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The new space race: How conveyor solutions keep pace with urbanization

city view

The transformative effect of e-commerce on order fulfillment operations is well known. Rising consumer expectations for convenience and shipping speed have left many operations struggling to keep up. The increased number of direct-to-consumer fulfillment paths threatens to inflate shipping costs and the number of delayed shipments, spurring dissatisfied customers to take their business elsewhere.

But these are not the only forces driving change. Rapid urbanization fueled by flight from suburban areas and small towns to larger urban centers shows no sign of slowing down - especially among millennials with technology preferences that favor e-commerce. Already crowded cities are getting bigger and denser by the month.

This mass migration to urban areas means e-commerce supply chain operations must follow suit, and increased competition for limited space by residential and commercial interests drives up land costs. This, coupled with SKU proliferation and expanding inventory requirements, all conspire to give operations no choice but to optimize the limited space they do have. 

Flexibility is key

Urbanization pressures order fulfillment operations to embrace flexibility. That is, the flexibility to optimize existing layouts and handle a wide array of package shapes and sizes, all coming together in a well-oiled e-commerce order fulfillment system to keep orders flowing to the right places at the right time.

A motor driven roller (MDR) conveyor right angle transfer enables such a material handling solution, offering the best payback in facilities with a high concentration of merge and divert operations working in a limited footprint. Using a compact, efficient design, these transfers facilitate a 90-degree change in direction for cases and totes, as well as some polybags.

Polybag handling can present added complexity to systems because of their inherent physical characteristics. Detecting the leading and trailing edge of the bag can be difficult due to inconsistent shapes, and bag corners add additional catch points that can lead to throughput-killing jams. Understanding what your system can handle, in terms of packaging types and the items within, is critical to success. An experienced partner or internal engineering resource can provide the expertise to ensure that equipment can reliably handle polybag-packed e-commerce orders.

Keep up with growth without sacrificing efficiency

As products and packaging types used for home deliveries continue to evolve, vital fulfillment infrastructure like sortation and conveyor systems must adapt. The right MDR transfers can adjust roller and band spacing to accommodate wide varieties of packaging types and sizes. For polybags, this can help minimize catchpoints and risk of jams without the need for margin-crushing modifications.

And as demand grows, best-fit fulfillment workflows change. Goods-to-operator fulfillment maximizes labor productivity and makes the most efficient use of available space to serve growing order volumes. In this workflow, MDR transfer works in tandem with an AS/RS shuttle system to keep inventory flowing smoothly and efficiently. 

When not in use, the transfer's run-on-demand technology minimizes wasted energy, resulting in longer equipment life and a fraction of total energy use. For operations already strained by higher land costs, these reductions offer welcome cost savings to minimize overhead and protect margins.

Designed to avoid downtime

With such tight delivery schedules, demanding service level agreements and competition only a click away, unplanned downtime is lethal. But in the event an outage does occur, a swift resolution can mean the difference between repeat business and losing customers. MDR transfers are maintenance-friendly by design and use fewer unique replacement parts, which means operations spend less time on maintenance and less money on replacement parts. Simpler designs with fewer parts also reduce risk of an outage and hasten a resolution in the event that an outage does occur.

For more information on how MDR transfers, conveyors and other sortation solutions can work as part of your e-commerce order fulfillment strategy, contact a Honeywell Intelligrated representative or read the Conquer high-volume e-commerce with goods-to-operator order fulfillment white paper.