Technology News

MRO Roundtable: The State of MRO in Automated Distribution Centers and Plants

What are some of the MRO challenges and best practices at leading organizations? To find out, we spoke to executives at three companies working with automation every day.

With more automation comes more maintenance. To learn more about the state of MRO in automated distribution centers and plants, Materials Handling MRO brought together executives from three organizations last September at Dematic’s Material Handling & Logistics Conference in Park City, Utah.
They were:

Here’s what they had to say.


MHMRO: Let’s start by looking at what encompasses MRO in your operation, and who do you report to? Mark, we can start with you.

Franke: At C&S Wholesale Grocers, MRO is part of our operations, and I report to the executive vice president of operations. We do virtually everything in house in our distribution centers. The exception, depending on the location, might be a service contract for the HVAC system. Otherwise, we believe in doing everything in house if we can.

Kooima: We’re a very flat and small organization with just 165 people. Our MRO team reports to the plant manager who reports to me, the owner. We do a blend of in-house maintenance and some that we purchase. We like doing things in house because we’re reliant on our system. If we have a problem, we want to bring our resources to the job. However, we do contract with Dematic and some other solution providers for planned maintenance and code work with our software. The mechanical work is easy for us, and the software presents the big questions.

Cole: I report to the executive vice president at Schwan’s, and we do a mix of in-house and outsourced maintenance. For instance, we outsource the maintenance of our refrigeration system and we outsource our software support to Dematic, since they know the system better than us. We’re now outsourcing our truck maintenance. But, all of our automation is handled in house.


MHMRO: Let’s do a broad question. What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing within your MRO operations today?

Franke: My biggest worry looking out over the next 10 to 15 years is staffing. The number of technicians reaching retirement age is outpacing the number of technicians coming out of schools. We’re trying to circumvent that with partnerships with schools and trade schools, but it’s still a concern.

Kooima: I worry about the black swan events, like the long-term loss of electricity or a data breach, something that would disrupt the flow of our product to our customers for more than a day. We make daily deliveries to the assembly lines of the major agricultural equipment manufacturers. We have had a six-hour disruption and got back online, so I don’t worry about that kind of outage.

Cole: My biggest issue right now revolves around the maintenance of our automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) cranes because of how we’re structured. We have cranes in Salinas, Kan., and in Suwanee, Ga. In Georgia, we have a technician assigned to each crane. It’s their job to keep that crane running, and they have a real sense of ownership. The primary job of the technicians in Kansas is to keep the production lines running and the customers happy. They’re not dedicated to the cranes in the DC. They do a great job keeping the plant running, but the cranes are not their priority. So, that’s what I worry about.


MHMRO: If you’ve all worked with a mix of conventional, automated and highly automated equipment, what advice would you have for another end user making that same journey?

Kooima: Since ours was a Greenfield facility, we had the luxury of designing just what we needed on a sheet of paper, and we installed automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) and an AS/RS. The key for making the system work was finding a champion within the plant who would take ownership.

Franke: My advice is to develop an inventory management strategy, because the amount of money invested in inventory goes up by about five times with automation. You start with the recommended parts list from your OEM, but what you find is that it’s always lacking that $7 part that no one thinks is critical until the system goes down. We manage it with min/max levels in the computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), and the system controls the ordering quantities. Doing that requires discipline around the technicians using the CMMS. Something we started doing is manufacturing some of our own parts. A lot of our suppliers are German, and there can be long lead times on parts, so we installed a CNC machine. We’re only in our first year of doing this.

Kooima: We’re a machine shop, so we can make our own parts. It’s electronics that we have to purchase.

Cole: Our facilities are 22 years old, so we have a lot of history. We know, for instance, that a shuttle table will last six months and that there are certain motors that have a longer lead time, so we stock those kinds of items. With others, we might just have one. Culture is also important. We’re fortunate that we don’t have a lot of turnover and right now, we have a fairly young technician team of workers that are in their 30s.


MHMRO: What do you do to bring technicians along or instill that culture?

Cole: When we bring in someone new, we have them work for two years with an experienced technician. You get someone right out of school, they have to learn your system. What I’ve found is that it starts with heart. If they’re dedicated and willing to learn, you can train them.

Kooima: I agree with that, and I believe that maintenance guys need more support than they get from management. It’s a tough job because every time they get a call, something is down and they need to get over there right away. We do things like give them passes to the waterparks and take their families out to eat. But we’re a small company and can do those kinds of things.

Cole: I’m also a big believer in investments in preventative maintenance (PM). Someone asked me why I spend the money on PMs, since the system never breaks down. I said: It never breaks down because I spend the money on PMs.


MHMRO: Mark mentioned the labor shortage earlier, and the availability of labor is a theme at every conference I go to. What are you doing to mitigate the shortage?

Franke: The two issues that everyone is facing are retirement and turnover. Refrigeration technicians, for instance, are at a premium. Like other companies that are located in areas with other distribution centers, we’ve lost technicians because a new building goes up and they pay $2 an hour more to staff it. We try our best to counter that when we can, but sometimes, people just want to move on. We try to do some of the soft things, like what Phil mentioned, but we do it informally.

Cole: The low unemployment rate is a challenge. We manage it facility by facility. In Georgia, for instance, we have an employee of the month for both shifts. A lot of times, it goes to a mechanic because they keep us running. In Walton, Ky., there are a lot of distribution centers, which means there’s a lot of competition and most of those other jobs don’t involve working in a freezer. In that kind of situation, you have to compete on culture and making it a good place to work.

Kooima: I share the same frustration as Mark and Jeff. I only have four technicians, so if I lose one, I’m losing 25% of the team. That means we’re always recruiting.

Cole: We try to have regular one-on-ones with the maintenance team to find out what they want to do. You might have a forklift operator whose been there for 25 years and that’s what he wants to do. Other technicians might want to expand their knowledge. If they have ability, we’ll put them through an apprentice program to see where they might fit. We call it succession planning. This year, we had one experienced employee leave and because of planning, we had someone standing by to take their place.


MHMRO: Have any of you worked with community colleges or technical high schools to get trained technicians?

Kooima: One of the local community colleges has started a technical program for the maintenance and operation of CNC machines. Fifty percent of their time is in the classroom and 50% is real-world experience. We’re going to have two people from that program working in our plant, but we won’t know the benefit for a few years.

Franke: We’ve had some success developing a relationship with a particular professor at one school, and he brings his class in to our operations. And, we sponsor a high school robotics program.

Cole: We’ve had some success with apprenticeship programs in Kansas and Minnesota. When they graduate, they know they have a home in our operation. Now, we sometimes lose them after they get experience.


MHMRO: Going forward, what is the biggest change you’re anticipating in your MRO activities?

Franke: I think the future of maintenance is more predictive technologies. The hardware, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the ability to wirelessly monitor conditions is going to unlock things for us. It’s in its infancy, but in the coming years, the price of IoT is going to come down and our industry is going to get serious about this. One thing we recently did was to create a lubrication lab, where we can remotely monitor the condition of the oil in our systems and create work orders based on that information.

Kooima: It’s going to be remote diagnostics, remote monitoring and remote expertise. Our technicians will be able to draw on the experience of OEMs like Dematic. We’ll be able to go to a device, show Dematic with video what’s happening and take care of the problem. Training may be less of an issue.

Franke: With the technician shortage, third-party diagnostics and maintenance is going to become more prevalent.

Cole: I think we’ll be able to leave the diagnostics to the OEMs. We’ll send the information from the system to them, and they’ll be able to diagnose it and tell us to replace the programmable logic controller (PLC), as an example.

Kooima: We’re already doing some of that. For instance, our lasers are made by Mitsubishi. They monitor them and tell us what we need to look at.


MHMRO: Thanks everyone for participating.


Article Topics
Automated Storage   Dematic   MRO   MRO December 2017   All topics


Comments
You must be logged in to post a comment. Login.

About the Author
Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.
 
Latest Technology News
Advanced Robotics Developments Produce Game-Changing Innovations for Material Handling Industry
Coupling the advances in computer vision with the increase in computing power and adding the advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence, robotic systems are becoming more capable every day…

Learn How to Avoid Outdated Technology in Your Company
If you are ready and want to scale your business, how do you make sure you’ve got the right technology to do so, and will you scale your technology to align with your business’s development and growth…

Logistics Company Transforms Customer Service & Reduces Costs by 50 Percent with Move to the Cloud
Taking a disruptive, cloud-based approach to business-to-business communications in the third-party logistics industry, LEGACY Supply Chain Services now services customers 70 percent faster and reduces…

Supply Chain Resolutions for 2018
We’ve compiled seven, popular New Year’s Resolutions for Supply Chains to help you achieve your safety and sustainability goals in the coming year.


 

24|7 Pro Team

The 24|7 Team is your direct pipeline to solutions for your business challenges. It's your opportunity to have supply chain and logistics experts look at your specific challenges and needs, and give you free, no-obligation advice, solutions, and information.

The 24|7 Team will simplify the task of creating a database of likely partners, building your knowledge base, and preparing your Request for Proposal list.

1
  Choose a topic for your RFP

Transportation RFP/RFI

The Transportation RFP is your direct pipeline to solutions for your transportation challenges. It's your opportunity to have logistics experts look at your specific transportation challenges and needs, and give you free, no-obligation advice, solutions, and information specific to your request.

Choosing the perfect software or system can be an indomitable challenge. Using this transportation/TMS RFP will simplify the task of creating a database of likely partners, building your knowledge base, and preparing your Request for Proposal list.

Warehouse/DC Management RFP/RFI

The Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) RFP is your direct pipeline to solutions for your WMS challenges. It's your opportunity to have logistics experts look at your specific WMS challenges and needs, and give you free, no-obligation advice, solutions, and information specific to your request.

Choosing the perfect WMS solution can be an indomitable challenge. Using this WMS RFP will simplify the task of creating a database of likely partners, building your knowledge base, and preparing your WMS Request for Proposal list.

Supply Chain RFP/RFI

The Supply Chain RFP is your opportunity to have logistics experts look at your specific challenges and needs, and receive free, no-obligation advice, solutions, and information. It simplifies finding a pool of likely partners, building your knowledge base, and preparing your Request for Proposal list. The companies in the Logistics Planner have agreed to respond to your request for in-depth information and follow-up, and your request is totally confidential.

Software/Technology RFP/RFI

The Software/Technology is your direct pipeline to solutions for your logistics information technology challenges. It's your opportunity to have logistics experts look at your specific technology challenges and needs, and give you free, no-obligation advice, solutions, and information specific to your request. Whether it's WMS, TMS, Mobile or Cloud, our pros can help.

The companies listed below have agreed to respond to your request for in-depth information and follow-up. Your request is totally confidential.

Executive Education RFI

The Logistics and Supply Chain Education RFI can help you identify the schools, coursework, continuing education, distance learning and certification opportunities available from leading logistics educational institutions.

Upgrade and improve your logistics and supply chain skillsets. Whatever route you choose—advanced degree, executive education, certification or distance learning—the time and money you invest in your education today can pay off in continued career success tomorrow. Contact leading universities and professional institutions for the information you need to prepare for the future.

Third Party Logistics RFP/RFI

This 3PL Request for Proposal (RFP)/Request for Information (RFI) can help you find the 3PL and 4PL providers that can meet your specific 3PL service challenges and needs. The 3PL companies below will provide free, no-obligation third-party logistics advice, solutions, and information.

Ask your 3PL questions, you'll get answers. Simply complete the information, and detail your 3PL challenges. Then, check off the third-party logistics companies that you want to review your request.

1. Choose an RFI topic.
2. Enter your contact information and challenge.
3. Select companies and optional categories.
4. Submit.


2

Your Information



Your Challenge, Problem or Request *

3

Select Transportation Companies

  • Select All

  • 3Gtms
  • BluJay Solutions
  • CSX Trans. Intermodal
  • Kuebix
  • Landstar
  • Legacy Supply Chain Svs.
  • One Network
  • Pitt Ohio
  • Purolator
  • Quintiq
  • SEKO Logistics
  • SMC3


Select Relevent Categories

  • Air Freight
  • Intermodal
  • Motor Freight
  • Ocean Freight
  • Rail Freight
  • TMS

Select Warehouse/DC Management Companies

  • Select All

  • 3PL Central
  • Apex Supply Chain Tech.
  • Honeywell Intelligrated
  • Kuebix
  • Legacy Supply Chain Svs.
  • Swisslog
  • Westfalia Technologies
  • Zebra Technologies


Select Relevent Categories

  • Auto ID & Data Capture
  • Automation
  • Conveyors & Sortation
  • Lift Trucks
  • Packaging & Labeling
  • Pallets & Containers
  • Shelving & Racking
  • WMS

Select Supply Chain Companies

  • Select All

  • 3Gtms
  • 3PL Central
  • Amber Road
  • Apex Supply Chain Tech.
  • APICS
  • BluJay Solutions
  • CSX Trans. Intermodal
  • Frontier Business
  • Kuebix
  • Legacy Supply Chain Svs.
  • Logility
  • One Network
  • Purolator
  • Quintiq
  • SMC3
  • Synchrono
  • TAKE Supply Chain
  • Westfalia Technologies
  • Zebra Technologies


Select Relevent Categories

  • Global Trade
  • Inventory Management
  • Risk Management
  • Sustainability

Select Software/Technology Companies

  • Select All

  • 3GTMS
  • 3PL Central
  • Apex Supply Chain Tech.
  • BluJay Solutions
  • Honeywell Intelligrated
  • Frontier Business
  • Kuebix
  • Logility
  • One Network
  • Quintiq
  • SMC3
  • Swisslog Logistics
  • Synchrono
  • TAKE Supply Chain
  • Zebra Technologies


Select Relevent Categories

  • ERP
  • Sales & Operations
  • Sourcing/Procurement
  • Optimization
  • Transportation Mgmt
  • Warehouse Mgmt

Select Executive Education Choices

  • Select All

  • Graduate Courses
  • Online/Distance
  • Executive Education
  • Certifications
  • Undergraduate
  • Seminars
  • Associations
  • Conferences
  • Tradeshows


Select Third Party Logistics Companies

  • Select All

  • 3PL Central
  • Landstar
  • Legacy Supply Chain Svs.
  • Purolator
  • SEKO Logistics
  • Westfalia Technologies


4
 

24|7 Company Profiles