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.
The holiday season has come and gone, and early returns pointed to prosperity. But this also meant increased challenges for e-commerce fulfillment operations.
The National Retail Federation predicted an online sales increase between 7 and 10 percent this holiday season, and that 56.5 percent of holiday shopping would occur online. Now more than ever, holiday shoppers consider shipping as a factor when choosing retailers, and it all happens in crunch time, primarily between November and December.
Applications for peak season and beyond
Goods-to-operator (GTO) order fulfillment is a workflow that relies on automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) to retrieve product in preparation for picking processes.
This system allows facilities to house higher storage volumes and handle them with increased efficiency. This effectively raises fulfillment capacity, offering a solution for operations with 250 orders per hour or more. With enough space, shuttle-based GTO systems can scale up to handle increased volumes as operations grow.
Part of this scalability comes from individual GTO stations that can be activated or left offline based on demand. So for example, an e-commerce operation could scale higher for more orders during the holiday peak, but then scale back once the rush is over.
Resilient and flexible
Using shuttles as the AS/RS technology for a GTO system offers resiliency and reduced risk of unplanned downtime. If a shuttle goes down, the whole system is not in jeopardy because another shuttle can assume the workload.
Flexible configurations can accommodate a variety of workflows such as batch picking, discrete picking and even picking from both ends of the shuttle system.
From seasonal peaks to sustained demand increases, this flexibility allows operations to adopt the most efficient workflows to meet throughput requirements.
Get up to speed
For more information, read the full white paper, Conquer high-volume e-commerce with goods-to-operator order fulfillment. To learn more about Intelligrated's AS/RS solutions, click here.
Making smart automation decisions in today's fast-paced distribution center (DC) environments requires careful evaluation of all variables, with pick densities, peak/average volumes, number of SKUs, conveyability of product, accessibility to labor and ROI among the deciding factors. Often, the number of orders that need to be fulfilled per day dictates the degree of automation required.
Regardless of your DC's specific requirements and throughput rates, the right sortation automation solution helps enable the process efficiencies needed to meet rising service level agreements. From receiving and put-away to picking and packing, sortation technology plays a role in nearly every aspect of DC operations.
In Intelligrated's next On The Move webinar, titled "Sort it out! Making smart sortation automation decisions," Satyen Pathak, senior product manager, will discuss the full range of sortation automation solutions that are available for modern DC operations. He will cover various options, from manual methods well-matched for lower throughput rates to advanced sortation technologies designed to accommodate up to 150,000 orders per day.
This informative webinar will take place on Thursday, January 26 at 2 p.m. EST / 11 a.m. PST. Attendees will learn:
- Which areas of the DC are the top candidates for sortation automation
- Which automation method is best suited for low, medium and high throughput rates
- How to scale a sortation automation solution to your specific requirements
Framing the discussion around increasing throughput rates, Satyen will begin with an explanation of sortation and conveyance solutions used to manage up to 10,000 orders per day. Belted conveyors provide a cost-effective means for transporting items over a significant distance while ensuring good product control. Modular sweeper sorters can be installed above the conveyor to enable the sortation of large quantities of smaller products. Software-driven cart picking solutions are ideal for entry-level automation systems that can be scaled to grow with DC operations and ramped up for peak order periods. Put-walls also enable directed putting and packing efficiencies capable of meeting lower throughput rates.
Satyen will then explain how zone routing - with pick-and-pass and sortation - can achieve throughput rates of up to 50,000 orders per day. By integrating pick-to-light, RF or voice-directed pick modules with intelligent conveying and sortation systems, zone routing automatically routes product to the best available picking station. Push tray sorters - which can sort a combination of disparately sized products - can efficiently increase capacity within a small footprint. A variety of sortation technologies can be used for shipping, cross-docking, line balancing, defect rejection and order consolidation.
For throughput levels up to 150,000 orders per day, Satyen will demonstrate how major e-commerce retailers are utilizing tilt-tray and cross-belt sortation solutions to sort up to 25,000 items per hour. These systems utilize manual, automatic and semi-automatic induction methods and rely on advanced software to oversee supply and demand order consolidation.
Regardless of your objectives for seeking a sortation automation system, this webinar will help you evaluate the best system to suit your specific selection criteria. Register now to join Satyen Pathak on Thursday, January 26 at 2 p.m. EST / 11 a.m. PST.
Today's traditional brick and mortar retailers are faced with the reality that modern internet retailers (e-tailers) have permanently changed the order fulfillment game. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the percent of e-commerce retail has grown from 3 percent to 9 percent in the last decade. Among the Millennial and Generation X demographics, this trend is rapidly increasing. As a result, e-tailers have changed their business model and built distribution networks to provide the seamless execution needed to deliver on increasingly high consumer expectations. Two-day delivery or less is the new norm. With price and speed becoming the lowest common denominator, the customer experience has been redefined and brand loyalty is taking a back seat.
The question for traditional retailers - whose business model is based on the premise that customers prefer to purchase items in stores - is this: How can we effectively utilize our store network to exploit these new opportunities? In Intelligrated's most recent On The Move webinar, James Hendrickson, senior product manager, retail solutions from Honeywell, and I explained how retailers can level the playing field by embracing their stores as distribution centers and realizing that their physical storefronts are a huge advantage.
To begin making this transition, it's important for traditional retailers to remember that their customers still have a need for instant gratification. There is no substitute for going to a local store to evaluate and purchase items - customers still want the product knowledge and expertise from sales associates. The ability to return items easily and to avoid shipping charges is also driving customers back to the store.
Today's consumer also still wants to shop online from any of their connected devices. For traditional retailers to stay relevant and offer the best of both retail worlds, they need to support this e-commerce preference and offer new shopping methods, like buy online pick up in store (BOPIS). Covering both of these bases is absolutely necessary to taking back market share.
Improving store efficiencies - while excelling at BOPIS and other complex tasks - requires embracing the role of the store as a mini-DC and deploying the behaviors that drive DC execution. It starts by understanding the similarities of order fulfillment processes used in both DCs and stores, such as receiving, staging, put-away, picking, packing and shipping. It also means employing the same laser focus on processes execution to ensure inventory and order accuracies, capture transactional data and direct work along every step of the fulfillment process.
In our webinar, we recommended starting this transition by focusing on the processes that cause the most pain for traditional retailers. Typically, this is the fulfillment of e-commerce orders, whether that's BOPIS, or buying online and shipping from the store. This can be accomplished by focusing on three order fulfillment building blocks:
- Systemically direct all work to optimize order release and task execution. If retailers don't direct the work, they will not hit their goals.
- Build a foundation of transactional data around each process by tracking, scanning or speaking every activity. Not only can this be done without slowing the process down, it will also build a "chain of custody" of inventory in the stores that results in true inventory accuracy.
- Set labor standards for all work and track against these standards. This drives predictability in task duration and performance, such as knowing exactly how long it should take to do basic tasks like picking an online order or unloading a truck.
By employing these principles, retailers can become unpredictable in the fulfillment of e-commerce orders and achieve the execution efficiencies to compete on a level with the e-tailer giants. To learn how to turn your stores into DCs, please visit our On The Move webinar archives and view the session in its entirety.
To learn more about Intelligrated Store Solutions, visit booth #2434 at NRF's Big Show on January 15-17 in New York City. Demo the Voice solution to be entered in a drawing to win an Apple MacBook Pro.