The unrelenting challenges of e-commerce fulfillment are pushing retailers to make significant changes in their distribution and fulfillment center infrastructures. SKU proliferation, smaller delivery windows and tighter service level agreements mandate improved storage density, increased throughput, and the abilities to prioritize demand and allocate resources in real time. Keeping pace in this competitive direct-to-consumer retail landscape requires innovative and holistic approaches to material handling automation throughout the DC.
In our most recent On The Move Webinar, Unlock Your DC’s Hidden Potential With WES, we discussed how modern warehouse execution systems (WES) address these escalating complexities by providing intelligent, dynamic allocation based on man, machine and workstation availabilities.
According to our recent collaborative research with Peerless Research Group on behalf of Logistics Management, 35 percent of material handling executives stated their biggest challenge is fulfilling more orders, faster and at lower costs. This is closely followed by their other top concerns, including:
- Improving order accuracy
- Obtaining enough labor to support operations
- Managing increased customer delivery expectations for same-day/next-day/free delivery
- Improving cycle times
- Reducing costs on a per-order basis
The webinar gave us an opportunity to look closer at a handful of use cases that demonstrate how retailers are solving many of these challenges with WES.
Increase storage density
Through the integration of an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) shuttle, WES enables dynamic space allocation to exploit existing warehouse capacity. We know that AS/RS systems are designed to capitalize on the vertical cubic space often squandered in many facilities. Instead of using fixed-width storage locations, AS/RS systems enable dynamic (or variable-width) storage locations that precisely match product sizes to the horizontal space available on a shelf.
Depending on specific product sizes and SKU mix, some operations have achieved storage capacity gains of up to 25 percent without increasing the square footage of the facility. This smart storage system also addresses SKU proliferation while reducing manual labor requirements, especially during seasonal product changeovers.
Improve picking efficiencies
While manual picking processes are the norm in the majority of today’s fulfillment operations, the combination of WES and pick-to-light solutions can offer dramatic improvements. Similar to the inventory storage problem, many facilities have untapped opportunities to move from fixed-width forward picking locations to more dynamic workflows. With WES and pick-to-light, picking locations can be optimized to precisely match location sizes to product profiles.
Efficiency gains from this approach to picking include: improved picking space utilization, which eliminates the need to expand or invest in additional pick locations; dynamic product allocation, which allows for maximum storage density among varying product SKUs, profiles and dimensions; and compact forward pick locations, which minimize unproductive walk times.
Remove throughput barriers
Effective order consolidation is one of the most common throughput barriers in modern fulfillment centers. WES combines automated post-sortation chute closing and smart put wall allocation to address these pitfalls.
The automation of the chute closing process enables virtually continuous resource utilization, decreasing the manual labor “dwell” times of operators waiting to move and confirm chute clearance. Put wall integration with WES allows orders to be assigned by priority to the best available put wall station. WES also enables order assignment to individual cubbies in a put wall; compare this method to the inefficiency of assigning an entire order wave to a put wall station. The result is continuous, dynamic reassignment of orders, even at the put wall cubby level.
To learn how WES can transform the efficiency of your direct-to-consumer fulfillment operations, view this webinar in its entirety.