Working with a Systems Integrator: Design
When it comes to designing and building a new DC/warehouse/logistics center, you are bound to have a lot of questions about the process. By understanding what you’re getting into before you even begin talking to an integrator, you can make sure you are prepared for the conversations and back and forth that are necessary to the process, saving you time and money during the design build.
The first steps in the overall process are discovery and analysis. Only after an understanding of your unique challenges are gained can the right questions be asked of data to help guide the design process. But what does the design process typically look like when you work with a systems integrator?
The Design Process
Generally speaking, it is going to be an iterative process that is highly dependent on collaboration between the client, the integrator, and the various team members involved on both sides. Because there are many different types of solutions available for each project, an effective system design is going to be a blend of the right technology mixed with the preferences of the operations managers and the needs of the business. This, of course, requires some back and forth to achieve.
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The bottom line is that if you and your team are not deeply involved in the design process, you will miss out on an opportunity for the best design.
Below are all of the factors that a quality systems integrator will need to take into account as they begin the design process in order to reach a final system design that all sides are happy with.
1. Establish Facility and Material Flow Plan
Before any true “design” work can be done, the systems integrator will first work with your data to create a materials flow plan that will dictate a lot of the basic layout of your facility. This process will seek to understand how materials flow through your facility, from the initial receipt of materials or products, through storage, assembly/processing, packaging, and ultimately shipping.
Why is this so important? By understanding how goods flow through your facility, your systems integrator will be able to incorporate the information into your design so that layout is as efficient as possible.
2. System/Facility Design
Next comes the actual system and facility design, which will be heavily dependent on the material flow plan. This phase will see the creation of the individual departments and functional areas within your operation, such as the receiving and shipping docks, storage types and areas, etc. Additionally, this step will entail the design of your system, i.e., how the individual parts of your operation are linked together.
This is probably the most iterative of the steps in the design process, where you should have the most back and forth with your integrator to decide how your facility will function.
3. Equipment and Technology Selection
Once you have settled on the design of your facility and system, you will need to select the various technologies that will allow your system to function. This may involve anything from sortation to AGVs to automated packaging—whatever is necessary for your operation to work efficiently and meet your business goals.
Some of the technologies that are selected at this time include:
- Order Selection Modules (Pick Modules)
- Carton Flow Rack
- Pallet Flow Rack
- Shelving or other high density storage media
- Goods-to-Person order fulfillment
- Shuttle Systems
- Mini-Load Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS-RS)
- A-Frame Dispenser Systems
- Horizontal and Vertical Carousels
- Vertical Lift Modules (VLM)
- Carousel Storage and Retrieval Systems CAS/RS
- Bulk and Reserve Storage Systems
- Pallet Rack
- Unit Load Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS-RS)
- Conveyor Systems and accessories
- Unit Sortation Systems (Bombay, Tilt Tray, And Cross Belt)
- Case and pallet sortation
- Sequencers (including the Vertical Lift Sequencer – VLS)
This step will also see the selection of the software that will help your system operate efficiently, which may include things like inventory management, order management, automation management, and shipping automation.
Decisions on how to handle these functions will help you and your integrator determine if you need a WMS or a WES will provide the functionality required. If you choose a stand alone WMS does it have TMS built into it or do you need a third party TMS/parcel shipping system?
4. Testing the Concept
After you have your material flow and design completed, it is always a good practice to test your ideas and technology application. This can be done from several different angles and ways.
When there are several interdependent sub-systems in your design (Goods-to-Person picking fed from several different areas, automated replenishment,…) it is a good idea to dig deeper and perform some type of simulation. This can be mathematical calculations to full blown graphical animation of the system.
B. Alternative Design Concepts
Alternative design concepts may be offered if it is clear that the initial design does not meet certain goals, or if the goals or budget of the operation have changed.
C. Staffing and Operating Cost Estimates
Estimating the productivity and cost of each task in the system and checking them against an alternative is a good way to see if your design has merit The goal is to understand the ongoing costs associated with the operation so that, if it is necessary from a budgetary point of view, changes can be made before the design is finalized. This will include an estimate on the number of employees that will be needed to man the various tasks, utilities, repair costs, and technology costs.
5. Shaping the Implementation Plan
If you do not develop a detailed project implementation plan, you will be destined to go over your budget, not meet your completion date, or both. The implementation plan will outline all of the steps that will need to be taken to build your facility and/or get your systems online so that your operation can run efficiently and smoothly.
6. Budget Pricing and ROI Requirements
At the very end of the design process, the cost of the project will be measured back against the project budget in order to make sure that there are no issues with cost. If the design has gone over budget, and additional funds are not available, then adjustments will need to be made to the system/technology involved to bring the cost down before the project moves onto the build phase.
This step will also see an analysis of the return on investment that can be expected by completing the project, which will put into perspective the benefits of following through with the facility design.
Building the Path Forward
As you can see, when it comes to working with a systems integrator to build your facility, the design phase of the process includes a number of steps that take into account a slew of different factors. But figuring all of this out during the design phase is critical to ensuring that the next phase, the build phase of the project, goes off without a hitch.