Transition to E-commerce Order Fulfillment With A Pick-to-light Solution
“I barely have time to get my e-commerce orders out the door every day. How could I possibly find more time to retrofit my DC? Plus, I can’t afford it.” This is a common echo from many DC managers, especially those making the transition to e-commerce retail.
We believe the real question for those DC managers considering retrofitting to pick-to-light methodologies is this: “How can you afford not to?” Case in point: By upgrading to light-directed order fulfillment, DCs can realize between 10–30 percent performance and productivity gains.
Whether you currently use paper-based, RF, or another picking automation system, you can retrofit your current setup to a pick-to-light system with minimal disruption — even in the face of today’s staggering number of SKUs and daily e-commerce demands.
The exact activities required in upgrading to a lights-enabled system depends on a DC’s current picking processes and fulfillment scenarios. Still, often all that’s necessary is an adjustment to storage profiles and the installation of a pick-to-light hardware system onto an existing pick face. In situations that require an adjustment to storage profiles, a DC operator might only need to change the heights of racks and bins or update specific storage media. For example, for an optimal retrofit, a DC might change from a pallet-oriented, case-pick process to using bins or a carton flow rack.
Pick-to-light retrofits typically require neither tearing out existing pick locations nor significant downtime. Also, the learning curve required for workers is relatively short, and they will immediately understand the benefits of a light-based system because it will make their jobs easier, faster, and more accurate. Even if there’s some disruption, is it worth the temporary inconvenience? DCs already utilizing a light-based system have seen the results firsthand.
Scenarios like the following might seem inconsequential to DC managers, but on closer inspection, the process inefficiencies quickly manifest themselves. Consider this common RF technology workflow where every employee follows these steps with each transaction:
- Scans a location
- Puts the gun down
- Uses two hands to pick an item
- Puts the item in a container
- Picks up the gun
- Confirms the pick
Multiply these movements by thousands of picks per employee — per hour, day, week, month, and year — and the cost of not upgrading adds up quickly. It can also lead to losses over time, especially since the complexities of e-commerce — including each-picking requirements and fluctuations in order volumes — aren’t going anywhere soon. In fact, the daily demands for a DC are likely to increase in complexity, thus requiring pick systems that accommodate continuous change.
When order volumes increase, employees can ramp up a light-based system’s productivity since pick-to-light hardware offers configurable options when coupled with flexible software.
Since many DCs experience the struggle to get orders out accurately, it can be difficult and time-consuming to address order inaccuracy. But doing so pays dividends. Leaders in pick-to-light system hardware and software have even developed the capability to continually monitor worker progress. Access to this real-time data allows DC managers to respond quickly and provide additional training as needed.
Even though many DCs have adopted pick-to-light technology, some may find it challenging to integrate their systems into larger, cohesive picking solutions. We’ve found that by enabling light-directed instruction at each SKU location and combining it with a modern warehouse execution system (WES) an employee can efficiently fill a batch order via a single pathway.
So, considering a potential 10–30 percent productivity gain, can you afford delaying a pick-to-light retrofit? Only if you can also afford the status quo.
For more information on the full capabilities of modern pick-to-light offerings, download our white paper The Viability of Modern Pick-to-light Systems.