Put walls play an increasingly vital role as a growing number of distribution centers (DCs) take on the challenges of fulfilling e-commerce and direct-to-consumer (DTC) orders. By providing an effective way to consolidate diverse products across multiple channels within a DC, put walls make it easy to enhance efficiencies, especially when integrating manual and automated picking workflows with enabling technologies.
Simple concept, dramatic results
A put wall is a cabinet-like structure divided into a series of compartments or "cubbies." One side is typically staffed by one or more operators who put product into assigned cubbies for their respective orders. On the other side, operators pack out the orders or place them on a takeaway conveyor that whisks them off to shipping.
Where and how put walls are integrated into the workflow can vary widely, depending on the operation. The basic idea is to consolidate demand from various upstream picking processes into the appropriate cubby. This enables efficient multichannel fulfillment of both mixed- and single-SKU orders, making put walls ideal for DCs that handle multi-line orders with regular promotions, flash sales or seasonal specials.
What's driving put wall adoption?
As consumer expectation and the number of online orders continue to rise, the pressure is on retailers to address several significant challenges:
SKU proliferation - Consumers continue to buy more online, and even infrequently ordered items must still be accounted for in the fulfillment process. Put walls make it possible for DCs to optimize upstream picking processes and take on more SKUs, while still maintaining accurate and efficient order consolidation and pack-out processes.
Changing order and product profiles - From small to large products to orders of widely varying sizes, product and order profiles are dictating ever more flexible order processing and handling requirements. The newest generation of configurable put wall technology offers a ground-breaking shift from fixed to customizable cubby sizes, delivering slotting gains of up to 35 percent just by optimizing existing rack space.
Omnichannel diversification - To keep up with the demands of omnichannel fulfillment, many retailers are converting their existing facilities to incorporate e-commerce distribution into their supply chain operations. Retailers are integrating put walls to deal with these complexities, reduce order errors and increase throughput.
Enabling technologies enhance put wall efficiency
Put walls can be enhanced by technologies that direct the operator to place items in the correct cubby, then confirm when an order is complete. These enabling technologies - including radio frequency (RF) scanners, and voice- and light-directed systems - deliver return on investment relatively quickly by significantly improving operator productivity and order accuracy.
In picking and putting scenarios, these technologies enable intelligent order batching, adjustments and order allocation among wave, pick and put. Built-in slotting logic also provides ergonomic benefits to pickers, minimizing fatigue by keeping as much movement as possible inside the "golden" zone.
To learn more about put wall solutions and the enabling technologies that enhance them, click here.
The evolution of business intelligence (BI) has brought visualization and self-directed data investigation to labor management software (LMS). While LMS may generate mass amounts of data, this information is only as good as its ability to present it in a manner that is easy to interpret. Without BI, knowing which areas to focus on requires multiple levels of investigation. With BI, you're able to to not only reveal the root cause of a trend or problem, but include other necessary data points to see the full picture.
In our next On The Move webinar, Jason Franklin, Intelligrated Software's product manager of labor and business intelligence, will discuss the potential for using BI in LMS applications. The webinar will take place on Tuesday, June 27, 2 p.m. EDT / 11 a.m. PDT and demonstrate how BI is used to investigate and uncover what's typically unseen data. Jason will demonstrate this capability with common labor scenarios that can help organizations improve their labor pool's performance.
Attendees will learn how to:
- Better optimize temporary labor resources
- Identify top performers and transfer their knowledge to others
- Improve labor planning processes through better planning and execution
- Predict and prepare in advance for daily throughput peaks
Jason will use three common labor scenarios as case studies to demonstrate how BI can be used to uncover actionable intelligence that will allow you to get the most out of your labor force. The first case study will show how the poor performance of full-time employees is tied to temporary workers, and how BI helped uncover the root cause of the issue. The next case study will highlight a star performer, and demonstrate how BI can identify and teach the behaviors that are helping that individual excel. The last case study will discuss the importance of effective labor planning and how BI can help monitor current progress and predict daily production peaks and valleys.
Register now for this informative On The Move webinar to learn how BI and LMS can help you maximize your labor force productivity.
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.
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.
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.