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.
The challenge of delivering e-commerce, direct-to-consumer orders has introduced new levels of complexity in fulfillment centers. Wide variances in order profiles, the proliferation of SKUs and items with varying pick velocities are all highlighting the importance of effective order consolidation processes. Although many fulfillment centers are deploying automated systems in strategic areas of the facility to improve picking, sortation and putting efficiencies, order consolidation - which requires an effective way to aggregate this demand from disparate areas of the facility - often suffers. Regardless of the picking and sortation method used, put walls are becoming an indispensable tool for adapting to modern fulfillment demands and providing efficient order consolidation.
The premise behind put wall utilization is to bring together items gathered from disparate picking activities into one place. By consolidating this demand at one or more put walls throughout the facility, fulfillment centers see efficiency gains in upstream picking processes and, more importantly, increases in order fulfillment throughput and accuracy.
Traditional put walls are designed with fixed compartment sizes (or cubbies) and typically rely on lights, voice or RF technology to automate the confirmation process as an operator puts items into cubbies for specific orders. While effective, these fixed put wall designs may limit a retailer's ability to adapt these cubby sizes in response to changing order and product profiles, thus resulting in poor space utilization in the warehouse. The recent introduction of modular put wall designs, which allow the warehouse manager to change the configuration of cubby sizes (hardware) and light confirmation sequences (software) - provides the flexibility and space utilization that high-density fulfillment centers demand.
Our next On The Move webinar, titled, "Concerns about changing order profiles? 'Put' them to rest!" will explore these concepts and the increasing use of put walls in omnichannel fulfillment centers. The webinar will take place on Thursday, April 27, 2 p.m. EDT / 11 a.m. PDT, and be presented by Doug Mefford, product manager for order fulfillment with Intelligrated Software. With two decades of hands-on experience in driving throughput and accuracy in warehouse workflows and automation technologies, Doug will explain how put walls are improving order fulfillment productivity. Attendees will learn:
- The emerging role of the put wall and its order consolidation benefits
- Several key scenarios where put walls are effective
- How to recognize when order volume thresholds warrant put wall integration
- Why the need for flexibility led to new put wall hardware and software that enables user-driven customization
To learn more about put wall best practices and tips for integrating them in order fulfillment operations, register now for our upcoming On The Move webinar on Thursday, April 27, 2 p.m. EDT / 11 a.m. PDT.
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.
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.
The rapid growth of e-commerce and rising consumer expectations are prompting retailers to adjust their order fulfillment strategies to keep up with these demands. Luckily, several enabling technologies are coming of age which allow retailers to respond accordingly.
Here's a quick overview of the most effective strategies and solutions currently available, which can be combined and integrated in multiple ways to meet any fulfillment operation's unique needs.
Enhance picking productivity
Many DCs have already made the shift to paperless picking solutions, which increase productivity by up to 50 percent. Depending on your business needs, productivity can be enhanced with one or more of the following:
Pick-to-light - These scalable, easy-to-use systems combine intuitive colored displays that guide the pick with sophisticated algorithms that reduce movement times and accommodate hot picks. Minimal training is required, and built-in diagnostics enable easy troubleshooting - making pick-to-light the industry's most efficient, accurate and high-speed order fulfillment solution.
Put-to-light - Similar to pick-to-light, put-to-light solutions direct pickers to the correct bin or slot to place an item. Best suited for batch-picking applications, put-to-light brings comparable improvements to accuracy and productivity when compared to traditional manual sorting.
Voice picking - This solution provides voice commands via a wireless network, leaving the picker's hands free while increasing picking speed and accuracy rates. Voice commands can also be programmed in multiple languages, significantly decreasing training requirements for non-English speakers. Voice picking can be used as a cost-effective, stand-alone system or as a fully integrated enhancement of other solutions.
Radio frequency (RF) technology - Handheld and mobile RF devices are ideal for lower-velocity SKUs, enabling 99.9 percent accuracy and increasing productivity by 10 to 15 percent.
Mobile picking carts - For low-velocity applications, mobile cart systems combine advanced pick-to-light components, voice automation and RF scanners in a system with go-anywhere flexibility.
Improve omnichannel distribution with put walls
Whether DCs rely on operator-to-goods batch picking, disparate zone-picking processes, or an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS), put walls maximize efficiency by serving as points of demand consolidation. Ideal for multi-line orders, flash sales or seasonal demand, put walls save time and labor by enabling intelligent order batching, adjustments and other allocations among wave, pick and put.
Automate for efficiency
Respond to ever-changing business needs quickly while minimizing labor with intelligent automation solutions:
Warehouse execution systems (WES) - WES software optimizes your facility with an operational brain, delivering real-time responsiveness with automated decisions based on constant analysis of orders, inventory, labor, processes and equipment.
Automated storage and retrieval solutions - Ideal for operations with high-turn inventory storage and short order cycles, AS/RS systems provide quick access to products, while reducing storage labor and footprint requirements.
Unit sortation - Designed for ultra-light, irregularly shaped and polybagged items, these systems deliver the highest throughput at minimum speeds for years of reliable, low-maintenance operation.
Intelligrated is an experienced designer, manufacturer and installer of all these solutions. To learn more about order fulfillment systems that can save you time, money and hassles, click here.