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5 ways labor management can extend the benefits of a voice system

The benefits of voice technology in the warehouse are indisputable. From increased throughput and accuracy to reductions in training time, errors and employee turnover, voice solutions are becoming an essential asset in the DC operations manager's toolkit. But what if they could extend those benefits even further, and in doing so create a performance-driven culture of excellence that addresses today's rising labor challenges? By pairing voice with labor management software (LMS), they can.

It's estimated that order fulfillment and replenishment activities account for up to 65 percent of total warehouse expenses. And with the ever-increasing complexities of omnichannel and direct-to-order fulfillment, some say this is a conservative estimate. Couple that with rising labor costs, changing workforce demographics, and the difficulty attracting and retaining qualified employees, and the importance effective labor management becomes even more imperative.  It's no surprise then that many businesses are combining LMS software with their voice systems to maximize employee productivity and DC performance.  Here are five ways LMS helps achieve these goals: 

1. Increase employee engagement: LMS helps employees connect their individual performance with the company's larger objectives to help them feel empowered and understand their impact on their employer's overall success. This transparency also opens the lines of communication between management and employees to create a continuous improvement loop.

2. Incentivize performance: Both monetary and non-monetary incentive programs have proved extremely effective in driving performance. LMS allows companies to tune their incentives so that every 50¢ increase paid in incentives nets the company a $1 increase in throughput.

3. Improve labor planning: During peak periods, operations managers often overstaff up to 25 percent to ensure all orders are fulfilled. Across different areas of the facility and a larger DC network, this overstaffing quickly adds up. LMS allows managers to pull up historical data to develop more accurate staffing models during peak periods, even when sometimes eliminating the need for additional resources. 

4. Adapt to the unexpected: Inevitably, things will not go as planned. With real-time execution monitoring, LMS helps managers quickly adapt to increases in demand before service level agreements are impacted.

5. Drive measurable performance improvements: Returns on an LMS investment depend on where DCs currently are in their performance optimization continuum. But, through the processes of developing labor standards and establishing performance incentives, a typical LMS implementation drives anywhere from 25-60 percent average throughput gains - with some statistical outliers even exceeding 100 percent improvements. 

Intelligrated's GoalPost® LMS has been successfully deployed on countless occasions - in combination with our Voice Solutions or other voice systems - to enable these benefits in the warehouse. While robust data and reporting are at the core of our LMS offering, it's the tangible transformation of the workplace culture that is the true measurement of success. If you're ready to instill a culture of accountability, reward and retain your best employees, and realize true throughput gains, consider the benefits labor management software can bring to your operations. 

Robotics: The disruptive technology with real-world credentials

Predicting the future of supply chain management can be a fool's game. Media outlets and trade associations alike hail big data, robotic solutions, the cloud and predictive analytics as the disruptive technologies and trends set to meet supply chain challenges of the future. But what about the here and now? Of the technologies pegged to cause disruption or drive competitive advantage in the 2016 MHI Annual Industry Report, two have already made a bigger impact than previously expected: robotics and automation, and driverless vehicles and drones. 

Since their inception in manufacturing environments in 1954, robotics have delivered real-world results, helping companies optimize processes, improve efficiency and create a more flexible experience for workers. As today's operations battle SKU proliferation, managing a wide range of product and packaging types, the flexibility and adaptability of robotic solutions offer the right attributes to meet more dynamic downstream demand. 

Case in point: Kelly-Moore Paints™ installed an Alvey robotics palletizing system that resulted in trading high employee turnover and injury risk of manual palletizing for the speed and reliability of automation. Prior to installing an end-of-line robotic palletizer, Kelly-Moore employees were hand-palletizing products weighing up to 70 pounds, leading to production flow inefficiencies. Intelligrated's robotic palletizing system now enables the line to run at an even pace throughout the day by eliminating the breaks required by heavy-lifting in the manual process. Additional efficiencies of the robotic palletizers came through faster line changeovers, which now take only nine minutes compared to 45 minutes with the old system. 

But this technology can go much further than robotic palletizers in the warehouse or manufacturing facility. There are flexible, reliable robotic solutions to increase line speed, workplace safety and order accuracy in the following applications:

  • Robotic case packing and unpacking
  • Robotic picking
  • Robotic depalletizing
  • Robotic tote handling 

In the long-term, robotic integration and other industrial automation increases productivity and creates safer work environments. And with the increasing demands of e-commerce fulfillment, new robotic solutions continue to emerge. 

Which vertical conveyor is best for your operations?

To keep pace with consumer expectations and enable direct-to-consumer delivery, retailers and manufacturers are rapidly evolving their distribution center strategies. Many are migrating their fulfillment operations toward mega-cities and high-population centers to enable on-time delivery, making the efficiency of these DCs more important than ever. But things are also evolving inside the four walls to maximize the available space and optimize product and employee workflows. This "warehousing compression" strategy requires better utilization of vertical spaces and new automation equipment to support this upward trend in high-density facilities. 

Some innovative approaches to vertical expansion include facility upgrades to include mezzanines, multiple floors and, most importantly, vertical conveyors to facilitate the movement of product throughout these various levels. Whether it's footprint, flexibility, throughput or ergonomic consideration, each facility has different requirements for its vertical conveyors. 

In Intelligrated's most recent On The Move webinar titled, "Vertical solutions: elevating your products to the next level," I discussed the available vertical conveyor options to meet these challenges. While the concept of vertical conveyance is relatively simple - moving product in a carton or tote to a different level in the warehouse - the variety of options to accomplish this can address varying degrees of process complexity. To select the best option for your operations, it's important to understand the pros and cons of each option. 

As I presented in the webinar, vertical conveyors fall into four basic categories:

Continuous flow - Comprised of either incline or spiral options, continuous flow conveyors feature belt or motor-driven rollers and offer simple control systems. While incline conveyors provide high throughput rates, they are limited to single entry and exit points, and take up a lot of floor space. Similarly, spiral conveyors also provide high throughput rates and a relatively large footprint, but offer multiple entry and exit points.

Suspended shelf - As the name implies, suspended shelf conveyors employ a vertical shelf design to achieve multiple product elevations. Continuous suspended shelf options utilize a simple control system, provide single entry and exit points, offer medium throughput rates and still require medium to large space allotments. 

Indexing suspended shelf - These servo-control systems have similar characteristics to suspended shelf conveyors while adding the benefits of multiple entry and exit points, and vertical merging and sorting. 

Reciprocating conveyor - Vertical reciprocating conveyors (VRC) offer maximum flexibility in conveyor / shelving configurations and take up very little floor space. Also driven by a servo-control system, VRCs integrate with single-, double- or triple-zone conveyors; offer over- or under-conveyor configurations; and can be utilized in speciality zones such as transfers or turntables to deliver product to the most ergonomic position for workers. Since the shelf returns to the start position for product induction, VRCs operate at lower throughput rates. Regardless, the flexibility and small footprint of VRCs are making it an increasingly popular option. 

Ultimately, selecting a vertical conveyor depends on your specific business objectives. To learn more about the possibilities of vertical conveyance and better understand which option is right for you, please view this webinar on our website. 

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. 

Making automation decisions? On The Move webinar sorts it out

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.  

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