The increase in e-commerce home deliveries, combined with the advent of dimensional (or DIM) pricing in 2015 on some carrier ground deliveries, has translated to increased shipping costs associated with order fulfillment. As e-commerce continues to fuel the growth in small item home deliveries, last-mile carriers were quick to adopt this volumetric pricing strategy. To keep shipping costs low and ensure that web shoppers kept clicking the Submit Order button, retailers have since began the transition from traditional, corrugated cartons (boxes) to alternative shipping containers such as bubble mailers and polybags. In our most recent On The Move Webinar, “Goodbye cartons, hello polybags,” I explored the impacts this packaging shift has had on fulfillment strategies.
I kicked off the Webinar with a brief explanation of DIM pricing, including specific examples of how larger, yet lighter items are more expensive to ship than heavier, smaller products. I then shared two key statistics that demonstrated the impacts of this pricing change:
- 33 percent of all ground shipments are affected by DIM pricing
- Shipping costs increased 42 percent in 2015 compared to 2014
The first live Webinar poll question confirmed that 50 percent of attendees have already made changes to their organization to address the DIM pricing change. The second question revealed that 61 percent of attendees have already incorporated polybags into their packaging mix, with cartons still the most common packaging option at 93 percent. Clearly, there will always be a place for traditional packaging, but the pliable nature of polybags makes them ideal for irregular-shaped items or softer apparel-type products. But the rule of thumb with packaging is: the more pliable the packaging, the lower the DIM weight and shipping costs. Conversely, the more pliable the packaging, the more challenges it presents to the automated material handling system.
The remainder of the Webinar discussed the many ways retailers can lower shipping weights. Note that the first four items on this list precede addressing actual conveyance/sortation strategies:
- Re-negotiate with carriers
- Utilize on-demand packaging solutions via machines that create cartons based on order profile
- Install cartonization software that tells packers the optimal size package to use
- Deploy rate shopping software that selects the optimal carrier based on size, weight, destination and negotiated rates
- Perform pre-sortation at the fulfillment center to skip shipping zones and dramatically cut costs
- Reduce packaging sizes either with new systems designed to accommodate polybag flow from pack-out operations to shipping or by investigating opportunities to handle polybags with existing equipment
The two primary methods for incorporating polybags into fulfillment centers are singulated and bulk flow systems. I discussed the pros and cons of each method and explained that the bulk flow system eventually requires automated or manual singulation prior to final sortation in the fulfillment center.
I then explained some of the challenges associated with conveying polybags through the DC, including: the potential for extra catch points; the difficulty conveyor cameras have detecting the leading and trailing edges of an item; and the challenge of barcode identification due to package irregularities.
Finally, I addressed the variety of conveyor and sortation equipment types and their ability to handle these pliable polybags. There are a multitude of factors to consider and as many equipment options to evaluate, from rollers and belt zones to diverters and sweep sorters. With so many considerations, it’s vitally important for retailers to consult with an experienced material handling solution provider. To learn how you can integrate polybags into your DC operations, please visit our archives to view this Webinar in its entirety or speak to an Intelligrated material handling expert.
The explosive growth in e-commerce and the need to reduce shipping costs have changed the packaging methods used to send goods from manufacturers to consumers. From polybags to thin shipping envelopes and bubble packs, today's e-commerce operations have a myriad of packaging options at their disposal. As a result, direct-to-consumer orders are more frequently being shipped in polybags than ever before. In our next On The Move webinar, Tim Kraus, product management manager, will discuss the far-reaching implications of this shift throughout the materials handling industry.
In particular, Kraus will explain how this transition from rigid cartons to polybags is quickly redefining material handling systems, processes and technologies. While these new packaging options offer reduced overall package size and dimensional weight, they present new challenges for material handling systems - especially those originally designed for more rigid packaging types.
"Goodbye cartons, hello polybags" is the fifth webinar in the On The Move series and will take place on Thursday, July 21 at 2 p.m. EDT. As an expert on the application of conveyor and sortation solutions for the distribution, manufacturing and parcel delivery markets, Kraus will explore the drivers behind the shift from rigid cartons to polybags, explain what exactly is changing and provide strategies to help you make the transition. Attendees can expect Kraus to expound on the following key points:
- How the desire to reduce shipping costs is leading to further adoption of polybags
- Why the pliable nature of polybags creates challenges for traditional material handling systems
- How singulated systems compare to bulk handling in terms of total fulfillment costs
- How appropriate system design, material handling equipment and devices can solve these challenges
Kraus will also discuss some of the common challenges of moving polybags through conveyor and sortation systems, including: product damage, shingling, jams, snags, irregular item and label orientation, and side-by-side products. He'll explore the considerations of transitioning existing technologies and material handling equipment to polybags, including:
- Can it effectively handle the product?
- Can it locate the true position of the item?
- Can it identify the package contents?
By answering these questions, Kraus will ultimately help attendees evaluate whether to optimize their current system or invest in new conveyor and sortation technologies. Register now to join Tim Kraus on Thursday, July 21 at 2 p.m. EDT for our next On The Move webinar.
E-commerce retail continues to grow. The first quarter of 2016 saw $92.8 billion in sales, representing a 15.2 percent increase from 2015 according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, marking the 26th straight quarter with year-over-year growth at or near 15 percent. This offers greater opportunity, but also real challenges - chief among which is meeting customer expectations through every step of the sales cycle. Distribution and fulfillment operations play an increasingly vital role in this paradigm, responsible for getting the right product to the right person at the right time.
Shoppers have high expectations for a seamless shopping experience and constantly search for retailers capable of providing the service levels they need at the best price. This speed and value duality is manifested in how shoppers approach shipping costs. According to the 2016 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study, 33 percent of shoppers cite speed of delivery as a reason they choose to buy from an online marketplace but 42 percent select economy delivery most often.
To find a decisive advantage and deliver the consistent speed and accuracy online shoppers crave at a competitive cost, material handling partners must innovate.
Enter dynamic discharge compensation (DDC).
DDC technology uses the same software and hardware that already exists on cross-belt sorters to unlock greater levels of accuracy to address the more complex product mix found in e-commerce. At the recent MODEX trade show in Atlanta, DDC won an MHI innovation award in the best innovation to an existing product category.
DDC uses a vision system and software algorithm to determine the most accurate discharge trajectory. It detects each item's exact size and location on the carrier belt and automatically adjusts discharge timing by a few milliseconds, yielding near-perfect 99.99 percent divert accuracy.
Minimal divert errors
DDC minimizes expensive divert errors that cause jams, missed chutes, recirculations and increased manual touchpoints. Accurate diverts go a long way to ensuring satisfied customers, by avoiding delays, missed shipments and incomplete orders - not to mention the costly, complicated returns process.
Increased chute density
Enhanced divert precision enables operations to increase chute density without risking a corresponding increase in productivity-sapping errors. This offers expanded operational capacity in a smaller footprint.
Reduced equipment wear
Most cross-belt sorters attempt to correct an improper induction by repositioning items closer to the center of the belt prior to discharge. Conversely, DDC only moves the belt for item discharge, improving energy efficiency and extending the life of motors, bearings and belt components. Additionally, the increased precision of DDC reduces impacts on chute sidewalls due to items traveling at an incorrect trajectory.
Optimized large-belt, single-carrier sorter configurations
With DDC, large sorters can perform double duty. This means that larger items can be moved on one side and smaller items on the other, effectively raising system capacity. A double belt can even be configured to carry larger items in one direction while simultaneously carrying items in the opposite direction, as illustrated below.
For more information, read the full white paper, Precise cross-belt sortation: Unlocking efficient e-commerce distribution by Satyen Pathak, senior product manager.
Omnichannel distribution center (DC) operators are always on the lookout for new order fulfillment technologies and seeking new ways to improve order accuracy and productivity. For many DCs, the problems they experience can be traced back to two primary issues:
1. Order fulfillment systems (including hardware and software) are not flexible enough to adapt to the varying order profiles, volumes and order filler workflows.
2. Order fulfillment processes are often disjointed, fragmented into several piecemeal systems that aren't easily coordinated into a unified operation.
These same DC operators are faced with ever-increasing consumer expectations. In a perfect world, they would also prefer a robust system capable of supporting complex order fulfillment processes that can also scale with fluctuations in demand. Intelligrated's flexible warehouse execution system (WES) adapts to these fluctuations with a proven suite of advanced fulfillment capabilities.
From pick- and put-to-light and Voice to RF scanning and mobile cart picking systems, Intelligrated offers comprehensive order fulfillment technologies that maximize warehouse productivity, speed and order accuracy.
- Pick and put-to-light systems - enable paperless, light-directed fulfillment with easy-to-read lights and displays
- Put-wall systems - provide goods-to-operator fulfillment for multi-line, mixed and single SKU orders
- Voice-directed picking - provides hands-free and eyes-up picking to facilitate fast fulfillment with extremely high order accuracy
- Mobile cart picking - combines pick-to-light, voice automation and RF technology to enable fulfillment of low-velocity items, enhanced mobility and go-anywhere flexibility
- RF handheld and mobile devices - support fulfillment of low-velocity items, providing favorable productivity gains over manual processes and, more importantly, real-time feedback of order filler progress
- WES software - automates the fulfillment processes within and beyond the four walls to drive maximum throughput and accuracy
As a single-source order fulfillment provider, Intelligrated fulfillment systems not only ensure maximum compatibility between software and hardware components, but also enable the integration of multiple technologies to accomplish complex tasks.
The broad range of PTL devices alone significantly increases the possibility of creating a solution that precisely meets DC requirements, including any or all of these scenarios: pallet, case and each picking; zone pick and pass or zoneless picking; and single multi-line batch picking for order consolidation. And as the manufacturer of the PTL hardware, Intelligrated can also develop custom PTL hardware as needed.
Perhaps Intelligrated's greatest strength is its proven experience and deep order fulfillment system expertise. This means you can be sure that we will develop an order fulfillment system that meets your DC's specific requirements and service level objectives. So if you're ready to realize the value of a true single source provider, contact us to begin a partnership with Intelligrated.
With consumer expectations on the rise, omnichannel distribution centers (DCs) are tasked with increasing the speed of their order fulfillment operations without compromising accuracy. Retailers are facing challenges on multiple fronts, balancing traditional in-store requirements associated with keeping product on the shelves and the multifaceted demands of e-commerce. Maintaining high order accuracy and DC workforce productivity is the difference between thriving and becoming a casualty in this highly competitive marketplace.
There is no shortage of potential pitfalls for omnichannel retailers:
- Fluctuations in order volume dictate a spectrum of staffing and process requirements; order fulfillment systems must be capable of flexing to meet demand.
- Direct-to-consumer order profiles are often comprised of a high volume of individual SKUs, requiring labor-intensive "each" picking scenarios.
- Shortened delivery timelines, reduced shipping costs and in-store fulfillment of online orders add complexity to the order fulfillment process.
With ample opportunities for order errors and productivity lapses, DC managers must have clear strategies and effective tools in place to avoid these pitfalls. Intelligrated's warehouse execution system (WES) software delivers a suite of proven capabilities to help managers take control of their fulfillment processes and gain a competitive edge, including: light-, voice-, and RF-directed picking and putting; mobile cart systems; sophisticated carton routing; AS/RS shuttle systems; material handling equipment (MHE) control via put walls and advanced labor management systems.
Through the tight integration of Intelligrated's comprehensive system hardware options and its flexible WES software, retailers can deploy the order fulfillment technology they need to achieve these critical objectives.
- Adapt to order volume fluctuations - Many modern fulfillment systems are unable to adapt order filler resources and workflows to meet variances in order volume. When order volume is low and fewer workers are needed, Intelligrated's WES software and pick-to-light (PTL) system limit the order filler's walking distance by allowing them to efficiently pick a a batch of orders in a single path. As order volume increases, the system adapts to include more workers and ramp up productivity by enabling the sharing of work zones.
- Manage a high volume of individual SKUs - Intelligrated's xD PTL hardware device economizes available slotting space in a flow rack by dynamically sizing the slot width to match the SKU. This allows for frequent reconfiguring of the picking station in accordance with changing SKU profiles - especially useful for adapting to smaller items. The xL PTL device coordinates front side slotting with replenishment activities on the the back side of the flow rack, giving operators light-directed put away instructions to place SKUs in the correct flow location while also determining proper slot widths.
- Meet increasing consumer expectations - Meeting service level agreements without cutting into profit margins or negatively impacting other areas of the business requires visibility into all areas of DC operations. Intelligrated (WES) provides this visibility through its live dashboards, giving DC managers access to the actionable data needed to make informed resource adjustments. The seamless integration of WES software with all hardware controls optimum movement of orders and materials through the DC.
Intelligrated's tightly coupled WES software and system hardware options deliver the order fulfillment technology DCs need to meet service level, accuracy and productivity requirements. For more information about these options, download our latest white paper.