Automation Solution Selection Objectivity: The Reason for Hiring a Project Manager

  • June 06, 2011
  • Feature
June 2011
By Thomas R. Cutler
The cost of the wrong automation solution in material handling is often upwards of ten million dollars. Material handling professionals are selecting capital equipment with the intent of improving margins and customer satisfaction. Sales of automation and material handling equipment, is dramatically improving. MHIA  (Material Handling Industry of America, the leading trade association for the material handling and logistics industry) reports a 22.4% growth in material handling equipment sales in 2010 with forecasted growth in 2011/12 sales increasing another 12%. With this type of increase in automation and material handling equipment capital spending, decision-makers purchasing this equipment, particularly purchasers of AGVs (automated guided vehicles), are overwhelmed how to best research, purchase, and implement these costly purchases.
According to Hesham Mahmoud, Founder of Strategic Project Management Solutions ( noted, “Eighty (80%) percent of the new implementations of automation projects are “not as sold.” “Industry is riddled with stories of troubled installations or lengthy implementation times. Money and resources are wasted.” Material handling professionals want cost-effective solutions that integrate with current systems.
Mahmoud urges that automation material handling consulting firms, like his, offer experienced and independent advice that saves a company significant time, money, and human resources. He does not blame the automation selection personnel, yet suggests that, “Companies may be deficient in the automation, application, project execution areas, which would make them prime candidates for a project management firm. Companies frequently lack the ability to identify the need for automation; or how they can apply automation to their challenges or needs.  So busy meeting the production demands of a distribution center or manufacturing plant, they may miss the ingenuity and innovation needed when using automation can solve challenges.   Perhaps most importantly many firms lack the knowledge of automation including what type of equipment and services could help solve their challenges.”
Independent material handling project managers help companies put an automation plan or project in place as well as learn how to integrate it into a facility, whether a manufacturing plant or distribution center. This requires a familiarity of how to develop specifications for an automation project, expertise in the design, safety and regulations of an automation system. It also requires the ability to implement the testing of the system, to ensure that it will work to meet specifications.
Mahmoud said, “While a given vendor, such as an AGV vendor may have knowledge of implementation, there must be a pair of eyes that has the ability to control the holistic outcome in the long term. There must be training for employees as well as the ability to maintain the system and equipment.”
Given the capital expense involved in these projects is usually in the millions, working with an independent project management professional is vital. This ensures the knowledge to identify quality, reliability and performance of product and system as well as integration with existing equipment.
The automation solution selection process is flawed; most organizations lack the necessary resources. There is a time and staff limitation to comprehensively assessing the current situation; few can detach sufficiently to observe how it influences other systems and strategies in the organization. Because jobs are on the line, few internal staffers possess the courage, objective expertise, and systems solutions experience needed. Vendors have an agenda; they want to sell their solutions.
Fearful of making a wrong decision or endorsing the best solution necessitates the ability to know the right questions to ask suppliers, know what is going on in the marketplace trends, competitors’ situations, and a wide variety of potential solutions.
Mahmoud urges, “A fresh pair of eyes is needed to solve simple to complex problems, as well as anticipate the potential challenges which lie ahead. Because there are other functional responsibilities of a project manager; the ability to remain focused on key performance indicators creates a successful dynamic required for a transition to new handling methods, techniques, products, and systems.”
In complex automation handling sequences handling systems cross lines. When products move from entry to exit, in a material handling facility, it involves many complex systems. Each system must be understood and used as part of the evaluation on a new purchase - from AGV, 3-D optics, smart visioning systems, forklifts, robotics, smart technology, bar code scanners, user friendliness to even how sustainable or green is the purchase. These are just some of the variables that can rarely be addressed by internal staff due to lack of time, resources, or expertise.
Questions to ask before hiring Material Handling Automation Consultant
  • In what industries does the consultant specialize ?
  • With whom does the consultant have alliances or partnerships why?
  • What operational, engineering background is brought to the table to the table?
  • What size projects have been recently completed with references?
  • What types of assessments have been conducted?
  • How was efficacy and ROI determined?
  • What are the key factors sought to determine the root problem or opportunity for which recommended solutions are based?
  • What experience is there with industrial automation background and with whom?
  • What is the level of project management experience?
  • How familiar is the consultant in ISO, Lean or Six Sigma programs?
  • What kind of personnel resource will they require from the hiring organization?
  • What other types of resources are required to accomplish the goal?
  • How long will the project management process require?
  • How is risk managed?
  • Is there an example of a written scope, schedule, resource, cost, and quality measure of services will be required, and how long it will that take to deliver the consulting services?
Author Profile:
Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc, ( Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium of nearly four thousand journalists and editors writing about trends in manufacturing. Cutler is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Online News Association, American Society of Business Publication Editors, Committee of Concerned Journalists, as well as author of more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler can be contacted at or 888-902-0300.

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