March 13, 2024

How Automation Improves Secondary Device Processing

Randy Teele
Automation adds business value. The opportunity to transform device processing is worth considering. Industry veteran Randy Teele shares his thoughts.

The secondary market for used hand electronics has surged in recent years to more than $64 billion. That means that tens of millions of phones and tablets are now moving through warehouses over the course of a year. The question is, how do we process secondary devices faster, more reliably and more efficiently? Many traders, resellers and wholesalers who process devices are getting bogged down with manual analysis, rework and returns. Gathering and maintaining a workforce capable of handling the inspection and refurbishing process of thousands of different electronic devices has become unsustainable.

Apkudo’s focus, on the other hand, is on digitizing the warehouse and introducing automation into the reverse supply chain process—using a platform and system that can ingest high volumes of product. Processing is only part of warehouse operations. Connecting receiving, grading and diagnostics, storage and repair is a game changer. This has a significant impact on the overall efficiency of processing devices with infinite permutations of cosmetic and/or functional imperfections. Process automation provides consistency, higher quality, and scalable repeatability.

Based on the two decades I’ve been in this industry, here are six of the chief benefits I’m seeing by introducing automation into device processing:

 1.      Removing human subjectivity to increase accuracy

The human eye is not perfect. Add in other factors like different lighting levels in a facility and you might get two different assessments from two different people. On the other hand, when you take an accepted, analog description of a grade or a cosmetic value and you digitize it, robotics will not think about it differently ever again. Every time you run a device through the same system—providing the exact same functional test and the exact same cosmetic grading—you’ll get the same results. That consistency drives value both to the process and to the products. Accuracy is valuable.

2.      Improving predictability

You know your maximum processing volume by the hour. Yet, workers have life moments—sickness, car trouble, holiday time off. People's availability is not totally in your control. The predictability of automation also creates a controlled environment for volume spikes. You can plan around seasonality and new-device releases that contribute to increased volumes of returned devices.

3.      Accelerating volume, capacity and revenue recognition

Automation moves devices through the testing and grading steps faster than humans. Speed matters. Because the pace at which you can handle devices is consistent, you can manage more device inventory. For some, this means finally tackling the inventory sitting on the warehouse floor because your process is far more efficient and reliable. The faster devices move into and out of processing, the faster revenue can be realized on secondary device sales.

4.      Increasing scalability

The ability to scale operations with known costs is a level of control many of our customers seek to leverage. Decisions on adding or extending shifts become a formula and not a guess.

5.      Improving consistency of data

Data is currency. Let’s look at just one example of the complexity automation can solve.  OEMs will come out with a myriad of form-fits and functions across multiple generations. These can stay around and be viable for several years. This means you end up with hundreds of variations of style, form, fit, and function that come into a warehouse. To ask a human to comprehend and deal with all of those different variables is a huge challenge. Automation becomes the control mechanism for interpretation and grading results. The data opportunity is significant, and I will be covering this in a future blog.

6.      Increasing the intelligence of device processing

Digitization of the warehouse is happening across supply chains in all industries. But no one wants to simply automate bad processing. What we’re advocating is smarter automation that connects business processes that bring devices into and out of the warehouse. Our customers are moving beyond siloed programs and solving transactions along the device journey.

These are the kinds of business value I’m discussing with customers each day. I’m committed to sharing best practices and our common learnings to advance the industry together.

Consider this: The first iPhone was released in 2007. Seventeen years later, manual processing remains the norm. The time for change is now.