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Motor driven roller conveyor: The e-commerce supply chain solution

Online shoppers are hungry for selection and speed. They want a strip mall worth of products at their fingertips, ready for delivery by their next meal. In fact, a recent survey shows that 87 percent of online shoppers identified shipping speed as a crucial factor in whether they were going to shop with a brand again, and 47 percent of those surveyed said they would pay more money to get same-day delivery. 

The high volumes of smaller, individual orders flooding out of warehouses as a result of these e-commerce trends has spurred changes throughout distribution networks that have real consequences for material handling systems. For example, as carriers and shippers look to make the most efficient use of available delivery capacity, automated equipment must handle a wide range of packaging types - such as polybags.

How do I prepare for polybags?

To cut costs that come with dimensional weight pricing, more companies are using polybags or envelopes to ship individual e-commerce orders. For many omnichannel distribution centers, this means handling a variety of packaging types - polybags, corrugated boxes, totes - in one operating space. 

Polybags, with their tendency to bunch up on themselves, bring a unique set of handling challenges. They need to move along a conveyor system with minimal contact and catchpoints to avoid jams and keep product moving. Motor driven roller (MDR) conveyor is the conveyor system of choice.

What are the advantages of MDR?

With the growing pressure to quickly ship items ranging in size from pill bottles to bed frames, the material handling industry is facing new challenges. To keep up with e-commerce order fulfillment, ask yourself: Are my conveyors ready for e-commerce? If you're using conventional conveyor systems designed to handle only cases or totes, the answer is probably no.

No mattter the order size or packaging type, effective e-commerce order fulfillment requires moving high volumes of items through distribution processes quickly and efficiently - without damage. Zero-contact MDR technology enables individually-powered zones to instantly stop, maximizing product control, eliminating back pressure and reducing the risk of product damage. 

This technology maximizes the amount of items on the conveyor, allowing operations to make the most of available space and optimize accumulation density. For e-commerce operations challenged to house an ever-expanding inventory, efficient use of space is critical, ultimately resulting in more orders fulfilled, greater customer satisfaction and a growing business. 

MDR systems also use fewer conveyor parts, helping lower maintenance requirements and reducing the risk of downtime. Its modular design can scale as operational demand dictates and easily adapt to existing layouts and footprints for easy installation, along with providing the flexibility to change configurations as business needs (and online shopping patterns) shift. 

But that's only part of the MDR story

The versatility of MDR conveyor means it is not just limited to e-commerce order fulfillment and polybag handling. An array of advanced features such as a full width belt, an array eye and more can take operations to the next level - to say nothing of MDR conveyor's essential role as part of sophisticated automated material handling solutions. Keep an eye out for these aspects and more in part two and three of Intelligrated's MDR conveyor blog series. 

In the meantime, read the Intelligrated white paper, Selecting the right accumulation conveyor, for more information on making the right conveyor choice. 

Make order fulfillment more accurate and flexible

The rapid growth of e-commerce and rising consumer expectations are prompting retailers to adjust their order fulfillment strategies to keep up with these demands. Luckily, several enabling technologies are coming of age which allow retailers to respond accordingly.

Here's a quick overview of the most effective strategies and solutions currently available, which can be combined and integrated in multiple ways to meet any fulfillment operation's unique needs.

Enhance picking productivity

Many DCs have already made the shift to paperless picking solutions, which increase productivity by up to 50 percent. Depending on your business needs, productivity can be enhanced with one or more of the following:

Pick-to-light - These scalable, easy-to-use systems combine intuitive colored displays that guide the pick with sophisticated algorithms that reduce movement times and accommodate hot picks. Minimal training is required, and built-in diagnostics enable easy troubleshooting - making pick-to-light the industry's most efficient, accurate and high-speed order fulfillment solution.

Put-to-light - Similar to pick-to-light, put-to-light solutions direct pickers to the correct bin or slot to place an item. Best suited for batch-picking applications, put-to-light brings comparable improvements to accuracy and productivity when compared to traditional manual sorting.

Voice picking - This solution provides voice commands via a wireless network, leaving the picker's hands free while increasing picking speed and accuracy rates. Voice commands can also be programmed in multiple languages, significantly decreasing training requirements for non-English speakers. Voice picking can be used as a cost-effective, stand-alone system or as a fully integrated enhancement of other solutions.

Radio frequency (RF) technology - Handheld and mobile RF devices are ideal for lower-velocity SKUs, enabling 99.9 percent accuracy and increasing productivity by 10 to 15 percent.

Mobile picking carts - For low-velocity applications, mobile cart systems combine advanced pick-to-light components, voice automation and RF scanners in a system with go-anywhere flexibility. 

Improve omnichannel distribution with put walls

Whether DCs rely on operator-to-goods batch picking, disparate zone-picking processes, or an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS), put walls maximize efficiency by serving as points of demand consolidation. Ideal for multi-line orders, flash sales or seasonal demand, put walls save time and labor by enabling intelligent order batching, adjustments and other allocations among wave, pick and put. 

Automate for efficiency

Respond to ever-changing business needs quickly while minimizing labor with intelligent automation solutions:

Warehouse execution systems (WES) - WES software optimizes your facility with an operational brain, delivering real-time responsiveness with automated decisions based on constant analysis of orders, inventory, labor, processes and equipment. 

Automated storage and retrieval solutions - Ideal for operations with high-turn inventory storage and short order cycles, AS/RS systems provide quick access to products, while reducing storage labor and footprint requirements. 

Unit sortation - Designed for ultra-light, irregularly shaped and polybagged items, these systems deliver the highest throughput at minimum speeds for years of reliable, low-maintenance operation. 

Intelligrated is an experienced designer, manufacturer and installer of all these solutions. To learn more about order fulfillment systems that can save you time, money and hassles, click here

Using vertical conveyor solutions to maximize your DC footprint

Modern DC operators face a common dilemma: the space they need to meet omnichannel demands is running out. As direct-to-consumer order fulfillment requirements continue to push the limits of service level expectations, the physical constraints of their warehouses have them feeling boxed in. Typical options to solve this problem - such as expansion, new facility construction or outsourcing - are often impractical and require significant capital expenditures. But there is another direction operators often overlook to maximize the use of their existing operations; upward! 

Our next On The Move webinar will explore the vertical conveyor solutions available to solve the challenge of diminishing space in the DC. This complimentary webinar is titled, "Vertical solutions: elevating your products to the next level," and will take place on Thursday, March 23, 2 p.m. EDT / 11 a.m. PDT. Presented by Joe Joice, vice president of business development for USS, an Intelligrated company, this informative session will answer many questions about the trend of going vertical, including:

  • Why is the option to expand vertically becoming more commonplace?
  • How are commerical logistics models evolving from traditional "push" to consumer-driven "pull"?
  • What are the pros and cons of today's wide variety of vertical lift and conveyance technologies?
  • Which applications are currently benefiting from these vertical conveyor solutions?
  • Where is this technology applicable to manufacturing and assembly environments?

Attendees will learn how modern vertical conveyor solutions enable a wide range of input and discharge height customizations for maximum application flexibility. Joice will demonstrate how these systems can expand to heights up to 30 feet and utilize C-shape, Z-shape and T-shape workflow configurations.

Aside from the obvious advantage of maximizing space utilization, attendees will also learn the many ancillary benefits of vertical sortation solutions, including: enhanced safety, increased efficiencies, higher throughput and decongestion.

So if you're ready to evaluate the viability of vertical solutions to alleviate your DC space constraints, you won't want to miss this important webinar. Register now to join Joe Joice on Thursday, March 23 at 2 p.m. EDT / 11 a.m. PDT. 

Spare no effort to keep spare parts on hand

When it comes to running successful distribution center (DC) operations and manufacturing facilities, sometimes it's the things that we don't always pay attention to that can make the greatest impacts on productivity. The critical spare parts needed to keep DCs and manufacturing facilities running at peak performance are a perfect example. To prevent unexpected downtime and disruptions for your customers, these parts need to be on-site and quickly accessible in the event of an emergency. Simply put: it's a matter of having the right part at the right time. Unfortunately, this is an area where many operations stumble, and the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality can often lead to costly downtime.

In Intelligrated's latest On The Move webinar, titled "7 parts best practices you can start using today," I explained how maintenance teams can establish effective spare parts management programs. 

1. The first step is to utilize computerized maintenance management systems / enterprise asset management systems (CMMS / EAMS) to manage parts inventories and provisioning. For those who do not have one of these systems in place, a simple Excel spreadsheet may be used, but requires diligence to implement parts check-in and check-out processes.

2. Recommended spare parts lists (RSPLs) from the manufacturer of the material handling equipment (MHE) provide a comprehensive list of all the parts you need on-site to support your systems. It's equally as important to periodically compare inventory on hand to the RSPL to identify any parts missing from your inventory. 

3. Next, I talked about the necessity for realistic budgeting, especially as systems age and spare parts expenses increase. To help with this effort, Intelligrated recommends an annual assessment of your MHE to determine if maintenance is required, what parts are needed and if upgrades are available. 

4. Keeping well-organized spare parts cages - that are secure, clean, organized and labeled with location IDs and part numbers corresponding to the inventory management system - is critical to finding the product when you need it most. 

5. Having processes in place that lead to inventory accuracy is another key to a successful spare parts management program. Maintenance teams should perform annual physical inventory or institute periodic cycle counts to make sure critical parts are on-site. 

6. Work with value-added vendors (not just vendors offering the lowest cost) to cover any possible contingency. Vendors should provide access to multiple channels for ordering and help with planning for emergencies, budgeting or obsolescence. If operations are down in the middle of the night, you want a vendor that can ship parts same-day and offer 24X7 availability. Convenient purchasing arrangements - such as PunchOut integration - also save time and money. 

7. Last, I talked about the importance of proper training for maintenance staff to document procedures and reinforce best practices. Capturing staff feedback and gaining their buy-in are critical to establish an environment where everyone is working together toward downtime prevention. And, as I always say, "Don't forget the donuts." 

With an estimated 50 percent of MRO budgets spent on spare parts, it's ironic that many DCs and manufacturing facilities either don't have the correct spare parts on-site or are unable to find these parts when they're needed most. Following these simple best practices can help expedite planned maintenance and prevent prolonged, unexpected outages that can derail DC and manufacturing productivity. 

To view this webinar in its entirety, please visit our On The Move webinar library

 

Move over, Hollywood! Intelligrated celebrates some hardware of its own

It's awards season! The Golden Globes are complete and the Academy is gearing up for their 89th awards ceremony on Feb. 26. But Tinseltown does not have a monopoly on awards. Intelligrated took home plenty of hardware in 2016, gaining recognition from trade journals, other businesses and trade associations. 

MHI Innovation Award

The awards journey begins at the material handling industry's premiere trade show in 2016 - MODEX. Intelligrated's dynamic discharge compensation (DDC) technology won in the "best innovation to an existing product" category. The IntelliSort® cross-belt sorter enhancement emerged from a pool of 98 submissions to take home the gold. An ideal solution for high-throughput e-commerce operations, DDC offers the most precise diverts on the market with 99.99 percent sortation accuracy, reduced energy consumption and minimal manual touches.

Top 20 System Suppliers

Modern Materials Handling's annual list of the top 20 automated material handling system providers once again included Intelligrated. This was the third straight year Intelligrated placed in the top 10, with an annual revenue of $760 million in 2015 - 21 percent growth over the previous year. Chairman and General Manager Chris Cole attributed the success to the proliferation of e-commerce and omnichannel retail. 

 

Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Intelligrated co-founders, Chris Cole and Jim McCarthy, won the 2016 Masters of Entrepreneurship award for the Ohio Valley region from Ernst & Young. The Intelligrated co-founders were selected by an independent judging panel made up of previous winners, leading CEOs, private capital investors and other regional business leaders. The program celebrates those who lead growing and dynamic business, prioritize the success of employees and contribute to the wellbeing of their communities.

Supply & Demand Chain Executive 100

Intelligrated was awarded Supply & Demand Chain Executive's 100 top supply chain projects for 2016 thanks to its work with Merrill Corp. Implementing the Intelligrated Voice solution enabled a 65 percent increase in fulfillment accuracy - from 99.73 to 99.9 percent while also increasing throughput by 45 percent.

Material Handling Product News

Intelligrated ended 2016 on a high note, with the IRIS computerized maintenance management system recognized as one of Material Handling Product News' products of the year. Each month, the editorial staff selects five innovative products, before ceding control to the readers to vote on what they truly feel are the best at the end of the year. 

To see Intelligrated's award-winning innovations firsthand, book a trip to Chicago for April 3-6 and head to McCormick Place. Be sure to visit ProMat booth S-2003 and then venture across the hall to Automate booth #1616 for a look at innovative automated order fulfillment solutions. Click here to register for free - the same badge works for both shows. 

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The information you provide is solely used by Intelligrated. Intelligrated will not distribute email addresses to third party organizations. For more information, please read our Privacy Information.