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My Experience Adjusting to the Warehouse Automation Environment as a New Graduate

Kevin Najdienow | 3 June 2020

 

Graduating from university is an exciting and meaningful milestone for many. Following shortly after is a huge leap into the first full-time position of your career. Along with starting this new chapter of your life, comes more responsibility and new challenges. This past fall I began my career with my first full-time job at Bastian Solutions. From my experience, I can say that this responsibility will come much faster than you would think.

During my first morning at Bastian Solutions, I received a laptop, an orientation, and personalized training along with additional resources for further learning. Next thing you know, I was on a project site that afternoon. By mid-week I was on my own supervising, managing and tackling on-going problems. Sure, this isn’t what I expected from my first week, but I decided to go in with the right attitude and expect nothing more than a successful project.

Some of the common tasks I had on site during my first week included:

  • Assign daily tasks and manage contractors
  • Update and collaborate with the customer
  • Assist in solving and address engineering related issues
  • Organize shipment of material
  • Commissioning
  • Provide support during and after Go-Live

Below are some of the tips I picked up during my first few weeks.

Knowing Your Strengths and Your Limits

At first glance these tasks may seem straightforward, but the pressure begins to build when you compare your limited experience to contractors that have been in this field for 10 or more years. You start to feel they may doubt your judgements based on your lack of experience and minimal hands-on knowledge. What has worked best for me in overcoming this mental hurdle is having confidence, persistence, and an eagerness to learn. That being said, it goes both ways. It is also important to show these contractors respect; that you know there is a lot to learn from them, and that you are all part of a team reaching one goal. A phrase I often remind myself of is: “No matter how hard you try, you can’t rush experience”.

Managing Project Timelines

I believe when there’s clear progress on site, work becomes a little less stressful and your goals become more attainable. I was able to create a detailed schedule to guide installation timelines and maintain organized work on site. This kept contractors on track to completing tasks such as mezzanine installs (columns, bracings, resin decking, platform handrails, stairs), certain conveyor section installs, electrical installs, etc. by weeks end. It also provided guidance in case delays were observed on site. By organizing the schedule, I was able to direct contractors on how they could determine what changes could be made to accelerate certain project goals. It became a very open work site environment with everyone working toward one goal.

Customer Communication

What I also found to be of high importance is the customer service you provide. For any project, regardless of size or cost, customer satisfaction should be a priority. One thing I observed early on with this project was the importance of being responsive and attentive. I could vouch for many that as a customer dealing with a supplier online, fast responses are what I look for. Customers appreciate frequent updates throughout each phase of a project. If you physically can’t get an answer to them in the same day or next, reaching out to simply say “we’re working on a solution for this issue” will go a long way. During this project I learned efficient responsiveness through daily progress reports and frequent in person conversations. Determining the customers product flow and when volume was at its daily peak to prevent any miscoordination with install was important to discuss. For example, the frequent discussions brought to our attention that an important section of conveyor should be installed during a weekend to prevent any issues. Small schedule changes, as such, could mean a lot to overall project milestones. I believe excellent customer service really does open doors for future opportunities. This can be done through one of the oldest and easiest methods of marketing: word of mouth.

On-the-Job Learning

The phases I was involved in included installation, commissioning, go-live and finally, support. As a mechanical engineering and management graduate, controls and PLC wasn’t a major academic focus throughout my studies. Therefore, there was a learning curve and I tried to gain as much knowledge as I could during these important phases of the project. Knowledge in I/O checks and testing sensor placements (full-lane, sensor for the scan tunnel, jam sensors, etc.) was important to gain, especially for future design projects I’m hopeful to work on. It was clear that knowing both the mechanical and controls aspect of things expands your mind and thinking to help in designing a complete system. It also helps you troubleshoot problems during later phases of the project, such as the support phase. For example, if a customer contacts you regarding a scanner issue (as had it happened in this project) you know the general steps to take with some knowledge on controls. It’s always good to know more and learn as you work. Learning will always be of good use, I believe.

On a final note, I want to mention a key takeaway from my experience at an automated warehouse environment as a new graduate: Do not be afraid. Sometimes, things will go really well and other times things won’t go according to plan. No matter the outcome, remember to take initiative and responsibility. You want to show that you’re independent in this industry, learn on the go and are eager to tackle problems on your own. I always believed that you learn the best by diving right into it. With all that being said about taking responsibility, don’t shy away from asking for some help. From day one I have constantly been reminded that Bastian Solutions is one team. Fortunately, my colleagues at Bastian Solutions are approachable, open minded, and welcome questions. Regardless if it’s the smallest of questions, people at Bastian Solutions are there for you.

 

Want to join our team? Head to bastiansolutions.com/careers. 

Author: Kevin Najdienow

Kevin is a Bastian Solutions Project Engineer based in Toronto, Ontario. He has a Bachelors of Mechanical Engineering and Management degree from McMaster University. He joined the team in Fall 2019 and as a Project Engineer, a quick summary of his duties are supporting on-site supervision, design and providing effective material handling solutions.

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