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Publication Date: 02/1/2012
Archive >  February 2012 Issue >  Partnering > 

Anticipatory Maintenance Improves Order Picking Efficiency
Routine maintenance can save costly downtime.

Competing in today's rough-and-tumble global economy means that organizations of all kinds look for the most efficient way of operating. For many companies, this has led to installing automation that includes carousels and Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs) in their facilities. Today's automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), including horizontal and vertical carousels and VLMs, are well engineered and robust and provide reliability and performance that rivals any production equipment.

These systems are mechanical, however, and as such are subject to wear. If not monitored, recognized, and repaired, wear can lead to unexpected equipment downtime, and that can create serious disruptions in business operations.

A way to avoid those downtime issues is through active management of the maintenance function, with the focus on a technique of preventive maintenance called "anticipatory maintenance".

Reliability Primer
In order to understand anticipatory maintenance, it's necessary to understand terms associated with equipment performance. The reliability of a system is a measure of its ability to do what it is designed to do for a specified period of time. System reliability measurement assumes that the equipment is operating within the conditions and environment for which its was designed. Availability is a measure of time that a system is operational and accessible when it is required to be such.

Two factors influence reliability and availability, Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) and Mean Time to Repair (MTTR). MTBF is the predicted elapsed time between inherent failures of a system during operation. It is a number, usually stated in hours, calculated by a manufacturer's design engineers and is available in equipment specifications. MTTR is the average time it takes to fix a failed system, not including lead time for parts.

MTBF influences both reliability and availability. MTTR affects availability. If MTBF can be extended and MTTR reduced, organizations can lessen the impact of costs associated with equipment downtime.

There are two elements of the costs associated with equipment downtime. The first is the direct cost. That cost includes the cost of labor factored by the number of hours employees are idle waiting for the equipment to be repaired. This labor cost also includes the extra cost of scheduling an additional shift, if necessary, to make up for lost time.

There is also the cost of parts and labor required to fix the system. Emergency repairs can often be double or triple the cost of routine service and parts replacement.

The second cost element is consequential costs. Consequential costs are more difficult to calculate, but are, nonetheless, a major factor in equipment downtime. What are the cost consequences of not meeting customers' delivery expectations? In a Just-in-Time operation, what is the cost of being the bottleneck in an otherwise efficient delivery operation? If you provide items to your own organization, such as a MRO or order or material picking applications, what is the consequence of not being able to provide the right part or item in a timely manner?

Being Proactive
The way to reduce costs associated with system downtime is to anticipate stoppage caused by machine wear; it's important to service the system in such a way that you extend its effective operational lifetime.

One approach to doing this is through a new program developed by Sapient Automation called Intelligent Machine Health Monitoring (IMHM). The IMHM program is designed to remotely monitor horizontal and vertical carousel and VLM systems in real time, allowing the customer service group to respond before a failure actually occurs. The IMHM system remotely monitors critical maintenance thresholds, actual carousel/VLM usage, picks, run time, and energy consumption levels in order to detect variances and anomalies that could lead to failure or performance issues. The moment the IMHM system detects anything out of the ordinary, a message is sent to the local service technician and to the central service monitoring group for immediate response. Depending on the issue, the facility service coordinator is contacted and a plan on how to correct the issue is discussed and executed.

The IMHM program is free and takes less than three minutes of IT support for installation. Likewise, IMHM can be integrated on any existing horizontal or vertical carousel or VLM regardless of manufacturer or age.

Application of this program allows preventive maintenance to be scheduled at optimal times in the work cycle, such as during slow periods or before anticipated peak operating times. The result is a planned approach to maintenance that anticipates stoppages and virtually eliminates unscheduled system downtime, extending equipment longevity and improving ROI.

Beyond Maintenance
In addition to eliminating machine downtime, anticipatory maintenance using the IMHM program offers additional insights into system operation.

By analyzing system operating parameters, managers can better spot anomalies that can indicate potentially costly problems such as unsafe operation or poor use of the system indicating inexperienced or under trained operators.

Anticipatory maintenance also helps organizations meet lean initiatives and sustainability, or green, objectives. The elimination of time wasted to perform unscheduled maintenance helps meet lean objectives and the added reliability of the system means that inventory can be managed more closely, eliminating the need for "hedge or safety stock" inventory. More efficient, reliable operation reduces overall energy requirements and labor requirements for picking operations, lowering an organization's overall carbon footprint.

By proactively managing maintenance functions through remote monitoring, organizations can significantly improve the efficiency of their picking operations, and the productivity of the workforce, while boosting bottom line returns.

Sapient Automation, a subsidiary of MDCI, is a leading provider of automated storage and retrieval systems that reduce requirements for labor, floor space and inventory while dramatically increasing productivity and operational efficiencies with a Return on Investment (ROI) often as little as nine to 18 months. Industries served include manufacturing, distribution, warehousing, healthcare, institutions, retail and wholesale organizations. The Sapient Automation technologies include the Viper Vertical Lift Module (VLM), Avenger Vertical Carousel, Hornet Horizontal Carousel, Shark Inventory Management Software, PickaMed Carousels and Spit Fire Pick Carts and pick to light systems.

Contact: Sapient Automation, 2398 North Penn Road, Hatfield, PA 19440 888-451-9711 or 267-640-8172 E-mail: Web:

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