An Interview with President Jeff Livesay: How Growing Companies can Identify a Need for Automation and other System Solutions

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Question 1: Jeff, as President of McCombs-Wall Inc. Engineering, you have worked to integrate many system solutions for growing production companies of all ranges. It may be more visible for more established companies, but for many growing companies that are beginning to see success – in the form of increased orders for product fulfillment – how do they begin to consider system solutions like automation as viable options?

Jeff: When considering a system solution, growing companies that are in manufacturing, distribution, or having anything to do with material handling, they need to look at their existing layout. Many times, when product fulfillment becomes more and more difficult, whether because it’s getting harder and harder to be more accurate or because there’s just more order to be met each day, companies often choose to add more storage space or workers in order to combat these issues.

If you’re a warehouse manager, you ask yourself, “what is keeping my current setup from meeting demands – what are the inefficiencies?” If you answer this question with more storage space or personnel on-the-line, that’s when you want to consider automation instead. More staff doing the same thing can mean more mistakes and bottlenecks along the line.

Growing companies have to consider possible plans that do incorporate automation, and the main goal when they decide is to make return on investment.

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Question 2: When you get to analyze a growing company or even just visiting the company’s production site, are there any immediate key indicators you see that show areas of improvement? If so, what are some examples that you have had that reflects this?

Jeff: Yes and no, it really depends on the company, what they do and how they do it. Let’s say I walk into a distribution line for a company – one of the easiest things to spot is when there are too many people, whether it’s for line-picking or manual extraction. Another thing to spot is when growing companies decide on just expanding their conveyors lines as a solution to prevent the line from shutting down. Automation can reduce the need of adding more space and more products with technology such as pick-to-light or pick-to-voice to enhance the sortation process.

What we do, as a system integrator, is examine the current system in order to come to clients and tell them, “here are some of the problems that we can improve on – we can do this and this to improve safety, efficiency, precision, and lastly, show ROI from those changes.”

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Question 3: You mentioned showing ROI — which I assume is often the most important factor for businesses to consider automation. Are there also any immediate key indicators that shows real ROI potential if they implemented a system solution as well?

Jeff: Good question. Again, it depends on the company and what they want. For us, we always start at the data of any product fulfillment or material handling system – the numbers behind operations and current systems. We gather data to try and show ROI if you invest in automation, usually within a 1 to 3 year forecast. Sometimes it’s more, but it depends on what data we gather and analyze for a company. The goal is to make a realistic ROI that justifies a system solution that we recommend, otherwise there’s no point in implementing a system solution at all.

An easy example would be if we came in and saw that there were 20 different staff members managing a specific task at this section of a line – for example, picking simple orders. We, as engineers of McCombs-Wall, can examine the data such as who’s doing what and what products or materials are being pushed through at this section. We then determine what the company’s current cost for labor is and then design automation solutions that can realistically reduce costs for the company while paying for itself. That’s when we can show ROI from our solutions.

Question 4: It can be difficult for many growing companies to begin reviewing their current production system as they expand. Often times, they do look towards to companies such as yours in order to help figure out the issues. Aside from this, how can a growing company look into identifying preliminary problems within their current states?

Jeff: Yeah, let’s say that you’re leading the product-flow of a growing company, you have to look at: safety, accuracy, speed, cost, efficiency, among many other things. These are the things that can drive businesses down when they’re not managing product fulfillment or material handling well.

We at McCombs-Wall want to figure out what’s keeping you awake at night – most likely, it’s one of these things. Often times it’s difficult to look at your company with finding the problems in mind, and sometimes it’s easy to spot some problems in a product flow, but it remains an important priority for company to reach out and constantly find ways to adapt to keep up in today’s world.

Connect with us to help you take your growing business to the next level. Contact McCombs-Wall to help create your integrated solution. Visit the McCombs-Wall Inc. Website for more information.

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