As the annual growth in e-commerce retail sales continues to climb, more distribution center (DC) operations are integrating put walls for effective order consolidation in their fulfillment processes. While put walls have proved essential in the majority of large e-retailer operations — helping them deal with escalating SKU counts, high order volumes and associated throughput challenges — they are equally effective for smaller e-commerce operations, traditional retailers or companies making the transition to direct-to-consumer fulfilment.
This transition is particularly challenging for those moving from bulk store replenishment to each picking as found in e-commerce fulfillment, where meeting consumer demand means stocking more items in inventory, adding more pick faces and creating more zones from which to pick. Regardless of how effective your picking processes are, if pack-out and order consolidation functions can’t keep pace, you’re putting customer service levels at risk.
This is precisely the reason that put walls, with intuitive put-to-light interfaces that instruct end users to place items into specific cubbies, are becoming more prevalent — particularly due their ability to consolidate individual items from differing areas of the DC into a streamlined pack-out process. What’s more, recent advances in warehouse execution systems (WES) and put wall technologies are making these order fulfillment systems even more flexible in DCs.
In traditional workflows, where warehouse management systems (WMS) drive put wall processing, batches of picked products are distributed to put walls in pack waves. For instance, if there’s a pick wave for 1,000 orders and the DC has 20 put walls with 50 cubbies each, the WMS simply distributes those items equally across the put walls. Before any of the individual put walls can accept additional order assignments, all 50 of its cubbies must be completed and cleared. This can result in excess idle time and underutilized resources while all orders are awaiting completion in a put wall.
WES takes a different approach to put wall assignment. Instead of waiting for an entire put wall to complete its orders, WES assigns individual orders to the first available put wall cubbies. This removes the dependence on the pack wave concept and allows more flexibility in order picking, consolidation and pack-out assignments. WES-enabled put wall order consolidation is designed to keep things moving by utilizing each cubby in a put wall rather than holding up fulfillment processes until an entire group of orders can be completed.
This discrete order per cubby method provides multiple benefits:
- Utilization — Maximizing the utilization of put walls can potentially reduce the DC footprint by limiting the number of put walls required, as well as reducing the overall investment. In the example above, the DC could likely execute the same 1,000 order pick wave with four fewer put-walls (or a 20 percent footprint reduction) simply by enabling the continuous throughput at the cubby level rather than waiting for each entire put wall to clear.
- Order prioritization — Dynamic cubby assignment with WES is also a much more effective way to expedite the fulfillment of priority orders, essentially enabling available cubbies to pull “hot” orders from the queue in real time.
- Reduce congestion — Waiting for a group of orders to be fulfilled completely before clearing a put wall creates congestion that can potentially obstruct throughput and impact the proper utilization of assets and resources. The ability to assign orders to individual cubbies reduces this congestion in environments where delays lead to declining service levels.
For those operators who need to support store replenishment and direct-to-consumer fulfillment within the same DC, put walls can be leveraged for both purposes. In the put-to-store scenario, designated put wall cubbies are assigned for specific store orders and those cubbies remain permanently assigned even after each order is complete.
Whether you’re making the transition to e-commerce or just seeking to establish efficient order consolidation processes, WES-enabled put wall integration can help you achieve significant order fulfillment improvements. Read our white paper for more information about Momentum™, our next-generation WES platform.