Software, IIoT and Sortation Help 3PLs Meet E-commerce KPIs
To help shoulder the burdens of e-commerce fulfillment requirements, many leading retailers are supplementing their operations by partnering with third party logistics (3PL) providers. 3PLs competing in this growing market segment are quickly discovering that doing so means not just inheriting many of the same challenges faced by their retail customers, but also being tasked with achieving even higher standards of uptime, throughput and accuracy. In fact, many of these key performance indicators (KPIs) are the metrics on which the terms of their long-term, e-commerce contracts are based.
To help meet the KPI targets stated in their contracts, many e-commerce 3PLs are investing in new capabilities and accelerating their transitions to advanced automation and digital technologies. Among these technologies include: the latest in warehouse execution system (WES) software, DC connectivity enabled by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and high-speed sortation and conveyor systems.
Let’s look at how these technologies are helping 3PLs rise to the e-commerce challenge.
Warehouse execution systems
While the proliferation of automation systems is helping 3PL operators perform specific tasks throughout a DC, these systems often function as independent islands of operation and not necessarily part of a cohesive, integrated system. As a result, workflows are disconnected and visibility into overall DC performance is limited.
Modern WES software is designed to solve these common automation challenges. By connecting disparate islands of automation within a single platform, WES provides 3PL operators with visibility into their entire DC automation portfolio. And, in doing so, WES enables dynamic, real-time decision making for smart order prioritization and order release execution.
Connected distribution center technologies
Recent advancements in IIoT have given rise to the next generation of connected technologies in distribution and fulfillment operations. By connecting machine-level sensors, workers, material handling equipment, robotics and automated systems to cloud storage and powerful data analytics, these connected solutions deliver deep operational insights for real-time decision making and predictive maintenance programs.
Connected distribution center technologies are now available to help 3PL DC operators increase operational reliability, meet daily throughput targets, and maximize man and machine productivity. Today, more 3PLs are leveraging these technologies to help them achieve their uptime targets and throughput KPIs.
High-speed conveyance and sortation
It’s not unusual for high-speed, high-volume, e-commerce operations to sort up to 25,000 items per hour and complete up to 150,000 orders per day. Achieving these same throughput rates in a 3PL operation will require a combination of high-speed conveyance and sortation equipment. While there are a variety of sortation and conveyor solutions designed for various throughput requirements, the following are designed for modern e-commerce 3PL operations:
- Tilt-tray sortation systems: ideal for e-commerce applications with a diverse range of product shapes and sizes.
- Zero-pressure accumulation conveyors: help limit product damage while preventing jams that can drag down throughput rates.
- High-speed transportation conveyors: support multi-zone picking strategies by efficiently routing product from disparate pick zones in a DC to available put walls for effective order consolidation.
Combined with the automated warehouse solutions— such as advanced robotics, voice picking and pick-to-light systems, put wall order consolidation and mobile pick walls — these technologies can help 3PLs achieve their contract KPIs and succeed in the competitive e-commerce sector.
Partner with an e-commerce automation expert
No matter how far along you are in your journey to automation, it’s critically important to partner with an expert in distribution and fulfillment hardware and software. As a leading provider of automation solutions for e-commerce 3PLs and retailers, Honeywell Intelligrated has decades of experience helping 3PLs achieve maximum productivity and efficiency. Whether you’re introducing automation into an existing operation or expanding into a new facility with more sophisticated workflows, we can help 3PLs deliver maximum value for their retail customers and achieve true competitive differentiation.
Read our white paper to learn more about how 3PLs are securing long-term, e-commerce contracts and making the transition to automation technologies.