Robotics Automation: Not “One Size Fits All”

An expert explains the power of supply chain automation, its role in a pandemic and what’s next.

By McKesson Health Systems Editorial Team

Read time: 3 minutes

Todd Kleinow, vice president of Strategic Distribution and Operations at McKesson, recently joined a Reuters Supply Chain panel discussion with fellow robotics and automation experts from AmerisourceBergen and Locus Robotics. With more than 30 years with McKesson, Todd currently leads his team on strategic distribution network initiatives to ensure long term performance. Read what he shared about the power of automation in the supply chain, its role during a global pandemic and what to expect in the future.

Focusing on People

When it comes to the operational efficiency and flexibility robotics automation systems offer, Todd says it’s largely about focusing on the people and keeping them safe.

“At McKesson, we think about the workplace environment, safety, walking, lifting, redundant tasks and travel time. If you can find ways to improve these areas, it will improve the work experience for our team members. Safety is at the top of the list.”

Todd adds, “We look at automation and other ways to do work as a way to alleviate a lot of that manual work to increase productivity, increase quality and remove some of the monotonous labor that goes into using a person more for their brain than the brawn, and we've had great success with that.”

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

For companies looking to begin their journey with robotics automation, Todd recommends three key considerations and advises against taking a “one size fits all” approach.

  1. Understand at what scale you want to put automation into your business. A simple conveyor might be the appropriate level of automation. But in other cases, that might not be enough.
  2. Be careful where you invest, do the math on return on investment (ROI). While leasing equipment might be best for your business, the ROI might not be as beneficial, but it helps.
  3. Find the right partner with the right automation. You also need to have people who speak the language and understand the systems available. Be sure your partner has not only the right hardware, but also the right information technology software in place to power the automation and make it as smart as possible.

Adjusting to a New Normal and Looking Ahead

When the pandemic began, automation played a significant role at McKesson’s distribution centers in helping to keep workers safe.

“Our frontline workers came through in a big way. We got on [automation] early to keep distribution centers as safe as possible. We also found, with automation, that social distancing was much more possible. Our volume increased significantly, and our automation helped us get those peaks filled.

In looking to what’s next with automation in supply chain, specifically with pharmaceutical distribution, Todd says McKesson is currently laying the groundwork.

“In 10-15 years, the aging population will continue to grow the need for pharmaceuticals – we’ll likely see more growth in the biotech space and specialty drugs.”

But with that growth, new challenges will arise.

Todd shares, “It’s also going to be more difficult to find people to do this type of work. Volume will increase, but we’ll always want to be more productive and continue to deliver at a high quality. Our investments today are strategic, focusing on where there’s population growth and where we think they’ll need that investment in the future. Investments today will keep us viable 10-15 years from today.”

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