decision to invest in automation and the leading deterrents that are preventing them from investing in automation. Respondents focused on the economic benefits that go directly to the bottom line of their operations, including cost justification, labor savings, return on investment (ROI), time savings, increased productivity and the economy.

Additionally, respondents were asked whether material handling automation matches their expectations for their systems: Ninety-four percent (94%) of manufacturers and 88% of warehousing/distribution respondents say their systems meet or exceed their expectations.

The survey was completed in December over lists compiled by MHIA, Material Handling & Logistics and other material handling publications. Affinity Research Solutions conducted the survey on behalf of ISC.

A total of 529 qualified responses were received, including 339 (64%) respondents from warehousing/distribution and 190 (36%) from manufacturing. Respondents represented industries as varied as food, beverage and tobacco, pharmaceutical, apparel, consumer electronics and machinery. All respondents were involved in purchasing decisions for material handling equipment and related systems, technologies and services.

Fifty-five percent (55%) worked in automated facilities and 45% worked in non-automated facilities. Of those working in automated facilities, 75% of the respondents were involved in warehousing while 25% were involved in manufacturing.