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Workforce Training and Industry 4.0 Adoption in Warehouses at SMEs

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Academe/Industry Collaboration

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

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Aparajit Koshal


Malini Natarajarathinam Texas A&M University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Malini Natarajarathinam joined the faculty of Industrial Distribution Program at Texas A&M University in 2007. Natarajarathinam received her Ph.D. in Supply Chain Management from The University of Alabama. She received her Bachelor of Engineering (Major: Industrial and Systems Engineering) from Anna University [Tamilnadu, India], her MS in Industrial Engineering from Auburn University, her MA in Management Science and MS in Applied Statistics from The University of Alabama. She has experience working with many industries such as automotive, chemical distribution etc. on transportation and operations management projects. She works extensively with food banks and food pantries on supply chain management and logistics focused initiatives. Her graduate and undergraduate students are integral part of her service-learning based logistics classes.

She teaches courses in strategic relationships among industrial distributors and distribution logistics. Her recent research focuses on engineering education and learning sciences with a focus on how to engage students better to prepare their minds for the future. Her other research interests include empirical studies to assess impact of good supply chain practices such as coordinated decision making in stochastic supply chains, handling supply chains during times of crisis and optimizing global supply chains on the financial health of a company. She has published her research in Journal of Business Logistics, International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management and peer-reviewed proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education.

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Michael D. Johnson Texas A&M University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Michael D. Johnson is an associate professor in the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution at Texas A&M University. Prior to joining the faculty at Texas A&M, he was a senior product development engineer at the 3M Corporate Research Laboratory in St. Paul, Minnesota. He received his B.S. in mechanical engineering from Michigan State University and his S.M. and Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Johnson’s research focuses on design tools; specifically, the cost modeling and analysis of product development and manufacturing systems; computer-aided design methodology; and engineering education.

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Consumers now have the ability to shop online from a wide variety of products with a shorter order delivery time. This puts a great pressure on the distribution centers and warehouses to increase inventory. Although increased inventory results in a shorter order fulfillment time, it causes a high inventory holding cost. To decrease the cost of operation and remain profitable, industries have invested heavily in warehouse automation. Since the inception of automation and data exchange which is commonly referred to as Industry 4.0, there has been a technological revolution in the warehousing and distribution industry. Material handling remains one of the essential functions of the distribution, logistics and manufacturing industry. It comprises of different tasks ranging from receiving the raw material to shipping the finished goods inventory. Since material handling is labor intensive and incurs a high cost it is often a top priority when industries consider automation. In general, order picking alone accounts for 55% of the total material handling cost. Automated voice picking, virtual picking of products has the ability to decrease the cost of material handling and are easy to implement with employees who are capable of interacting and managing smart devices. Since automation is the essence of Industry 4.0, companies are trying to adopt it to bring the costs down for receiving, sorting, picking and putting away products in a warehouse. However, the implementation of Industry 4.0 has been challenging. The main reason behind this has been the lack of readiness among the employees who have not been trained for this technological shift. Generally, data analysis, managing order pickings, and maintaining smart computers are technical requirement to adopt Industry 4.0. Insufficient training in those areas are a prime impediment for small and midsize distributors and manufactures to take a step forward towards Industry 4.0. The purpose of this research is to understand the preparedness of the implementation of Industry 4.0 among small and midsize enterprises (SMEs). Through this research, skills such as data analysis, inventory auditing, understanding technical drawings of material handling layout were found to be critical for the implementation of Industry 4.0 among many others. A survey comprising sixteen Likert-type questions regarding these skills was drafted and was filled by thirty-three SME managers from sectors like logistics, manufacturing, distribution, and retail. The responses were statistically analyzed and helped in mapping the skill deficit for the existing workforce. It was found out that 80% of the employers felt their workforce was not well trained for the current and expected future technological advances. It led to the conclusion that to implement even small initiatives like voice picking, virtual picking in the SMEs, necessary technical training is required for the workforce.

Koshal, A., & Natarajarathinam, M., & Johnson, M. D. (2019, June), Workforce Training and Industry 4.0 Adoption in Warehouses at SMEs Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33669

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