Other Voices: Seven tips for extending the life of logistics assets

How to improve performance by identifying risk, planning accordingly, pursuing upgrades and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

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Editor’s Note: The following column by John Leonard, director of client care sales, Wynright Corporation and John Dillon, senior vice president, client care, Wynright Corporation, is part of Modern’s Other Voices column. The series features ideas, opinions and insights from end-users, analysts, systems integrators and OEMs. Click here to learn about submitting a column for consideration.

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In sports, it is often said that the best offense is a good defense. That can be as true in warehousing and distribution as on the athletic field. Here are seven things that can help optimize the contribution of your warehouse and distribution center to your company’s success in this increasingly tightening global logistics market.
 
1. Create an asset risk profile
Profiling all key assets is one of the first and most important defensive moves you can make. This should encompass all assets, including software, controls, peripheral electrical devices and mechanical equipment. Technology vendors often have a good idea of what you have installed, so you might get started by polling them. From there, rate each asset per its strategic importance to your business: critical, high, medium or low, depending on its impact on operational continuity.

2. Consider replacing failed components of critical mechanical assets before retiring the entire asset
Critical mechanical systems such as conveyors, sorters, and automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRSs) are likely your most capital intensive assets and subject to wear and performance degradation. Friction from a worn component, for example, may push plant noise levels beyond OSHA acceptable levels, possibly indicating that the system has run its course. But sometimes you can avoid replacing the entire system by simply replacing a worn component with a newer one designed for quieter operation. This also reduces the downtime a total system replacement might require, provides greater installation flexibility and can often be paid from maintenance rather than capital budgets.

3. Update your spares strategy based on risk profile
Stand-alone components such as scanners, I/O modules, actuators and servo motors will wear routinely and must be replaced at planned intervals. Quite often companies design their spares strategy when the parts are purchased, but both the parts and your business may change. While some vendors do designate the expected life of each device, others do not, leaving you to make your best guess.

4. Consider a PLC upgrade
The closer your PLC to the end of its life, the greater is the possibility of failure and downtime. Upgrading to a more modern PLC illustrates how good defense drives offense. Modern PLCs are more likely to have higher bandwidth to support analytical tools that can help identify trends that can extend the life of the systems and optimize performance. Additionally, they might have features such as Ethernet capability, which can help drive integration of the WCS with other automation systems.

5. Upgrade your operating software
Software upgrades are another illustration of good defense driving offense. Microsoft, for example, no longer supports Windows 2003, so if you are still running it, you are on your own. Connecting any legacy or third party applications to your WCS will be risky and if you are running Windows 2007 and 2008, you will be in the same situation in 2020, when Microsoft pulls the plug on them. Upgrading to Windows 10, however, could help maximize performance and reduce risk of maintaining other assets. Thin client solutions then become possible, enabling consolidation of IT architecture on virtual as opposed to physical servers. You also gain advantages in software maintenance, disaster recovery and other areas, including the reduced need to purchase and maintain physical servers.

6. Consider automating warehouse execution
Warehouse execution systems (WES) provide a higher layer of coordination of your WCS and ASRS assets. By automating both execution and workflow, they support optimal integration of all automation resources and human interaction with them, extending system life while improving performance.

7. Foster a culture of continuous improvement
Following the suggestions in this post will help you keep your competitive edge, but sustaining that edge requires a commitment to continuous improvement. Productivity usually improves with strategically chosen technology upgrades, but due to factors such as inadequate performance monitoring it eventually wanes. Continuously asking how you can make good systems run better will guide decisions that can help you maximize return on assets, while also defending against incursion by competitors and gaining the offensive muscle that will have them worrying about you.


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From the September 2017 Modern Materials Handling Issue
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