Modern distribution and fulfillment centers are comprised of countless systems and technologies. From automated conveyor and sortation to robotic palletizers and shuttle storage arrays, these components are designed to meet customer service level agreements and get orders delivered on time. But among these, the importance of effective order consolidation is too often overlooked. As a result, many order inaccuracies and labor inefficiencies continue to hinder otherwise smooth fulfillment operations.
In Intelligrated’s latest On The Move webinar, titled “Concerns about changing order profiles? ‘Put’ them to rest!”, I discussed the crucial role of put walls for critical order consolidation.
The term order consolidation refers to the gathering of items from multiple, independent storage and picking areas and placing (or putting) them into shippable containers. Today’s multi-channel fulfillment environments generate several product flows from disparate storage methods and increasingly diverse order profiles. As e-commerce continues to drive the demand for direct-to-consumer orders, labor-intensive unit (aka each) picking often increases labor costs and the potential for errors. Put walls have proved invaluable for not only consolidating this wide range in fulfillment demands, but also in improving order accuracies and process efficiencies.
In the webinar, I demonstrated how upstream picking and sortation methods often dictate put wall integrations and presented several possible put wall scenarios. Multi-tote and single discrete orders — in this example of a blended solution, a mixed picking area utilizes a centralized conveyor to inject order totes into the pack-out and consolidation area. Totes with multiple items are diverted to put walls for order consolidation and back-side pack-out, while discrete order totes simply need to be packed.
This method maximizes put wall capacity and minimizes product touches by labor resources.
Batch pick — refers to the bulk picking of the same SKU for multiple orders, then routing and distributing these items at multiple put wall locations. This method offers a lower cost of material handling equipment, flexibility to adapt to business changes and a reduction in labor costs. Tote management, however, may become a challenge.
Pick module zone pick-and-pass — higher pick densities and multi-level (vertical) storage areas allow zone pick modules to reduce the square footage needed to achieve the desired pick faces — thereby minimizing labor travel and touches. Put walls enable order consolidation and pack-out to maximize throughput, regardless of order volumes or product profile.
Pre-sort via loop sorter — bulk and aggregate upstream picking processes inject individual SKUs or cartons via a loop sorter where they are delivered to designated put walls for order consolidation. This method is ideal for picking large batches to reduce labor touches and increase throughput; it also allows for concurrent processing of multiple pick/pack waves. Installing a loop sortation/automation typically results in slightly higher material handling equipment costs.
Retail put-to-store — very effective means to distribute demand of various quantities, sizes and shapes into cartons to be delivered to a retail store. The put wall process is most useful with carton and/or a tote type of consolidation, and when supported by a take-away conveyor to a staging area for shipment. Upstream sortation and intelligent software can be configured to sequence carton flows and fulfillment prioritization.
Regardless of the picking and sortation method used, put walls are becoming indispensable for adapting to modern fulfillment demands and providing efficient order consolidation. Software-configurable put wall solutions are now available to enable modular configurations of a single piece of hardware, providing even greater return on investment. To learn more about these flexible solutions or revisit key sections of this webinar.