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Why automation in logistics is booming

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Toyota's Tom Walters outlines the benefits of automation in logistics, where to start with automation, how automation doesn’t need to be complex and introduces the company's automation offer.

Today, Toyota Material Handling has successfully delivered more than 250 automation projects with over 800 automated guided vehicles in operation across Europe. These figures are set to grow exponentially in the immediate years ahead.

Over the years the company has seen first-hand the introduction of automated material handling equipment into the industry, the subsequent increase of its capability and significance to clients in terms of return on investment.

The benefits of automation in logistics

There are several reasons why automation in logistics is booming of late. Firstly, there is a shortage of skilled people to operate forklifts. Secondly, the operational cost of automation is more often lower than manual operation. Thirdly, this era of e-commerce requires a need for streamlined delivery, which forces logistics providers to plan and predict their logistics flow more consistently to achieve next-day or even same-day delivery. Furthermore, an automated truck drives the route as it is programmed, reducing the risk of damaging the infrastructure, the load, or causing any injuries. Along with that, in terms of environment-friendliness, an automated guided vehicle (AGV) also uses less energy and wears less quickly.

Further strengths of AGVs are that they are good at performing repetitive tasks and noting patterns in large amounts of data, however they need precise instructions to create value. Humans on the other hand, are good at understanding context and adopting to new environments, though can sometimes get tired and lose focus. So, the best solution is to have people and machines work together to a certain extent, to achieve the best of both worlds.

Where to start with automation

In the logistics industry, automation might not be the answer for every logistics flow. It all comes down to eliminating waste (zero muda) and adding value where possible.

When it comes to automated solutions, the trend in the European market is changing: there is a bigger demand than supply, and it is increasing even more. Configurable standardised automation packages can help customers with automation needs to reach their targets quicker.

An automation journey for customers consists of three steps:

  1. First, the supplier needs to understand your business, the logistics flow on your site and your main challenges.
  2. Secondly, is what we call ‘the optimisation phase’, since you don’t want to “automate the fat” as we call it. Here your processes will first be optimised before starting automation, according to the kaizen philosophy (continuous improvement).
  3. Finally, there is the realisation: every customer is unique, but everyone should be provided with the best possible solution: the combination of benefits between man and machine. This solution can be based on a configurable portfolio which is tailored to your needs: step-by-step automation.

Modular thinking: Automation doesn’t need to be complex

Automated solutions can seem unique and complex, but the material flow is logical and systematically moves throughout the site. With a systematic approach you can easily find commonly used functions that could be applied into configurable modules for repetitive use. This is the Toyota way of working: separating the repetitive parts from the unique, one-of-a-kind solutions, within the process.

Let’s take a closer look. By going to the source and applying genchi genbutsu, visiting customer production sites, we can find common elements: inbound docks, material buffers, picking and kitting areas for preparing goods, production area, final goods storage, and the outbound area. As the material flows through the site, it passes these main processes:

  • Put-away: moving incoming goods to the material buffer
  • Replenishment: feeding material to production
  • Return handling: such as empty pallets, scrap
  • Point-to-point transport: within the production areas
  • Finished goods: taking finished goods to a temporary storage and then to the outbound area for shipping

We then examine ways of starting orders, station arrangements and strategies for selecting destinations in these processes. All these processes have common and unique characteristics and can be reduced to a more generic level. This level describes a generic “flow configuration” that could be tweaked to support any of the above main processes. Using this approach for the repetitive parts, we can focus on the unique processes in a more efficient way.

By applying our Toyota Values, we work together with our customer to determine their specific challenges, and to tackle them step by step through teamwork and respect. By breaking the process down into smaller modules, it is just a matter of putting the right pieces together to create the best solution for each customer.

Toyota’s automated offer

We deliver complete integrated logistics solutions from concept to implementation. Whether you are looking into increasing your output, flexibility or resilience; our Systems Integration division will work with you in designing systems based on your data and needs. Our areas of speciality are in state-of-the-art automation applications for order preparation, product sortation and high-density storage technologies. Controlled with modular Warehouse Execution Systems (WES), these are designed to optimise our customers’ material handling operations. We will execute and commission full turn-key projects and support your operation through our service network.

We also work together with our sister company, Vanderlande, a global market leader for value-added logistic process automation, along which we offer a wide range of fully automated solutions for airports, warehouses and the parcel industry.

To optimise efficincy and flexibility in your warehouse, Toyota offers different types of automation products and components, supporting you in your journey to automate material handling processes.

These include T-OneToyota’s in-house developed automation software which acts as an integration layer between the Toyota Autopilot automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and existing infrastructure such as warehouse management systems, goods identification and other material handling equipment.

Toyota’s Service Concept is a structured approach to keep your forklifts moving. We do not only provide you with quality products, we also support you with quality service. Customer satisfaction is a priority, and we do everything we can to meet your expectations. Our service plans keep your business up and running and help you get the most out of your trucks, whatever the make, so you can plan your operation with complete confidence.

You can combine your service with our I_Site fleet management tool which uses online data from your Toyota AGVs to measure, analyse, and maximise the performance of each connected machine. By taking control of your entire truck fleet you will be able to strengthen your long-term business profitability.

Our broad range of AGVs is titled Autopilots. Within the Autopilots range is automated warehouse trucks (for different types of material handling), tow trains (for Item handling and just-in-time delivery), carts (for towing light goods) and semi-automated shuttles (to store and retrieve palletised goods from shuttle racking.

Essentially, as the world’s number one Toyota Material has everything it takes to guide you from concept to installation and beyond, step by step in the world of flexible logistics with automated solutions.

To find out more about how Toyota can provide flexible logistics with automated solutions click here, visit www.toyota-forklifts.co.uk or email tom.walters@uk.toyota-industries.eu

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