Automate Differently Part 2: Why A Human-Centered Approach Is Critical To Automation Success Today
Join industry experts, Seth Patin, CEO Accelogix & LogistiVIEW, John Stikes, VP Automation for Accelogix, and Lance Anderson, CRO & VP Market Development for LogistiVIEW during this round table discussion hosted by Accelogix that will highlight the LogistiVIEW Software Automation Platform.
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[Seth Patin 0:02] Hello everybody and welcome to the second webinar in our “Automate Differently” webinar series. Focused on the human-centered approach for automation success. With me today, as always, I have our excellent panel, John Stikes, our VP of Automation at Accelogix and Lance Anderson, CRO at LogistiVIEW. My name is Seth Patin and I am the CEO and founder of LogistiVIEW and Accelogix. I started my career at RedPrairie over 15 years ago and I’ve spent pretty much my entire career in warehouse software and automation, integrating hundreds of different automation solutions and software systems. Over the last nine years, Accelogix has grown to become a leader in implementation warehouse software with a large practice in the implementation of Blue Yonder, or JDA/RedPrairie WMS. Through the course of my experience in WMS, I saw gaps in how computer systems interacted with people and how they siloed people from fixed automation and that led me to found LogistiVIEW in 2014. LogistiVIEW is a leader in augmented reality vision-based mobility and warehouse connectivity. Next, I’d like Lance to introduce himself and his history in automation as well.
[Lance Anderson 1:12] Hi everyone, Lance Anderson here nice to meet some of you. And see some of you again on our second edition of this webinar series. Some do you know I spent about twenty years of my career in the logistics and warehouse space predominantly on people-first operations and processes with companies such as Realtime Solutions, FK Logistics, Beumer, and others and now finally here at LogistiVIEW. Prior to that, I spent a few years at Vuzix Corporation smart glasses manufacturer and provider where I came across LogistiVIEW as they were doing amazing things in the warehouse space and now we’re here together to talk about software automation with you today. Looking forward to it.
[Seth Patin 1:56] Thanks, Lance. Also with us is John Stikes VP of Automation, Accelogix. John, can you introduce yourself as well?
[John Stikes 2:05] Love to. Glad to be able to talk with everybody again on the second webinar and quite frankly it’s one of the topics I’m most excited about talking about is how do we bring humans to the center of our design philosophy? Just as a matter of background like Seth asked, I started my career as an operation lead and I worked my way up in operations with Walmart been about 10 years there in various operations, functions across other major building footprints and then went into warehouse automation and lead a reliability engineering and maintenance team and warehouses across North America and Europe for a large e-commerce company.
What we really learned was how does warehouse automation affects humans and then coming from an operations background, understanding what warehouse automation does to humans in the human experience in the warehouses. Since then, I lead Innovation at DB Schenker North and South America for a few years where I first ran across Accelogix and LogistiVIEW and loved the way that their system and workflow engine integrated with our opportunities in our various warehouse management systems there. And then subsequently have been able to come over and work directly with Accelogix and LogistiVIEW in a meaningful way. Look forward to this topic.
[Seth Patin 3:19] Thanks, John. We’re talking about a human-centered approach for automation success. Well, first of all, this is number two in the series that I mentioned earlier so the first iteration, “Why’s Software the Future of Warehouse Automation” is already on our website and available for download so we invite you to go check that out if you haven’t already and then stay tuned over the next several weeks we are going to be releasing two more iterations of our path toward next-generation automation.
So in our first webinar discussion about software automation introducing the concept, we talked about the digital workforce and if you haven’t heard or you haven’t gone through that webinar yet, I’m going to reintroduce the digital workforce here because I think it’s an important thing to really consider and think about. For many years we thought about the workforce as being primarily human workers and certainly, that is still the most important part of the aim of our workforce. But as technology advances, there’s a constant conversation about how robotics and automated machines in artificial intelligence can drive further success for the optimization within the warehouse. And what we realized over the course of the last several years was that really, we need to start thinking about all these things holistically together. And really treat them all as one workforce what we call a ‘digital workforce’.
And so the digital workforce in our perspective isn’t just your people but it also includes machines. Particularly autonomous machines as their technology advances and then also artificial. Which is responsible for understanding and making your decisions based on all the data that’s being collected on the warehouse floor that really was never possible before. As we move forward into the future, these various components tied together will be the critical factor in driving additional operational efficiencies in a warehouse. So, one of the number one reasons why we have to automate differently is because the industry is changing. And I think I have a lot of people ask me what’s changed? What is different? Obviously, we all know a lot of things have changed, a lot of things are different but conceptually what is the biggest difference that’s driving a change in consumer behavior that’s driving a needed change in your warehouse technology and how is that impacting our business and how will it impact our businesses going forward? And so, looking through what we’re calling the transformation warehouse automation over the decades. There has been a substantial focus change as technology has advanced particularly with the ability to connect things electronically and then especially as the internet-connected people globally. The change went from in the 1970s, you really were worried about local commerce, local stores. The selection was limited. Assortments were really driven by supply. There were a limited number of options. And so retailers drove the primary consumer decision-making and suppliers drove consumer decision-making based on, in essence, limitations of supply and limitations of options. Back in the seventies, there wasn’t a store that had a hundred, million SKUs. That just wasn’t very common and now today we talked about things like that all the time. As technology and commerce advanced, we went to regional commerce with more national distribution networks beginning really to heavily centralize where all of a sudden the ability to deal with data and deal with volumes that had never really been centralized before became really critical.
In the early 80s, we started seeing a lot more technology delivered into warehouses and certainly automation was part of it and things like maturation of mechanization, forklift new forklift technology – things like that were becoming very commonplace and it grew rapidly.
But it was also the place where we began realizing that data management was really critical and so the earliest WMS vendors, the McHughs and Manhattans of the world, started their work on building those systems in the 1980s. And over the course of the next 40 years now, we’ve gone through a number of additional transitions that now have taken us through hyper centralization. In the 90s with the advent of the superstore, in essence, the Walmartization of retail. And then into the 2010+ era where the internet started truly changing the world and changing the way we buy things, and we transact commerce.
And now today the idea of global commerce is extremely personal. It’s really driving a huge change in the way that everybody thinks about distribution. Is there still high volume low SKU distribution? Absolutely. There are a lot of companies that don’t have to deal with that but there’s also a huge change in how people buy even in how enterprises buy just-in-time inventory and just-in-time and additive manufacturing things like that are having a profound impact on the way that we distribute. And so, over the course of the last 50 years, we have gone from supply-driven assortment to demand-driven assortment.
The power has gone basically from a supplier-focused and retailer-focused drive to a consumer-driven economy where personal choice, personal flexibility, and personal options are paramount in the consumer’s mind. Over the course of that time, we’ve also gone through a substantial transition in the nature of automation itself. And John, especially as you’ve been in this for quite some time talk a little bit more about this transition from islands of mechanization to the opportunity for AI-interconnected automation. What are we doing there and what’s happened over the last number of years?
[John 10:03] Thanks it’s pretty interesting if we go back and look at some of the older designs of some of the older conveyor system warehouses or warehouses that were first being designed around a high use of lift trucks and racking that began to get much taller as lifts were able to lift higher. And we were building warehouses very much around what technology was available as we started to move through the seventies, eighties, and nineties. It was really focused around let’s get the most efficient technology in place and then have humans drive that technology to drive automation and to drive our efficiencies in the warehouse. It’s been interesting to see the changes that have gone on in the last few years and we started to see AI, machine learning, flexible automation, software moving from the IT room out onto the floor.
To where we’ve begun to start to blend that difference between what is automated what is manual what is automated to what extent even manual processes. Now the workflow can be automated and pieces of manual work can now be automated as you start to look at the maturation of the WMS into automated solutions. The wearables – if you think about early days where we had an IT room which you’d print labels or IT where they would have the computers do the workflow planning and then we would push it out for humans to do it. Then we move to where there are terminals on the floor all over the place for the warehouses so workers and managers could go through and see what needed to happen in an updated fashion from out on the floor displays. Then we had RF guns and scan guns out there for helping the individual task differences and task management systems are out to now where those devices are actually making workflow decisions to workflow automation and talking to other pieces of automation. To be able to call robots, for instance, or flexible automation or automated mobile robots, or whatever the situation calls for. And that’s really an exciting change. Because we’ve stopped having to be locked into one type of process for one type of workflow.
[Seth Patin 12:11] That’s a good call out I think that’s an interesting thing to think about what is the difference between what we were doing before? And do what we think we need to do now? What’s broken about the old way that needs to change?
[John Stikes 12:29] That is one of the questions I get all the time because we come in with our process. And people say, well, what was broken about the old way of doing it? And I don’t know that I would say anything was broken. But from an engineering perspective and a management perspective, we’re all trained, and we all move towards what is the hardest problem to solve? That’s what we’re trained to look for. And what is your biggest constraint? Well, in the old technology development cycle, what we were really constrained about were how are those automated systems because they were the most difficult to manage people were the most flexible portion of the warehouse, we would figure out what the technology or the automation could do to help the facility and then we would sprinkle in procedures to help that technology be more efficient. And then we put people at the end of the aisle or into the conveyor belt or into the extended layer to do the processes that helped the automation be successful.
I think it’s indicative of the fact from our design standpoint we wanted to solve the hardest problem which is how do you make technology work for the building? And that was because it was really still almost in its infancy. And as it’s designed out, and the flexibility is increased and the technology capabilities have increased. And we all run over the spaghetti systems that are out there where your TMS wouldn’t talk to your WMS, which wouldn’t talk to an OMS, which wouldn’t talk to a label system and the weird gyrations we’d all have to go through to get systems to talk together.
And now, that’s – with tier one systems that are out there – that’s largely a conversation of the past unless you have to upgrade legacy systems. It’s understood that the systems will all talk to each other.
[Seth Patin 14:09] Right? So before it sounds like what we got really good at for a long time, was standing up multiple systems that really didn’t talk to each other and then getting them to talk to each other, the bare minimum to keep things moving faster than they would have without the machines.
[John Stikes 14:25] Yeah and we put people in the middle of that, between it. When you think about how did we automate in the old way – think about a simple workflow process and an order filling process. It’s really hard to pick a case out of a rack or pick a case off of a pallet and put it onto a conveyor belt.
That’s a relatively recent invention from a technology standpoint where we have arms that can do that and an automatic depalletization process. Because being able to pick up a package is a nontrivial task, especially in a logistics network, where your form, fit, function, and flexibility can be very very, very different when you have very small cases to very, very large cases, then when you introduce the SKU proliferation that’s out there in the SKU proliferation, when you start talking about handling types going from pallets to cases to eaches back to pallets to some weird amalgam of them.
And that all changes even throughout the year based on macro and microeconomics trends. 2020 is a great microcosm of that we’ve all just gone through a pretty big change. But I don’t think it’s different materially than the changes we’ve seen overall, things just got much more compressed. At this point, it really highlighted the fact that the old way of automating, quite frankly, worked to a point.
There’s a significantly better way to do this because the hardest thing to do is have people that are very well trained and retained in your facilities. If we look at it, they are the hardest thing to find the hardest people or hardest thing to keep running at peak performance. Technology now is fairly easy to run at peak performance. Our automated systems that I was responsible for my past life, we regularly would see availability and uptimes in the 99.99 8% up. When’s the last time we saw a human part of that function where they were available 99.99% up? We don’t. Holiday, sick, and vacation clearly take somebody out 20% of are their year. How do we make THEM more efficient?
[Seth Patin 16:30] The automation is 99.9 percent uptime and all that the problem is that it also had a limitation as to how far it could go and how effective it could be working adjacent to people and so especially now as we move away from pallets and cases more to eaches, more to personalization, more to smaller shipments just-in-time. All of that flexibility you mentioned earlier the people are the most flexible asset you have. All that flexibility Even though the best robots in the world are out there, they still can’t match the picking speed a human – if you’re talking each picking – maybe if you’re talking about a pallet or something maybe they can keep up. But people are still in a straight line the fastest that there are and if we could optimize them or leverage them more thoroughly, you know, it helps to fill in those gaps in a completely different way.
[John Stikes 17:31] We built these systems so that that the humans supported the technology. And I think that’s because when we looked at the mechanization process of our systems, that’s really what had to happen. Humans had to support technology because it wasn’t strong enough to stand on its own. And when I speak of technology, I’m talking about loading conveyor systems, unloading conveyor systems, moving pallet trucks, figuring out how to drive to a facility in a moderately coherent process figuring out workflow planning, humans had to support the technology because it just wasn’t there.
Quite honestly the technology’s advanced to the point that technology really should be serving the humans in the facilities. And it’s time to make that change.
[Seth Patin 18:15] So that’s great, that’s a great segue here to, you know, to really talk about what’s different about what we’re talking about, why is software automation different? And why is it better to put the human at the center of this? And you know, Lance, you’ve spent a lot of time working on automation systems that tried to in some cases replace humans, in some places tried to augment humans but there’s something fundamentally different now with new technology that we can get more out of it.
[Lance Anderson 18:48] Absolutely right I totally agree with John – it’s time to look at automation. As a way to augment human activities and even as humans, as a way to augment mechanical automation that’s really what we’re talking about – automation is not evil. Mechanization is not evil.
It’s actually fantastic. There’s amazing stuff out there. But what we found are the limitations and lack of results, promising results. Quite often due to the fact that the human has not been at the center or frankly has been overlooked. So you know, if I think about it here, we’ve discussed a little bit and John was great about the problem and the future state where we want to be, you know, but how do companies get started? How do you move into a human-centric automation software automation?
First of all, you have to look at what your situation is – why are you seeking automation whether it’s mechanical or human. So, you know, everybody’s coming at this from a unique perspective. Are you coming at this with a Greenfield opportunity? The rare but really daunting blank canvas, right? And now your name is going to be on it and you’re going to design the warehouse of the future. Someday that warehouse is going to be 10 years old, and it’s not going to feel like the future, right? You know, others are seeking, you know, specific major mechanical automation and ASRS system or something based on a need for throughput space or volume.
Others have a burning point solution. Their voice system is antiquated, their put system is being sunset, they need packing or decasing process that they never needed before. And they’re looking for a very specific burning, you know, oh my gosh, we have a huge problem point solution.
Others are just seeking new technology, right to enable their future. But we better take a look at the vision thing. We’re going to take a look at robots, we don’t want to get left behind. Can that help us? We’re not even quite sure. And others, frankly, are looking at humans to fill gaps to smooth peaks. Right? And, frankly, to optimize when there aren’t peaks optimize automation that’s built for a peak e-commerce season. How do you balance your labor? Across that during the regular year without wasting people and time.
There’s a couple of steps I would suggest to take a look at this. First is to take an honest and detailed look at your human workforce function. John, you know this way better than I do. When you look around your processes: why do we have convoluted human processes in the first place?
Why does something take 10 steps at receiving and is hard to train and is rife with accuracy issues. Probably because it was designed 10 years ago. It was modified functionally but we didn’t want to modify the WMS there’s some aspects of another system and needs a certain barcode label and a certain way. Next thing you know, you have a 10 step process that’s just impossible to train.
How do we get there but we all got there. Do you work in silos? Is your DC focused on actual flow control and the throughput and results of your entire DC? Or do you work in silos, and you have a receiving process, put away process? Forklift drivers use the same tools, the same forklift to put stuff away as they take it down and let it down. Yet, sometimes you can’t even cross those barriers, you’re working in such silos. Is my high-end automation throttled right now? Are you not getting the ROI?
Well, most only in the rarest times to those mechanical automation exists in and of itself, without any human interaction. There’s almost always humans feeding it working with it and taking products away from it. So if they’re choked by these human processes, you’re never going to reach the throughputs capacities or ROI that you’re looking for.
Or even if you’re trying to implement robots – do they provide the promised ROI? Are they doing what expects them to do? If they’re not interacting with humans in a centric way, it’s probably not happening. As I just said, look at your overall DC results. What are your, Where are your shining stars? Where are your issues? Is it volume? Is it on-time shipment accuracy?
Peak achievements versus labor smoothing and non-peak times. Now, how many of these are affected by your human processes? Probably all. So determine now if you can address and change these requirements. Can you help your humans to do better and what system would you do to do it? Is it a paper-based system a workaround that’s kind of what we hear a lot and what is the likelihood of future changes that are going to come? Business changes. Going from cases to eaches or decasing or mixed-use whatever it might be. You know change is coming it’s inevitable all of our careers are based on change yet we have systems that were built very rigidly.
So the next question you have to ask in the way that you enable yourself to move towards human-centric is: does your management team have the skillset and desire to solve these problems themselves? Frankly, most of your team are probably the best experts. You can hire consultants, you can everyone else, but the people on the floor every day, they’re the ones that can solve your operational problems. But are they systemically able? Does your team want to take back control? Do they want to own the processes that are going to enable their DCs to flex in the future? I bet all of their answers are ‘yes.’ So if you take that, and you look at let’s just say your Greenfield opportunity, right, if you insert the LogistiVIEW software automation platform if you insert it between your WMS and your mechanical automation and your robots, and use it to control and optimize your human processes, it doesn’t matter whether you’re smart glasses, phones, tablets, RF guns, it doesn’t matter, as long as your humans can participate in this digital workforce.
And all of that can be looked together to optimize your flow and control the flow of your warehouse, you’re going to be much better off, right? And you may be able to model in your Greenfield different types of automation, or maybe you don’t put all the full automation in on day one. And you are able to use your humans to stay flexible. You’re seeing a lot of this in the automotive industry right now actually, where they’re, they’re going away from robots on the line because of the inflexibility because of a half-inch off or an inch off this way. They’re moving towards augmenting their human beings with better processes and better tools. If you’re seeking major mechanical automation. Fix your human processes first. All you do by putting a massive machine in that does a lot of throughputs is make a bigger pile of problems. John, what’s your favorite quote?
[John Stikes 25:13] Stealing this one from Kevin Sammons, he would say is a faster disaster. Why don’t we put something between the humans and the mechanical piece? I remember my time as an operator. A quick example – we would manage the throughput of our conveyor system based on that the red lights and 75% full lights on the conveyor system. A lot of times we were trained that’s how you managed your flow, that’s how you managed your system to make sure things are going. But it took a long time for a few of us to realize honestly that’s a result that’s not an input. Because the cases didn’t get on that conveyor belt on their own. You don’t end up with a full line, you don’t end up with a red light, you don’t end up with missed and no reads because of the system. It happens because of the humans on either end of the facility. So if you had to look at the way they were doing it, we would be able to manage that mechanical system a whole lot easier, and a whole lot faster than waiting on some after-action report to know that some guy in shipping, took a long bathroom break, and now his lanes are full, and it shut down the building. We found that out after you shut the building down not before we could have moved somebody over there to support him. And it’s an example of where we’re looking at rearward-facing systems. It’s kind of like labor management. Labor management solves my yesterday. Labor Management doesn’t solve my today. Labor Management does not solve my tomorrow project it shows me what I did yesterday. We have to combine the human and machine interfaces together in real-time to make real insights to actually make an impact in the facility today and tomorrow.
[Lance Anderson 26:54] Absolutely for those on this webinar or watch this one or that focus on today and tomorrow, almost everybody is talking about robotics. And I dare to say this is one of the places where LogistiVIEW’s software platform. could actually disrupt this industry and I hate that word as much as anybody else, right? We don’t want disruption. We want smooth-running warehouses. We don’t want disruption.
But frankly by implementing LogistiVIEW, if you’re going to deploy robotics as the task optimization decision system that is connected not only the robots but the human beings and knows and is connected to all your other mechanical automation. By having that single point, you’re going to have a much better outcome. Going to be able to repurpose tasks from robots to humans. Because it’s not just about what task to do next – that’s one part about optimization- but it’s how does that task get done? It’s the what and how that really drives and optimizes outcome not an optimized plan. Planning your tasks optimizes your plan. But unless you can optimize the actual execution in realtime. You’re just going to see what happens later. Right? So if humans and robots worked seamlessly together, that basic robot movement, don’t forget, that’s, that’s the robotics.
That’s what they do best turning robots, moving them safety, all that stuff that doesn’t go away. But you have a single platform in logistic view that can drive these robotic tasks and optimization. And by the way, that means you can add any type of robot – any vendors robot, you can be vendor agnostic. So one company delivers fantastic case carrying robots, the other does great pallets, the other does an AGV.
You don’t have to choose one vendor. And as your business changes, and you need more of one and less of another. Imagine doing individual communications and interface projects with all of these different robot vendors, and then asking your WMS to control that and to send the orders in the right way in real-time to optimize it. We all know that’s not happening today and that’s where LogistiVIEW comes in and frankly can be relatively disruptive. You know and I’ll finish my part herewith I don’t want to forget. A simple human process is being enabled by a simple human platform delivery. Very human intuitive instructions and work instructions and processes to the human being by smart glasses, tablets, phones.
Knowing that you can replace a voice system with a Vision Plus system that provides not only voice picking but also provides vision in terms of augmented reality, product pictures, text on a screen scanning through the camera or Bluetooth scanner, gesture control, simple ways to interact as well as voice input and audio instruction all for the same price or less. It just makes a lot of sense. So this multimodal world is very simple to get started. The software automation platform is flexible, fast, and inexpensive and frankly, this is software automation by LogistiVIEW.
Right? So, investing in your people to maximize your mechanization. Faster easier more flexible operations enabling changes a competitive advantage in your technology freedom. The freedom to impart technology today and who knows what’s coming next but having that nice platform there makes a lot easier to integrate. You really you know folks shouldn’t be looking for a vendor that does everything. They should be looking for a platform that does anything. That’s what we believe the LogistiVIEW Software Automation Platform delivers our clients.
[Seth Patin 30:36] Thanks, Lance. I think listening to, reflecting on what you guys are saying here. The change in commerce that we went over a couple of slides ago. The transition from local and small-focused, all the way through global and personally-focused is driving a fundamental change in how consumers behave but also it really is driving and needs to drive a fundamental change in how workers are viewed as well. We can’t just digitally transform the consumer experience. We have to really transform to work experience and yeah we always talk about connecting the consumer with everything and we’ve got streaming services for this and apps for that. What about the worker and the worker walks into the building with a smartphone in their back pocket? Then you hand them a brick and it is like “man this is a bummer.” We really do see a different way to build solutions and I think that’s the realization that that consumer revolution is taking place over the last 50 years needs to take place in the warehouse and IS and CAN take place in your warehouse…is I think really a powerful thing to understand and embrace going forward. So with that, we will wrap up our time today thanks for taking a look at this webinar for those of you interested in learning more feel free to reach out and contact us. We’d love to talk with you about your automation strategy. John is pretty good at having those kinds of conversations and we would also love to show you a little bit about the LogistiVIEW platform and help you understand how it would impact your operation and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution and that is our whole point.
We’re not trying to sell you a one-size-fits-all solution. We’re trying to understand your situation and then give you a software platform that adapts to you and your unique needs. With that, we also have a third part in this series coming out in a couple of weeks. I’m talking about how we can implement robotics specifically without creating just another warehouse silo. A robot that just goes back and forth from point A to point B and never decides a change of path intelligently isn’t intelligent. And all that autonomy and self-driving capability is kind of wasted if you don’t give it something smart to do. And so we will talk about how we do that and that will probably be dropping on November 5th. So we look forward to having you check out that one as well. Thank you very much for joining us here and with that, we will sign off this webinar.
Watch Automate Differently Part I: Why Software is the Future of Automation
Watch Automate Differently Part III: How to Implement Robotics & Automation Without Creating Another Warehouse Silo