Green field versus brown field: what difference does it make for automation?

Green field and brown field are not technical terms from the world of landscape gardening or agriculture. They are two differing approaches to project implementation, for example when warehouses are to be automated. They describe the initial situation and strategy, and have significant consequences on project execution and success.

Green field and brown field are, respectively, about starting with a totally clean slate, or attempting to modify and modernize what you already have. With a green field approach, it means taking account of process automation from the very outset of warehouse planning. With a brown field project, automation has to be implemented retrospectively, and integrated into the existing infrastructure. As a result, the latter has to consider many more factors, and this can place constraints on the scope of automation. With the former, with a new warehouse to be built from scratch, there is much more latitude in terms of design and planning.

But it is not just a matter of brown field or green field. There is a further, highly critical element in any automation project:

“Crucial to the success of automation efforts is the willingness on the customer’s part to embrace fundamental changes to processes,”

explains Frank Heptner, Senior Director, Automation & Intralogistics, Sales and Realization, at Linde Material Handling. In this context as well, there are differences between green and brown field strategies. With clean-slate projects, customers are consciously opting for a completely new direction, whereas they frequently struggle to embrace change when they are dealing with a familiar, legacy environment that has taken shape over many years. Frank Heptner again:

“Green field planning, by contrast, creates a very different situation, as everyone shares the experience of the new process and systems from the get-go.”

Nevertheless, a brown field project can be successfully put into action: with the right mindset within the customer organization, in-depth planning that takes account of the existing infrastructure – and with the support of an expert partner.