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4 ways to make high-velocity, pick-to-light fulfillment more accurate

Accuracy plays a critical role in the success of any modern distribution center (DC). In fact, for some businesses such as pharmaceuticals, accuracy outweighs every other aspect of the DC, including cost. No matter what the product, accuracy can help to build a loyal client base, while even one incorrect pick can cost you a valuable customer.

Yet as crucial as it is to any business, ensuring order accuracy has become an even bigger challenge as the complexities of omnichannel fulfillment have multiplied in recent years. To make matters worse, many pick- and put-to-light systems aren't designed with the ability to assist pickers in making sure every order is accurate. Too often, order fillers can't even ask the system basic questions about SKU numbers or order IDs, while managers can't easily trace errors to particular workers.

Here are four key ways modern pick-to-light systems give pickers and DC managers the tools they need to ensure order accuracy:

1. Empowering pickers - Order fillers can query the system to determine the correct SKU, order ID, store ID and last put location. They can also report important conditions back to the system, such as out-of-stock items, damaged merchandise or requests to suspend stock locations.

2. Management insight - Managers investigating the sources of order inaccuracies can trace errors back to specific order fillers. Labor locations, pick rates and accuracy rates are available 24/7 via virtually any type of digital display device, from smartphones to tablets and laptops. This gives managers the ability to find the sources of any problems through labor management software and, if necessary, provide additional coaching or training to individual order fillers.

3. Checking the weight - For an additional quality measure, Intelligrated's pick-to-light systems can perform a weight check, comparing an order's actual weight to its expected weight. This simple step can identify mismatches before an order is shipped to the buyer, giving the DC a valuable backup strategy to ensure the order is correct. 

4. Adapting to variable product sizes - Modern pick-to-light systems include trays designed to accurately handle a wide variety of product sizes and shapes, increasing picking and putting accuracy in high-velocity, high-SKU omnichannel and e-commerce fulfillment environments. This allows retailers to optimize shelving and racking allocations to accommodate different product profiles throughout the year, always keeping relevant items within a picker's reach.

Whether your business is focused on e-commerce, store replenishment, retail, omnichannel fulfillment, manufacturing or route distribution, advanced pick- and put-to-light technology provides scalable, flexible solutions that drive maximum throughput and order accuracy. To learn more about how Intelligrated's intelligent pick-to-light systems can make your DC's fulfillment more accurate, click here

Top 10 retail trends for 2017 and beyond

I recently presented an On The Move webinar where I discussed the retail trends for 2017 and beyond. After compiling the data from various industry sources, what struck me was how much these trends have evolved in a relatively short period of time. In the last 10 years, traditional retailers and e-tailers alike have lived through a dynamic transition in the marketplace. As consumer expectations, demographic changes and the growth of e-commerce drive distribution and fulfillment strategies, our industry will need to continue to adapt. 

What follows are the top 10 retail trends for 2017 that are impacting retailers now - and which most likely will affect their operations well into the future.

1. Population densities concentrated in major cities. With 82 percent of the U.S. population living in and around major cities, retailers must adapt to consumer behaviors by offering urban store formats and updating distribution and fulfillment strategies that enable direct-to-consumer deliveries.

2. Continued e-commerce growth. E-commerce is here to stay. Over the last decade, the calculated annual growth rate of e-commerce vs. total retail sales is 14.5 percent. Year over year, e-commerce sales continue to outpace traditional retail sales by significant margins.

3. Brick-and-mortar retailers struggle online. Traditional retailers aren't necessarily capitalizing on e-commerce opportunities. Although retail sectors are impacted differently, overall e-commerce growth for these retailers is on the decline.

4. Amazon continues to dominate e-commerce. In 2016, 4 out of every 10 U.S. dollars spent online were with Amazon. The rest of the top internet retailers are growing at a lesser rate than Amazon, with each segment requiring specific fulfillment strategies to accommodate their product profiles and customer service level agreements. 

5. E-commerce SKU proliferation. For typical retailers, the number of products available online greatly outnumber those stocked in their outlets. This reality creates complexities in the distribution and fulfillment process: as more individual items are ordered, picking requirements increase in the warehouse.

6. Cross-channel shopping is the new norm. 38 percent of shoppers utilize multiple channels (omnichannel) in their shopping process. Of those who use a single channel, 42 percent search and buy online, while 20 percent search and buy in stores.

7. Generation Z is going back to stores. 98 percent of Gen Z (younger than 18 years of age) prefer to shop in stores. Product quality is most important to them, so the opportunity to inspect these products first-hand is imperative. Retailers will have to closely monitor their buying preferences as they mature. 

8. More consumers buy online and pick up in stores (BOPIS). To offset shipping costs and add convenience to the buying process, consumers are increasingly utilizing stores to pick up online orders. Of the 50 percent who have done this, 46 percent make additional purchases at the store.

9. Dimensional weight (DIM) pricing changes packaging profiles. To increase the density of parcel carrier trucks and improve last-mile shipping efficiencies, DIM pricing continues to drive the packaging profiles away from traditional cartons to polybags. 

10. Labor challenges persist. With the retail industry labor market at nearly full employment in 2016, warehouse operations are challenged with recruiting, training and retaining talented employees.

It's clear that everyone must have an e-presence to drive and achieve their sales targets moving forward. To do so, retailers will need to develop omnichannel distribution and fulfillment strategies to delight customers and meet challenging service level agreements. 

To learn more about trends in the retail space, please view this webinar in its entirety

Paying more for fewer employees? Put LMS to work!

The ongoing debate to increase hourly wages has been well publicized in the labor-intensive retail market. In a recent Bloomberg article, the columnist discusses Wal-Mart's recent wage increase in its attempt to attract and retain a dedicated pool of higher-value employees. The rationale behind this decision was simple: by delivering a greater customer experience through cleaner stores and better-stocked shelves, Wal-Mart leadership hopes to also increase profit margins. While this strategic shift may indicate a larger trend in retail and order fulfillment environments, the ever-present mandate to "do more with less" is still in effect.

Changing personnel demographics are also forcing retailers' hands. As a generation of aging employees is retiring, millennials - who bring a completely different set of expectations for prospective employers - are taking their place. To appeal to this succeeding generation, companies must build more attractive workplaces with opportunities for advancement, perks and, yes, higher wages.

As a result, many companies are opting to offer higher wages to a smaller, cross-functional workforce. Among the many challenges to this approach include:

  • Establishing standards with which to measure performance
  • Identifying the company's top-performing employees
  • Cross-training staff to be proficient in multiple areas
  • Maintaining a continually motivated workforce

A labor management system (LMS) is ideally suited to address these challenges. Here's how:

Engineered labor standards. A successful LMS implementation includes the development of labor standards for all tasks in the store or warehouse. This establishes a baseline of performance to which employees will be held.

Employee performance metrics. Understanding what makes the top performers tick and achieve their high efficiency rates can offer actionable insights. The winning habits of these employees can then ideally be replicated across the entire staff.

Training and coaching. Asking fewer employees to do more means they'll have to quickly become proficient in multiple functional areas. By pairing LMS with a voice system, training, coaching and mentoring become integral to delivering ongoing performance improvements. 

Employee engagement. LMS helps establish a culture of accountability via its ability to create healthy competition among employees and by incentivizing their performance. Programs can be designed to offer the top performer daily monetary incentives, paid time off or other bonuses.

Without question, utilizing a smaller workforce will require every employee to operate at maximum performance at all times. But without the metrics to continually track employee performance and incentive programs to ensure an engaged workforce, achieving this goal will be a tall order. Intelligrated's GoalPost® LMS - combined with our Voice solutions - can deliver the throughput and accuracy benefits equivalent to a traditionally larger workforce. 

9 ways modern pick-to-light systems increase order fulfillment productivity

While pick-to-light systems have been used for three decades or so, today's distribution centers (DCs) face omnichannel pressures that didn't exist when they were first introduced. In addition to the needs of traditional store fulfillment, DCs also face the challenges of e-commerce, including a growing number of SKUs, seasonal demand peaks and the high expectations of service level agreements (SLAs).

Unfortunately, most pick-to-light systems available today don't take advantage of abundant opportunities to improve productivity throughout the distribution chain. What's worse, some systems can't cope with the rigors that seasonal surges and other demand spikes place on picking processes - even to the point of failure.

Here are nine ways modern pick-to-light systems are keeping pace with today's fulfillment challenges - and anticipating the future:

1. Higher-volume picking - Modern pick-to-light systems are the industry's gold standard, increasing productivity rates by up to 50 percent compared to traditional paper systems. That's double the gain offered by voice and radio frequency (RF) systems, which average around 25 percent.

2. Less training time - Today's pick-to-light technology is intuitive and easy to learn. This reduces the need for extended training, while making it easier to manage turnover and maintain flexibility in your labor force. 

3. Flexible technology - Many pick-to-light systems can't adapt to rapidly changing order profiles, volume or picker workflows. Intelligrated offers the industry's most comprehensive hardware options to meet any DC's unique requirements. 

4. Dynamic shelf space optimization - Intelligrated's xD (extended display) ensures proper picking and slotting size, adapts to smaller SKUs, eliminates un-utilized shelf space and saves order fillers unnecessary walk times. 

5. Full system integration - Warehouse execution software (WES) software enables the seamless integration of pick-to-light with a wide variety of hardware, technologies and systems. This also makes it easy to respond quickly to hot or accelerated orders, which traditional systems often struggle with. 

6. Live monitoring and predictive planning - Real-time data allows DC managers to track individual work or zone productivity while optimizing throughput and responding to daily demand fluctuations. Historical data is used to properly allocate your workforce, evaluate shift structuring and look for new ways to maximize productivity. 

7. Easy troubleshooting - Onboard diagnostics report events in real time while generating a "stay alive" heartbeat signal, allowing problems to be pinpointed and resolved quickly.

8. Hardware durability - From pick faces built from aluminum or high-impact polycarbonate, to anti-vibration connectors and strict "burn-in" testing, modern pick-to-light components are designed to withstand the abuse of day-to-day warehouse environments. 

9. Bypass options - Backup options allow order fillers to keep working, even if a pick-to-light hardware component fails. The system software adapts immediately to prevent large-scale disruptions, often limiting outages to a single shelf. In the meantime, pickers can get the information they need from a separate display, RF device or voice system.

The tight integration of Intelligrated's pick-to-light hardware and software enables optimum workflow and simple scalability, offering your business a competitive advantage. 

Top 5 sortation challenges facing post and parcel operations

The digital age has transformed the postal sector, offering alternatives for personal correspondence, billing, advertising and news, while driving the growth of e-commerce. Increasing parcel volumes, aggressive delivery timelines and other pressures confront operations with unprecedented postal processing challenges. 

These topics will be the focus of the educational sessions and solution demonstrations at the National Postal Forum, May 21-24 in Baltimore. For a preview of what's to come at NPF, read on for the top five challenges facing parcel and postal sortation operations today. 

Challenge 1: Package variety

E-commerce is the fastest growing retail segment, with direct-to-consumer orders accounting for over half of shipping volume since 2014. In addition to flats and letters, this challenges postal sortation solutions with a variety of product sizes and shapes like soft packs, polybags and corrugate boxes. And this shift is not yet complete - while most parcel volume is currently between 44-88 pounds, the dominance may switch to small packets less than 4.4 pounds. The variety of packaging types forces postal operations to find sortation solutions with the capability to keep up. For example, sliding shoe, tilt-tray and cross-belt sorters provide fast, gentle handling of letters, soft packs, polybags, corrugated cases, cartons, totes and other odd or oversized items. 

Challenge 2: Volume

In addition to a variety of package types, postal sortation systems must process growing order volumes. While traditional mail volume has remained relatively flat since 2012, USPS has seen significant increases in package deliveries, driven by e-commerce. In that sense, postal operation sortation systems have adopted many of the same characteristics of sortation solutions for e-commerce. Serving this expanded volume has also driven major logistics companies to expand their operations, opening up one or two new regional sorting hubs, on average. Sortation solutions must offer the necessary throughput speed and scalability to deliver dependable, accurate throughput during seasonal spikes or long-term growth in volume. Tilt-tray and cross-belt sorters are capable of delivering the necessary capacity and speed when handling the wide-ranging product mix of post and parcel sorting environments. 

Challenge 3: Automation integration

Automation offers a solution to improve overall postal operator efficiency. Part of this benefit comes from streamlining processes and reducing manual touches, helping protect operations from labor shortages as demographic shifts make their mark on the workforce. In modern processing centers, these automated systems include more than just sortation, as a variety of transportation and diverting functions can be automated. Putting conveyor, sortation, software and other technologies together requires deep integration experience and the capability to handle emerging technologies. As more businesses adopt the Internet of Things, data gathered from automation can help fuel this data-driven quest for greater efficiency and transparency. More post and parcel logistics processes continue to be automated, with significant increases in drone use over the last two years as companies explore adopting them as an everyday delivery solution.

Challenge 4: Customer expectation

At the click of a mouse or tap of a touch screen, consumers expect quick access to a variety of products from virtually anywhere. Keeping up with aggressive delivery timelines requires order fulfillment solutions that leverage sortation for greater efficiency inside and outside the four walls, setting up downstream logistics processes for success. For example, sequentially releasing orders to match delivery routes offers greater efficiency after leaving the processing hub. Furthermore, postal operators and retailers must collaborate to enable different delivery features, such as click-and-collect, parcel lockers and delivery time visibility into logistics processes. In the race for speed and transparency, postal operators must adapt their logistics and IT processes to keep up.

Challenge 5: Space utilization

As population dynamics shift and more people move to cities, carriers must serve greater volumes in areas with limited, more expensive real estate. Instead of building out, these conditions encourage postal operations to build up and increase storage density by adopting vertical storage solutions. Implementing vertical sortation solutions saves valuable floor space and can save money - helping avoid the cost of expansion or new construction.

To learn more about innovative sortation solutions designed to overcome the challenges facing post and parcel operations, visit USS, an Intelligrated company, at NPF booth #309 or email info@unitedsortation.com to schedule a meeting at the show. 

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