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Automation is becoming an enormous part of a host of different industries, from automotive and manufacturing to pharmaceuticals and everything in between. This isn’t a bad thing — automation helps to increase production, reduce labor costs, and create products that are consistently of high quality. With the advent of efficient automation, does it still make sense to keep manual equipment on hand? Here’s a look at how the two logistics equipment solutions compare.

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Inventory Management: Automated Vs. Manual Logistics Equipment Solutions

With the size of many current warehouses, keeping up with inventory on an old school paper inventory sheets, or even in manual Excel spreadsheets, can be a logistical nightmare. Not only do they take a lot of time to complete, but also you introduce human error to the equation — even a simple mistake can lead to data errors that can cost you both time and money.

This is why most large warehouses have transitioned to automatic inventory systems. They result in fewer errors and much less time spent counting boxes and logging product.

That said, it’s always a good idea to have a backup — networked inventory systems can potentially be vulnerable to hacking as well as problems caused by computer or equipment failure. You don’t need to keep a full manual inventory, but keeping a regularly updated paper back-up copy of your inventory can help keep you going in the event of hardware or computer failure.

Packing: Automated Vs. Manual

Packing up your products for shipment can be an automated process or a manual one, depending on both the type and variety of products shipped. A lot of large companies still rely on manual picking and packing to ensure the correct product is shipped every single time.

Amazon continues to employ manual pickers and packers in its distribution centers because of the sheer number of different products ordered every single day. A human packer can identify, locate and package a variety of different products without having to stop and reassess each time a new type is required. Automation also has the added benefit of reducing worker strain. Back strains alone account for 25% of workers’ compensation claims. By included automation to reduce repetitive tasks, it leaves your employees open to work on other tasks.

For companies that ship large quantities of the same item, automated packing can be a great way to reduce labor costs and improve turnaround time between order and shipment. In these cases, new algorithms aren’t needed to adjust for different products, because the only variable that might change is the number of products ordered at any one time.

Product Movement: Automated Vs. Manual

Moving around large quantities of product usually necessitates the introduction of either manual or automated equipment. A loaded pallet of product, say, ceramic tile, can weigh upwards of 3,000 pounds, making movement equipment necessary.

Many of these movements can be completed with manual pallet jacks or similar equipment. Some manual models can easily move loads of up to 3,000 pounds while heavy-duty or electric models can move upwards of 10,000 pounds. They can be invaluable tools if you rely on manual product movement — but they do also introduce the problem of human error, which can lead to injuries.

Automated product movement requires a substantial initial investment to convert your warehouse to accommodate the updated equipment, but it can help improve the speed of outgoing orders, as well as prevent injuries normally associated with manual product movement.

Shipping: Automated Vs. Manual

Automated shipping is just starting to become a possibility — Tesla’s electric semi trucks introduced at the end of 2017 will likely come equipped with an autopilot option that reduces or even eliminates the need for a human driver, but don’t worry about your truck drivers just yet. The first of these new Tesla trucks won’t go into production until 2019.

In the meantime, manual shipping for products will remain the norm. Focus on safety training and ensuring your drivers obey the rules of the road to prevent accidents and injuries.

Automated logistic solutions are becoming the norm across multiple industries, but they will never fully replace the need for manual alternatives. If you’ve transitioned to automated options, keeping your manual equipment on hand can help to prevent time and money loss should the automated equipment fail or need to be taken off line for repairs or updates.

Until automated logistics equipment solutions are totally foolproof, keep up with the maintenance on your older manual logistics equipment solutions to ensure that it will be ready if you ever need to use it again.

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