Warehouse operations depend on varying degrees of automation to maintain process efficiencies. Getting product out the door and into customers' hands requires the predictable execution of repetitive tasks - from picking, putting and sorting to shipping, receiving and storage. Even slight deviations from standard processes can put customer serivce levels at risk. And while many operators know that automation will help them avoid these pitfalls, they are unsure about which automation solution is best suited for their business.
In Intelligrated's recent On The Move webinar, titled "Sort it out! Making smart sortation automation decisions," I discussed the full range of sortation automation solutions available for modern distribution and fulfillment operations. Making the move to automation is a difficult decision, requiring careful evaluation of all variables, including:
- Pick density - how closely things are stored together
- Peak to average order volumes
- Number of SKUs, unit movement, orders across SKUs
- Conveyability of product - liquids, fragile, eaches, full cartons
- Customer service levels and delivery commitments
- Orders per day
- The cost and accessibility of labor
- Product volume
- Expected future growth of the company
- CAPEX budget requirements
- ROI expectations
While these are all important factors, order volume is often the first thing operators consider when selecting a sortation automation solution. Unfortunately, there is no cookie cutter equation to help operators select equipment purely based on order volume. Their expectations, key performance indicators and business requirements - now and in the future - are equally important factors.
It's the marriage of people, processes and equipment/automation that drives the automation decisions and solutions required. The investment in automation should provide long-term capacity, including the scalability to grow and adapt to changing requirements. Only then can operators ensure a return on their automation investment.
To help demonstrate the options available to today's DC operators, the webinar presented automation options from entry-level, manual types to sophisticated sortation and conveyance systems. For e-commerce retailers who must sort 25,000 items per hour to fill up to 150,000 orders per day, a state-of-the-art, tilt-tray conveyor and sortation solution is required. But for mail order or catalog companies, voice, GoKart and pick-to-light picking technologies may be just what they need to increase throughput and reduce errors.
To determine which sortation and automation solution is suitable for your operation, please visit our On The Move webinar archives and view this session in its entirety.
Halloween has haunted, Thanksgiving is over and the madness of Black Friday has passed. Now the race is on to finish the holiday season strong as major carriers continue their efforts to get gifts under the tree by the time stockings are hung by the chimney with care.
But impressing the in-laws with those last-minute monogrammed stocking stuffers depends on more than retailers providing a seamless shopping experience and shippers driving Santa's sleigh. Products need to make their way out of storage, run through value-added services and consolidation before heading out to shipping.
All year round, Intelligrated makes it possible to deliver on fulfillment promises with efficient labor, processes and automated equipment that ensure consistent throughput and accuracy, from picking and replenishment to conveyor and sortation.
Holiday season means peak order volumes
According to the National Retail Federation, holiday sales increased to $626.1 billion last year, including nine percent growth in online and other non-store sales. This increase in e-commerce demand applies extra pressure on distribution operations to route, pack, personalize and consolidate orders in time for shipping cut-off times.
These multi-step processes place a premium on fast, accurate sortation. Just like Santa's reindeer operate on a tight schedule, retailers cannot afford unplanned downtime or delays. Keeping operations moving swiftly requires precise diverts to direct orders to the right chutes and avoid jams, re-circulations or other errors that can stretch order cycle times and occupy system capacity.
Innovative sortation technology maximizes accuracy, throughput
Maximizing the precision of diverts from cross-belt sortation equipment depends on the size of the item and its exact location on the sortation surface. Traditional technology assumes, sometimes incorrectly, that an item is located in the center of a cross-belt and discharges at the center of the chute based on those conditions. However, Intelligrated's patented dynamic discharge compensation (DDC) technology is designed to more accurately handle the diverse product mix associated with e-commerce and holiday fulfillment, from golf clubs and footballs to apparel and shoes. DDC uses an overhead vision system to detect the exact size and location of an item, and adjust the discharge based on those criteria, enabling more precise diverts and 99.9 percent accuracy levels.
Though Intelligrated does not drive Santa's sleigh, his workshops are in good hands. The equipment, software and expert support keep gifts flowing from the North Pole to the right place at the right time. Happy holidays from Intelligrated!
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.
Alfred Sloan pioneered the concept of market segmentation in the automotive industry back in 1924, directing General Motors to produce "a car for every purse and purpose." This strategy is built on the notion that an extra layer of specificity - rather than a one-size-fits-all approach - best addresses the nuanced demands of each customer. Its staying power is a testament to the importance and relevance of this strategy in virtually any industry.
But when considering how to design a material handling system, every purse and purpose gives way to different industry challenges, from e-commerce and retail to food and beverage. Material handling automation must be based on these specific operational requirements and applications.
Today's material handling solutions must combine the right mix of automation, software and labor to meet benchmarks for throughput, accuracy and other performance criteria. Material handling consultants who take an in-depth approach dial up the right components, with appropriate modifications to ensure peak performance based on environmental, product and performance specifications.
Here are two customization examples from the recent history of material handling:
E-commerce: Goodbye cartons, hello polybags
Material handling conveyors are mission critical components of virtually every automated system in every industry. But with the advent of dimensional weight pricing in 2015, e-commerce retailers are challenging the capabilities of conveyor and sortation equipment to transition from traditional rigid cartons to smaller and more malleable shipping containers such as bubble mailers and polybags.
Despite the packaging changes, operations still need material handling equipment to quickly and efficiently move product and keep their businesses running. To accommodate packaging changes, system suppliers can provide new material handling technologies designed or modified to handle the flow of bubble mailers and polybags from pack-out operations to shipping in e-commerce applications.
Food: Palletizing performance tailored to operational demands
Food distributors are faced with the challenge of supplying multiple products to buyers around the world. The challenge is to serve the need for different products, packaging, pallets and layer patterns while still maximizing profitability and operational efficiency.
Customized material handling guidelines and equipment modifications enable automated systems to handle these variable requirements, thus enabling distributors to effectively leverage scale to minimize cost for end users. Solutions can also streamline compliance with food safety and traceability initiatives, with some systems incorporating barcode scanners to ensure the right cases make it onto the right pallets.
Material handling and logistics continues to adapt
From new packaging to product traceability initiatives, material handling systems continue to evolve to accommodate macroeconomic forces and the requirements of individual operations. This flexibility can enable operations to break new ground with new, innovative applications and greater levels of system performance and longevity. Follow Intelligrated on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and attend a material handling expo to find what's next.
One of the major trends impacting modern distribution centers (DCs) today is the rapid transition from manual to automated processes. While the desire to improve operational efficiencies, accuracy and throughput are ever-present, there are also other key drivers. First, there's the challenge of adapting to an e-commerce business model and the unique order profile demands this places on DCs. Then, there's the high cost of labor and difficulty finding and retaining qualified personnel among a declining workforce. In our next On The Move webinar, Chris Lingamfelter, vice president of integrated systems, will discuss the expanding role of shuttle systems and robotic picking technologies in the evolution of DC automation.
The webinar, titled "Shuttles: The new faces of the DC workforce," will take place on Thursday, May 19 at 2 p.m. EST and is the fourth installment in our new On The Move webinar series. As Intelligrated's resident expert in shuttle systems, Chris will lend his perspectives on the following topics:
- How to evaluate the potential viability of shuttle and robotic systems in your DC
- The evolution of item picking, from conventional operator-to-goods to goods-to-robot methodologies
- How shuttles can be integrated into order fulfillment and inventory management applications
- How to maximize AS/RS storage investments with shuttle systems
- How to reduce storage and labor costs through shuttle efficiencies
If you're new to shuttle systems, then this webinar will help introduce you to this emerging topic. If you're making the evolution to a more automated DC, then you'll learn more about how shuttles can play a key role in this transition.
Shuttle technology is ideal for e-commerce order profiles and handling high volumes of smaller, lighter loads in cartons, trays, totes or bins. Due to their potential storage volume, speed and scalable layout configurations, shuttle systems have emerged as the next generation of AS/RS technology, offering 5-10 times greater throughput than traditional AS/RS technology.
With current increases in the minimum wage and an aging, dwindling industrial workforce, automated shuttle systems offer a viable alternative for managing increasing order volumes. Shuttles can also be utilized to relieve labor resources from performing undesirable or potentially dangerous tasks, while increasing accuracy and throughput capacity.
The economic footprint of shuttle systems is designed to maximize the vertical space available in the DC, essentially giving operators the option to grow up rather than out. Often this can offset the need for costly capital investments and facility expansions. The added storage capacity can be used to faciliate stocked item count growth - aloowing expansion into new categories, deeper SKU selection and better representation across nodes in the network. Ultimately, this improves an organization's service level capability while reducing freight costs.
While these are just a few of the justifications for investments in shuttle technology, the webinar will outline the important factors for companies to consider when evaluating and adopting shuttle technology in today's market.
Register here to join Chris Lingamfelter on Thursday, May 19 at 2 p.m. EST for our next On The Move webinar.