At what level does it make sense for your fulfillment system to be completely built off-site versus built at your facility? The Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) has long been the norm in the packaging machinery world. For larger-footprint material handling systems it has always been common to build on the customer’s floor. This can be more cost effective for some projects, but offsite integration offers many advantages.
First, the implementation time can be a fraction what it would be with a customer-floor integration. Everything has been adjusted and checked so implementation is a quick re-assembly. StreamTech’s modular shipping systems, like the Sprinter are shipped nearly complete, allowing for startup in a matter of hours, not days or weeks. Also, installation predictability is dramatically improved, allowing for very limited downtime startups. Often times this obviates the need to do temporary system moves, or setup short term fulfillment or assembly operations. Rather, installation can be done over a weekend or holiday. Installer and technician cost is typically less. Rather than using contractors who often are seeing the system for the first time, or absorbing large technician travel expenses, a small team is often all that is needed to put the system back together. Technical risk can be substantially reduced. Running the system offsite on the supplier’s floor allows all parties to catch “bugs” and evaluate the system’s performance while it is not impacting the customer’s environment. When the system is being assembled at the customer’s, supplier technicians don’t need to figure things out for the first time.
As a result, an increasing number of systems are partially or completely pre-tested offsite. The increase can be a attributable not only to customer demand and the rising cost of travel, but also to the nature of material handling systems. Their increasing complexity makes it more imperative, but enabling technologies also reduce the cost and improve the ease of offsite FAT.
Material handling systems are becoming “smarter” with more value-added tools such as inkjet coding, labeling, inspecting, packing and palletizing along with sensors that demand more pre-testing and integration. It’s not enough simply to move product from here to there; the system needs to add value. All of these processes require coordination and testing to get right. Low voltage DC motors in conveyors, sorters, printers and scales have eased the complexity of electrification. It is far more common to simply plug components together, and plug systems into single phase 120 volt power. This reduces or eliminates the need for extensive onsite-installed conduit and wiring.The reduction or elimination of pressurized air as a system requirement has continued with the growth in electric print and apply systems and sorters.The digital nature of most modern components, including scanners, printers, conveyors and other items allows the integrator to capture all settings to digital files and easily re-constitute them in the exact configuration with which they left the factory. Although each situation varies, as the costs of specialized skills and travel continue to rise and pace of technology continues to accelerate we believe that the threshold for attractiveness of offsite systems integration will continue to lower and it will become more commonplace.