Today's omnichannel fulfillment operations face unprecendented challenges. Rapidly increasing SKU counts, the proliferation of single-item orders and same-day delivery expectations are impacting nearly every piece of the order fulfillment process. From inventory storage and picking to order consolidation and shipping, fulfillment centers are implementing new solutions to survive and keep pace with demand.
In our most recent On The Move webinar, I took a closer look at the trending solutions leading retailers are deploying to keep pace with omnichannel demands. The reality of today's e-commerce driven world is that many fulfillment centers are handling up to 700,000 active SKUs; all must be available for picking at any given time. While it's estimated that 75 percent of SKUs account for 99.9 percent of orders, even the less frequently ordered products must be managed to meet the same service level agreements.
This trend presents significant fulfillment challenges and is changing the means by which omnichannel operations are being conducted. Common picking strategies retailers are deploying range from improvements to manual methods to increasing degrees of automation:
- Manual pick modules with traditional shelving - Still a valid option, especially combined with RF, voice and augmented reality in the picking area; can be constrained by the availability of labor
- Mini-load cranes - Allow for better utilization of building space, although not necessarily for retrofits in existing lower-profile buildings; ideal for lower-rate pick items
- Shuttle systems - Effective in existing or new buildings, shuttles reduce the need for labor when paired with goods-to-operator (GTO) methodology; well-suited for higher rates of demand as well as high- and low-rate items
One caveat to increasing automation is a reminder that for maximum utilization and ROI, these systems should be designed for peak demand periods.
On the order fulfillment side of the equation, I also provided general guidelines for developing the ideal solution for a particular application, keeping in mind that fulfillment centers may be responsible for as many as 300,000 orders per day. Order fulfillment strategies I presented in the webinar included:
- Light-directed cart fulfillment - Basic method that many big-box retailers are deploying in their DC networks (not dedicated e-commerce fulfillment centers.) Allows discreet and batch-picking for up to 10,000 orders per day.
- Zone routing pick-and-pass - Ideal for up to 50,000 orders per day, system integrates pick-to-light, RF or voice-directed pick modules via intelligent conveyor and sortation methods. Alternatively, some operations are using small automated guide vehicles (AGV) or robots to route orders from zone to zone.
- Put walls - Ideal for peak output periods or seasonal promotions with higher order volumes. They can be combined with an existing zone routing system which can then become a batch pick option for the put wall system.
- Tilt-tray / cross-belt sortation - Well-suited for up to 150,000 orders per day or pick rates up to 25,000 items per hour. It allows retailers to run e-commerce, B2B and retail fulfillment operations on the same sorter; can be combined with mobile put walls to flex with peak volumes.
Finally, I discussed the increasing role of robotics in omnichannel fulfillment centers, especially as technologies transition from case picking mixed-pallet building to each picking requirements. To learn more and view this webinar in its entirety, please visit our On The Move webinar archives.
It’s an exciting time of year in Chicago. Thanks to the World Series, Wrigley Field has taken over as the city’s epicenter in the north, but the Near South Side is primed to take center stage next week as McCormick Place hosts PACK EXPO International 2016.
From Nov. 6-9, attendees from more than 130 countries will find the latest solutions designed for today’s most influential challenges facing packaging and processing operations: constantly changing consumer demands, pressure to do more with less, labor challenges and advances in technology. At booth S-3666 in the south hall, Intelligrated will highlight high-throughput automation solutions, seamless integration capabilities and lifecycle support services.
The in-booth, live demonstration will feature the company’s new Alvey® 891i palletizer and a robotic depalletizing cell, integrated with vertical reciprocating conveyor and motor driven roller (MDR) conveyor. The solutions on display are ideal for food, beverage and consumer packaged goods operations with reduced or eliminated secondary packaging. This requires equipment capable of handling everything from display cases and polywrapped bundles to paper-board overwrap packs and more.
The Alvey 891i palletizer provides exceptional versatility and maintainability, thanks to an updated user-friendly design. Ideal for both single and multi-line operations, this high-level, row-forming palletizer manages intricate stacking patterns and handles packaged food, beverage, converted paper and personal care products. The 891i also includes enhanced features for improved safety, ease of use and maintenance.
Intelligrated is recognized by the Robotic Industries Association as a certified robot integrator, and offers end-of-arm tooling designed and built in-house to handle a variety of applications and product types. This flexibility allows for quick product changeovers, frequent packaging changes and can handle single cases, rows or layers.
The vertical reciprocating conveyor offers a simple, cost effective solution to move cartons and totes in a compact footprint. The scalable solution offers user-configurable input and discharge heights, and industry leading speed to match each operation’s unique requirements.
Representatives from Intelligrated Lifecycle Support Services will offer advice to maximize return on material handling investments and keep critical systems running smoothly. Mechanical and risk assessments form the backbone of proactive lifecycle management and offer proven solutions to improve safety, system longevity and efficiency.
Stop by Intelligrated booth S-3666 to see the automation solutions that leading manufacturers depend on to exceed expectations for reliability, throughput and flexibility.
To schedule a meeting at the show, email email@example.com. Multilingual booth support in Spanish and French will be available.
Intelligrated, now part of Honeywell, invites you to also visit their booth in Upper Lakeside Center, E-7441, for workflow productivity solutions that optimize manufacturing and warehouse operations, and embedded sensors and controls that help keep teams safe and productive.
I look forward to seeing you at PACK EXPO International 2016!
We recently presented an On The Move webinar called "Conquering palletizing challenges in manufacturing and warehouse environments." One of the most interesting aspects of our webinars is the ability to poll the audience during the presentation and learn more about their operations and preferences. To kick off this webinar, we asked the audience what palletizing method they were currently using. Surprisingly, the majority of attendees were either using manual palletizing procedures (42 percent) or none at all (42 percent). The remainder of the polling group were equally distributed between conventional and robotic palletizing.
These results reveal something that we know all too well: that the importance of palletizing in manufacturing and warehouse operations is something that's often overlooked. Inadequate palletizing processes create a ripple effect throughout the facility's operations that ultimately jeopardize customer commitments and have a direct impact on the bottom line. So, to make sure you're selecting the correct palletizing strategy for your operation, we presented the following six key considerations:
1. Palletizing and line efficiency. The impact of palletizer downtime on operating performance has a direct impact on a facility's overall efficiency. It's important to think of the palletizing function as part of the overall production or distribution system, with inefficiencies causing backups to the whole operation. The speed of your operation plays an important role in the palletizing selection.
2. Packaging trends create new challenges. Less packaging, more fragile materials, smaller items and more totes are changing the palletizing landscape. In some cases, the pallet itself is becoming the consumer display method. All of these factors can dramatically affect stacking patterns and pallet stability.
3. Explosion in the number of SKUs. E-commerce has increased the variety of case and pack sizes, including large packs for club stores and small packs for convenience. This variance requires a palletizer capable of rapid, tool-less changeover to continually adapt.
4. Changing load configurations. End-of-aisle display loads, "label out" preferences and reduced pack strength all impact how pallet loads are constructed. Palletizers must enable frequent pattern revisions and incorporate various options to shore up load strength, such as: shorter loads, stretch film, tier sheets, trays and cap sheets, and corner boards.
5. Increasingly stringent safety requirements. Deploying a palletizing solution in your facility requires careful consideration of applicable safety standards. Robotic and automated solutions must adhere to CAT 3 control system requirements.
6. Labor market challenges. The dwindling pool of qualified workers, increasing minimum wages, high turnover rate in manual palletizing functions and the potential for injury are all reasons to consider an automated palletizing solution.
With all of these factors to consider, the next topic we discussed in the webinar was the different palletizing solutions available - from high-speed row-forming and inline conventional machines to robotic and hybrid solutions. If it's time to consider a change to your palletizing strategy, please visit the webinar library on our website and view this presentation in its entirety. Then, consult with one of our palletizing experts to determine what the best solution is for your operations.
Facility managers place a lot of focus on improving the productivity of their distribution and manufacturing environments. The importance of effective palletizing, which is often the last process that takes place within a facility, is sometimes overlooked. But when problems arise in the palletizing process, they create a ripple effect throughout the entire facility, often backing up other areas critical to maintaining productivity. Regardless of the operation, facility managers must try to minimize this pain and determine what the best palletizing method for their operation is.
Knowing when to incorporate or upgrade an automated palletizing solution is a difficult decision for facility managers. If you're struggling to keep up with increasing order volumes, unable to adapt to evolving packaging methods or outgrowing your manual pallet-building processes, these are indications that it may be time to reevaluate palletizing automation. From conventional systems and state-of-the-art robotics to hybrid options with varying degrees of sophistication, today's palletizing options can be difficult to sort through.
In our next On The Move webinar, Frank Pellegrino, vice president of machine products, and Matt Wicks, vice president of product development, will explore several key drivers for palletizing automation and help you decide which solutions are the best match for your unique throughput and capacity challenges. This webinar will take place on Thursday, Oct. 20 at 2 p.m. EDT. Attendees can expect to learn the following:
- How palletizing automation is helping manufacturers increase production
- Why distribution facilities are integrating palletizing solutions into their fulfillment workflows
- When it's time to transition from manual pallet building to automated solutions
- How to decide which is the best palletizing option for your operation
For facility managers whose operations have outgrown their manual palletizing processes, the decision to move to an automated solution is a matter of keeping up with production volume. It's as simple as realizing that there just aren't enough labor resources to meet manual palletizing demands.
There are also many changes in the market causing facility managers to reevaluate their palletizing strategies. First, rates are increasing, driving the need to maximize pallet efficiencies. Second, packaging materials and pallet profiles are changing, creating issues for older palletizing equipment that is incapable of accommodating them.
The primary packaging change is the reduction of secondary packaging materials, typically the outer shell that protects the product. In many instances, this secondary packaging is going away altogether, causing the consumer product itself to be palletized with a much thinnner layer of alternate packaging material, such as loose paper or film that offers little protection. While this may increase the volume of product on the pallet, the low coefficient of friction is more difficult to control.
To add to the challenge, some pallets are designed to display the palletized product in the store, often allowing one side to be open or perforated. And as packaging materials become thinner to improve sustainability - such as plastic bottles - it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid product damage or loss. All this adds up to a loss of productivity and efficiency, and the need for increasingly flexible palletizing options.
If any of these challenges sound familiar to you, register now to join Frank and Matt for this timely On The Move webinar.
Think of conveyor as the streets and canals of the distribution center. Automated conveyor solutions are the essential infrastruture required to keep orders flowing to the right place at the right time. From pallet transport conveyor to case, tote and polybag varieties, each component - even down to conveyor parts and accessories - plays a critical role to meet operational requirements.
And just as city streets must accommodate motorcycles, cars, trucks, pedestrians and bicycles, every industry must accommodate more variety thanks to SKU proliferation. Big box retailers are expected to sell every brand of every product, from toothpaste to refrigerators. Every food and beverage distributor must offer year-round variety, seasonal specialites and health-conscious options. But besides product, packaging makes a difference, too. With the advent of dimensional weight pricing, most conveyor and transmission solutions must handle packaging types like polybags and bubble mailers that represent a significant departure from the rigid corrugate cases for which they were originally designed.
This places a premium on flexible conveyor solutions capable of fueling a facility's high-speed sorting procedure reliably and efficienctly. This means picking the right technology - conveyor belts and parts - matched to the requirements of the application.
And just like avoiding road closures and construction detours keeps traffic flowing, minimizing unplanned downtime and ensuring system availability is critical. This means a preventive maintenance program to head off issues before they happen and quick-response, 24X7 support in the event of an outage. Working with an OEM lifecycle management group and a computerized maintenance management system provides data-driven decisions and the necessary level of detail - even covering how to aggregate conveyor parts.
To learn more about advanced conveyor applications, read the Intelligrated blog, Understanding accumulation technology choices leads to better solutions for operations or contact a representative.