There's no doubt automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) are powerful tools that optimize productivity and throughput capacity in distribution and fulfillment operations. Shuttle systems have emerged as the next generation of AS/RS technology due to their storage volume, speed, flexibility and scalable layout configurations. But what should companies consider when evaluating and adopting this technology in their facility?
Applications of AS/RS
Together, automated systems and workflow modifications can solve the challenges of high-throughput e-commerce fulfillment. Shuttle systems in particular maximize efficiency based on operational needs, strategically releasing products in sequence for truck unloading and mixed-load pallet building or grouping similar orders together for faster fulfillment. Shuttles are also valuable in buffering applications, preparing incoming materials or kitting operations for assembly.
The vendor partnership
AS/RS technologies are a large capital expenditure, and an investment of such magnitude merits a long-term partnership with a special focus on experience and support capabilities. It's important to ask the right questions during the RFP process. Does the vendor have experience integrating other large, multimillion-dollar systems? Do they have a reputation for stability and seeing projects through to success? Is the equipment manufactured locally with responsive support and fast repairs?
Integration and scalability
Systems integration requires not only physical connections but also significant data integration links. Tightly coupled systems not only improve performance but drive a better ROI. Consider the overall system, both today and in the future, during the initial AS/RS design and installation to streamline efficiency and enable scalability over time as order volumes and storage requirements increase.
Goods-to-operator fulfillment enabled by AS/RS can more than double labor productivity by eliminating walk time between picks. Furthermore, in comparison to other AS/RS technology, shuttles hold key advantages in throughput capability, accuracy and layout flexibility. The chart below provides a comparison:
For more information, read the full white paper, What to consider for a successful AS/RS investment, by Tom Meyers, senior product manager, integrated systems. To learn more about Intelligrated's AS/RS solutions, click here.
It's estimated that 40 percent of all purchases today utilize more than one commerce channel. A common example of these channel-crossing orders is the "click and collect" method, where customers take an active role in fulfillment by ordering online and picking up products at the nearest retail outlet. In today's inter-connected commerce environments, there are a number of ways that a customer can place an order and expect to receive it. These channel-crossing orders require multiple touch points and place unprecedented demands on store labor, cutting into profit margins that can add up to significant losses across the network.
While these scenarios are playing out more frequently, many retail outlets are caught off-guard by customer expectations and struggle to maintain promised service levels. Meanwhile, the expectations of a standard online order continues to change, driven by e-commerce players, with two-day delivery quickly becoming the new norm and one- or same-day delivery representing a true priority order.
What this means to stores is that retailers not only have to be prepared to fulfill click and collect orders, but they will also likely have to contribute to the shipping process by fulfilling orders from the back room. It's a brave new world for retail outlets that are left to navigate this changing omnichannel landscape. To remain competitive and profitable, they will have to control labor costs and maximize workforce efficiencies at every point of the fulfillment process across the store network.
In our next On The Move webinar, Jason Franklin, product manager of Intelligrated labor management software (LMS), will explain how the same processes used in warehouses and DCs to control labor costs can be as effective in the back rooms of retail outlets. On Tuesday, August 23 at 2 p.m. EDT, our sixth webinar in this series is targeted for business leaders who want to learn how LMS can drive cost savings throughout the store network. You'll learn how LMS helps stores achieve these efficiencies by:
- Helping outlets prepare for in-store order pickup and shipping
- Driving labor cost savings through planning and execution monitoring
- Meeting service level agreements and increasing throughput without adding labor
- Establishing process predictability to operations through accurate forecasting
- Employing more agile order-building processes
Register now to join Jason Franklin on Tuesday, August 23 at 2 p.m. EDT for this important discussion.
The increase in e-commerce home deliveries, combined with the advent of dimensional (or DIM) pricing in 2015 on some carrier ground deliveries, has translated to increased shipping costs associated with order fulfillment. As e-commerce continues to fuel the growth in small item home deliveries, last-mile carriers were quick to adopt this volumetric pricing strategy. To keep shipping costs low and ensure that web shoppers kept clicking the Submit Order button, retailers have since began the transition from traditional, corrugated cartons (boxes) to alternative shipping containers such as bubble mailers and polybags. In our most recent On The Move Webinar, “Goodbye cartons, hello polybags,” I explored the impacts this packaging shift has had on fulfillment strategies.
I kicked off the Webinar with a brief explanation of DIM pricing, including specific examples of how larger, yet lighter items are more expensive to ship than heavier, smaller products. I then shared two key statistics that demonstrated the impacts of this pricing change:
- 33 percent of all ground shipments are affected by DIM pricing
- Shipping costs increased 42 percent in 2015 compared to 2014
The first live Webinar poll question confirmed that 50 percent of attendees have already made changes to their organization to address the DIM pricing change. The second question revealed that 61 percent of attendees have already incorporated polybags into their packaging mix, with cartons still the most common packaging option at 93 percent. Clearly, there will always be a place for traditional packaging, but the pliable nature of polybags makes them ideal for irregular-shaped items or softer apparel-type products. But the rule of thumb with packaging is: the more pliable the packaging, the lower the DIM weight and shipping costs. Conversely, the more pliable the packaging, the more challenges it presents to the automated material handling system.
The remainder of the Webinar discussed the many ways retailers can lower shipping weights. Note that the first four items on this list precede addressing actual conveyance/sortation strategies:
- Re-negotiate with carriers
- Utilize on-demand packaging solutions via machines that create cartons based on order profile
- Install cartonization software that tells packers the optimal size package to use
- Deploy rate shopping software that selects the optimal carrier based on size, weight, destination and negotiated rates
- Perform pre-sortation at the fulfillment center to skip shipping zones and dramatically cut costs
- Reduce packaging sizes either with new systems designed to accommodate polybag flow from pack-out operations to shipping or by investigating opportunities to handle polybags with existing equipment
The two primary methods for incorporating polybags into fulfillment centers are singulated and bulk flow systems. I discussed the pros and cons of each method and explained that the bulk flow system eventually requires automated or manual singulation prior to final sortation in the fulfillment center.
I then explained some of the challenges associated with conveying polybags through the DC, including: the potential for extra catch points; the difficulty conveyor cameras have detecting the leading and trailing edges of an item; and the challenge of barcode identification due to package irregularities.
Finally, I addressed the variety of conveyor and sortation equipment types and their ability to handle these pliable polybags. There are a multitude of factors to consider and as many equipment options to evaluate, from rollers and belt zones to diverters and sweep sorters. With so many considerations, it’s vitally important for retailers to consult with an experienced material handling solution provider. To learn how you can integrate polybags into your DC operations, please visit our archives to view this Webinar in its entirety or speak to an Intelligrated material handling expert.
The explosive growth in e-commerce and the need to reduce shipping costs have changed the packaging methods used to send goods from manufacturers to consumers. From polybags to thin shipping envelopes and bubble packs, today's e-commerce operations have a myriad of packaging options at their disposal. As a result, direct-to-consumer orders are more frequently being shipped in polybags than ever before. In our next On The Move webinar, Tim Kraus, product management manager, will discuss the far-reaching implications of this shift throughout the materials handling industry.
In particular, Kraus will explain how this transition from rigid cartons to polybags is quickly redefining material handling systems, processes and technologies. While these new packaging options offer reduced overall package size and dimensional weight, they present new challenges for material handling systems - especially those originally designed for more rigid packaging types.
"Goodbye cartons, hello polybags" is the fifth webinar in the On The Move series and will take place on Thursday, July 21 at 2 p.m. EDT. As an expert on the application of conveyor and sortation solutions for the distribution, manufacturing and parcel delivery markets, Kraus will explore the drivers behind the shift from rigid cartons to polybags, explain what exactly is changing and provide strategies to help you make the transition. Attendees can expect Kraus to expound on the following key points:
- How the desire to reduce shipping costs is leading to further adoption of polybags
- Why the pliable nature of polybags creates challenges for traditional material handling systems
- How singulated systems compare to bulk handling in terms of total fulfillment costs
- How appropriate system design, material handling equipment and devices can solve these challenges
Kraus will also discuss some of the common challenges of moving polybags through conveyor and sortation systems, including: product damage, shingling, jams, snags, irregular item and label orientation, and side-by-side products. He'll explore the considerations of transitioning existing technologies and material handling equipment to polybags, including:
- Can it effectively handle the product?
- Can it locate the true position of the item?
- Can it identify the package contents?
By answering these questions, Kraus will ultimately help attendees evaluate whether to optimize their current system or invest in new conveyor and sortation technologies. Register now to join Tim Kraus on Thursday, July 21 at 2 p.m. EDT for our next On The Move webinar.
E-commerce retail continues to grow. The first quarter of 2016 saw $92.8 billion in sales, representing a 15.2 percent increase from 2015 according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, marking the 26th straight quarter with year-over-year growth at or near 15 percent. This offers greater opportunity, but also real challenges - chief among which is meeting customer expectations through every step of the sales cycle. Distribution and fulfillment operations play an increasingly vital role in this paradigm, responsible for getting the right product to the right person at the right time.
Shoppers have high expectations for a seamless shopping experience and constantly search for retailers capable of providing the service levels they need at the best price. This speed and value duality is manifested in how shoppers approach shipping costs. According to the 2016 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study, 33 percent of shoppers cite speed of delivery as a reason they choose to buy from an online marketplace but 42 percent select economy delivery most often.
To find a decisive advantage and deliver the consistent speed and accuracy online shoppers crave at a competitive cost, material handling partners must innovate.
Enter dynamic discharge compensation (DDC).
DDC technology uses the same software and hardware that already exists on cross-belt sorters to unlock greater levels of accuracy to address the more complex product mix found in e-commerce. At the recent MODEX trade show in Atlanta, DDC won an MHI innovation award in the best innovation to an existing product category.
DDC uses a vision system and software algorithm to determine the most accurate discharge trajectory. It detects each item's exact size and location on the carrier belt and automatically adjusts discharge timing by a few milliseconds, yielding near-perfect 99.99 percent divert accuracy.
Minimal divert errors
DDC minimizes expensive divert errors that cause jams, missed chutes, recirculations and increased manual touchpoints. Accurate diverts go a long way to ensuring satisfied customers, by avoiding delays, missed shipments and incomplete orders - not to mention the costly, complicated returns process.
Increased chute density
Enhanced divert precision enables operations to increase chute density without risking a corresponding increase in productivity-sapping errors. This offers expanded operational capacity in a smaller footprint.
Reduced equipment wear
Most cross-belt sorters attempt to correct an improper induction by repositioning items closer to the center of the belt prior to discharge. Conversely, DDC only moves the belt for item discharge, improving energy efficiency and extending the life of motors, bearings and belt components. Additionally, the increased precision of DDC reduces impacts on chute sidewalls due to items traveling at an incorrect trajectory.
Optimized large-belt, single-carrier sorter configurations
With DDC, large sorters can perform double duty. This means that larger items can be moved on one side and smaller items on the other, effectively raising system capacity. A double belt can even be configured to carry larger items in one direction while simultaneously carrying items in the opposite direction, as illustrated below.
For more information, read the full white paper, Precise cross-belt sortation: Unlocking efficient e-commerce distribution by Satyen Pathak, senior product manager.