When facing challenges within an organization, it’s natural to look for the quickest fix for the best price. This often means making small, incremental improvements instead of investing in larger enhancements. While this approach may seem like the best way to solve problems with minimal impact to day-to-day activities, a new report from Swisslog says it’s unlikely to pay off in the long-term.

Kaizen is the Japanese word for ‘improvement’ and in business, it has become synonymous with continuous incremental improvement in work flows and processes. Yet, the report from Swisslog suggests before smaller improvements are made, businesses should strategically consider the different pathways to warehouse automation. Not all improvement solutions are designed to be a match in every logistics environment.

Many businesses rightly identify the need for automation but make the assumption that they need to ‘start small’ – adding mechanized systems to their warehouses.

In a recent real-world example, a company was seeking to identify a solution for an automated ‘goods-to-person’ warehouse in a bid to achieve a significantly higher level of business performance. However, a year earlier the company had invested in a mechanized ‘zone–to-zone order picking’ solution, consisting of conveyers and carton storage shelving.

“Senior management could see that the solution wasn’t going to meet their long-term requirements,” said Swisslog’s Head of Sales in the UK, Shane Faulkner. “Fortunately, the mechanized solution didn’t occupy the entire warehouse, making it possible to build an automated goods-to-person solution on the same site.”

It soon became clear that the mechanized system made it much harder for them to proceed with the automation they required, as the business had invested a large sum on a now largely redundant piece of equipment that occupied a prime position in the warehouse.

Said Shane: “This is just one example of a common predicament for many businesses, where investments are made to achieve productivity gains, but in doing so they dilute the business case for a better investment, causing them to plateau at a lower level of productivity.”

Read more in the new Swisslog whitepaper: “The Kaizen Paradox: How Incremental Improvement Impede Innovation” at www.swisslog.com/whitepapers.