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Tag: order fulfillment

Top 5 ways AS/RS benefits inventory management during holiday peaks

The months of November and December are more critical to your retail distribution center (DC) than any other time of the year. As consumers make a run on retail stores and websites in search of the perfect holiday gift, a lack of preparation can spell certain disaster for your operation. 

Order fulfillment has become more complex than ever before. Consumer orders are more frequent, consist of many diverse SKUs and offer several options for delivery or in-store pickup, forcing effective, efficient omnichannel operations. To ensure your holiday peak season goes off without a hitch, consider adding automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) to streamline inventory management and accessibility for dramatically increased efficiency. 

Shuttle systems offer a fully-automated storage solution to store and retrieve inventory, controlled by software interfaces tailored to exact specifications. Here are five ways AS/RS can make your holiday peak a merry one.

1. Fast access to inventory - During hectic holiday peaks with everything on the line, being able to access product quickly to make same- or next-day delivery commitments is vital. Shuttle solutions provide faster access to inventory compared to manual processes with foot and forklift traffic, enabling more efficient inventory flow and ultimately allowing reduced inventory levels. With inventory carrying costs ranging as high as 40 to 45 percent of overall value per year, AS/RS not only can reduce operational costs but also free additional operational space for other processes during peaks. 

2. Better predictability - Manual inventory retrieval processes are not only less efficient, but also expose operations to vulnerabilities of inconsistency. Lapses in product flow can strike during employee turnovers, shift changes, refueling or battery replacements. Shuttle systems offer a more reliable solution for the inventory storage and retrieval process, arming management with more predictability and reliability with which to plan and execute operations integral to a successful peak season. 

3. Greater labor productivity - Because order fulfillment during holiday peaks is a race against the clock, optimizing labor is a critical component of success. With lowered inventory levels, fulfillment centers can reduce the staff needed to manage inbound transportation of product into storage. And unlike traditional operator-to-goods picking, AS/RS shuttle systems in fully-automated solutions bring product to pickers - eliminating walk time and enabling employees to spend more time filling orders. 

4. Greater storage density - AS/RS systems optimize existing warehouse space by enabling operations to build up - maximizing the use of vertical space - rather than out. Shuttle systems do not need to allow room for pedestrians or vehicles, nor are they limited by the reach of an employee or forklift. Instead, fulfillment warehouses can use taller, narrower storage aisles to access inventory thanks to the shuttles. Saving space comes in especially handy during peaks, as it leaves room for operations to bring in extra labor and house specialized seasonal SKUs or more inventory to maximize throughput and selection. 

5. Loss prevention - The 2016 National Retail Security Survey revealed that inventory shrinkage averaged $45.2 billion in total losses. What's more, a University of Florida study found that employee theft from retailers - including warehouse theft - amounted to 45 percent of that inventory shrinkage. With such a significant portion of this theft occurring internally, one option is to reduce the number of manual touchpoints in fulfillment processes. Inventory stored in an AS/RS shuttle solution is inaccessible to employees until its release for order picking operations. The technology tracks exactly what merchandise leaves the AS/RS and how much of it is required, allowing operations to keep a closer eye on its inventory.

The impact of e-commerce and the evolving labor pool continues to affect distribution and fulfillment operations, and holiday peak season magnifies the effect of these forces. When navigating your operation's busiest time of the year, an automated storage and retrieval system is a critical piece of fulfillment technology to maximize throughput and uptime. 

To learn about how Honeywell Intelligrated's AS/RS shuttle technologies can enhance your DC's efficiency, click here

Paying more for fewer employees? Put LMS to work!

The ongoing debate to increase hourly wages has been well publicized in the labor-intensive retail market. In a recent Bloomberg article, the columnist discusses Wal-Mart's recent wage increase in its attempt to attract and retain a dedicated pool of higher-value employees. The rationale behind this decision was simple: by delivering a greater customer experience through cleaner stores and better-stocked shelves, Wal-Mart leadership hopes to also increase profit margins. While this strategic shift may indicate a larger trend in retail and order fulfillment environments, the ever-present mandate to "do more with less" is still in effect.

Changing personnel demographics are also forcing retailers' hands. As a generation of aging employees is retiring, millennials - who bring a completely different set of expectations for prospective employers - are taking their place. To appeal to this succeeding generation, companies must build more attractive workplaces with opportunities for advancement, perks and, yes, higher wages.

As a result, many companies are opting to offer higher wages to a smaller, cross-functional workforce. Among the many challenges to this approach include:

  • Establishing standards with which to measure performance
  • Identifying the company's top-performing employees
  • Cross-training staff to be proficient in multiple areas
  • Maintaining a continually motivated workforce

A labor management system (LMS) is ideally suited to address these challenges. Here's how:

Engineered labor standards. A successful LMS implementation includes the development of labor standards for all tasks in the store or warehouse. This establishes a baseline of performance to which employees will be held.

Employee performance metrics. Understanding what makes the top performers tick and achieve their high efficiency rates can offer actionable insights. The winning habits of these employees can then ideally be replicated across the entire staff.

Training and coaching. Asking fewer employees to do more means they'll have to quickly become proficient in multiple functional areas. By pairing LMS with a voice system, training, coaching and mentoring become integral to delivering ongoing performance improvements. 

Employee engagement. LMS helps establish a culture of accountability via its ability to create healthy competition among employees and by incentivizing their performance. Programs can be designed to offer the top performer daily monetary incentives, paid time off or other bonuses.

Without question, utilizing a smaller workforce will require every employee to operate at maximum performance at all times. But without the metrics to continually track employee performance and incentive programs to ensure an engaged workforce, achieving this goal will be a tall order. Intelligrated's GoalPost® LMS - combined with our Voice solutions - can deliver the throughput and accuracy benefits equivalent to a traditionally larger workforce. 

Put order consolidation concerns to rest with put walls

Modern distribution and fulfillment centers are comprised of countless systems and technologies. From automated conveyor and sortation to robotic palletizers and shuttle storage arrays, these components are designed to meet customer service level agreements and get orders delivered on time. But among these, the importance of effective order consolidation is too often overlooked. As a result, many order inaccuracies and labor inefficiencies continue to hinder otherwise smooth fulfillment operations. 

In Intelligrated’s latest On The Move webinar, titled “Concerns about changing order profiles? ‘Put’ them to rest!”, I discussed the crucial role of put walls for critical order consolidation.

The term order consolidation refers to the gathering of items from multiple, independent storage and picking areas and placing (or putting) them into shippable containers. Today’s multi-channel fulfillment environments generate several product flows from disparate storage methods and increasingly diverse order profiles. As e-commerce continues to drive the demand for direct-to-consumer orders, labor-intensive unit (aka each) picking often increases labor costs and the potential for errors. Put walls have proved invaluable for not only consolidating this wide range in fulfillment demands, but also in improving order accuracies and process efficiencies.

In the webinar, I demonstrated how upstream picking and sortation methods often dictate put wall integrations and presented several possible put wall scenarios. Multi-tote and single discrete orders — in this example of a blended solution, a mixed picking area utilizes a centralized conveyor to inject order totes into the pack-out and consolidation area. Totes with multiple items are diverted to put walls for order consolidation and back-side pack-out, while discrete order totes simply need to be packed.

This method maximizes put wall capacity and minimizes product touches by labor resources.

Batch pick — refers to the bulk picking of the same SKU for multiple orders, then routing and distributing these items at multiple put wall locations. This method offers a lower cost of material handling equipment, flexibility to adapt to business changes and a reduction in labor costs. Tote management, however, may become a challenge.

Pick module zone pick-and-pass — higher pick densities and multi-level (vertical) storage areas allow zone pick modules to reduce the square footage needed to achieve the desired pick faces — thereby minimizing labor travel and touches. Put walls enable order consolidation and pack-out to maximize throughput, regardless of order volumes or product profile.

Pre-sort via loop sorter — bulk and aggregate upstream picking processes inject individual SKUs or cartons via a loop sorter where they are delivered to designated put walls for order consolidation. This method is ideal for picking large batches to reduce labor touches and increase throughput; it also allows for concurrent processing of multiple pick/pack waves. Installing a loop sortation/automation typically results in slightly higher material handling equipment costs.

Retail put-to-store — very effective means to distribute demand of various quantities, sizes and shapes into cartons to be delivered to a retail store. The put wall process is most useful with carton and/or a tote type of consolidation, and when supported by a take-away conveyor to a staging area for shipment. Upstream sortation and intelligent software can be configured to sequence carton flows and fulfillment prioritization.

Regardless of the picking and sortation method used, put walls are becoming indispensable for adapting to modern fulfillment demands and providing efficient order consolidation. Software-configurable put wall solutions are now available to enable modular configurations of a single piece of hardware, providing even greater return on investment. To learn more about these flexible solutions or revisit key sections of this webinar, click here.

New webinar will discuss the need for flexibility in distribution operations

To meet rising customer service levels, modern omnichannel distribution operations must perform a balancing act among retail, wholesale and direct-to-consumer requirements. It's a challenging task that means constantly adapting to a dynamic mix of order profiles while maintaining keen awareness of the impacts these variations have on fulfillment processes and inventory consumption. Navigating this ever-changing landscape requires a high degree of flexibility - to adapt and respond in real time to changes in demand, not continue down a path that ignores the continuous fluctuations of order fulfillment requirements. 

In short, DCs need not only to become more flexible in their slotting, picking and putting operations, but also in allocating labor resources to meet the demands of the day.

In our seventh On The Move webinar, Doug Mefford, product manager at Intelligrated, will discuss the importance of implementing flexible execution methodologies to better navigate omnichannel challenges. With more than 20 years of supply chain management experience, Doug will impart his real-world knowledge from a practitioner's perspective. You'll learn about the following key factors that enable DC flexibility in order fulfillment processes:

Slotting. The two most important variables in an effective slotting strategy are pick frequency (the number of times pickers go to a specific location) and cubic velocity (the size of the storage location). To better respond to changing order profiles, DCs should implement flexible methodologies that are capable of adjusting slotting sizes to accommodate a range of product mixes. 

Picking. Distribution operations should not only optimize the size of pick locations, but also strive to minimize labor spend by reducing the number of footsteps workers need to reach these fast-moving items. Establishing flexible picking zones can help accommodate and ease the transitions from bulk-, case- and each-picking scenarios.

Putting. Put walls with cubbies that can adapt to changing order profiles allow DCs to integrate bulk-pick workflows for multiple single-line orders. When order consolidation via split-case picking is required, additional coordination is needed to maintain throughput and minimize dwell time in the put wall.

Labor management. The ability to move resources within the facility to high-volume, high-demand areas is critical to maximizing throughput and meeting demand. Only through real-time visibility to warehouse resources can DC managers know when to flex workers and make appropriate resource adjustments.

Mefford will present these strategies within the unique context of the omnichannel distributor. Balancing traditional brick-and-mortar retail replenishment with wholesaler channel distribution and the increasing demands of e-commerce places many disparate demands on a single DC. It also necessitates the importance of handling the full gamut of distribution methods, from cases, mixed and full pallets to eaches in totes, boxes or individual parcels. These order fulfillment functions require DC flexibility to manage seasonal variations, demand spikes and continual channel reprioritization. 

With Doug's experience managing omnichannel distribution centers, all of the concepts he'll describe will be backed by his own real-world examples. You won't want to miss this On The Move webinar; join Doug on Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. EDT. 

Webinar wrap-up: unleashing the potential of warehouse Voice

Voice technology has come a long way since it was first adopted in warehouse operations in the 1990s. This first generation of Voice technology was characterized by cumbersome speech recognition methods, proprietary device lock-ins and a limited vocabulary capable of supporting only a small range of mobility tasks. Today, speech recognition technology advancements have ushered in a new era of Voice applications in our day-to-day lives — and expanded potential for Voice in the warehouse. In our second On The Move webinar, Doug Brown, product manager of order fulfillment (Voice), Intelligrated Software, and I discussed this potential in detail.

The webinar, titled "Unshackle your DC operations with modern voice recognition technology," demonstrated how the technology used in modern warehouse Voice solutions has leap-frogged legacy Voice systems to deliver positive impacts to businesses. Not only do modern Voice systems deliver 99.99 percent accuracy and up to 45 percent productivity improvements, they also provide key differentiators that allow Voice to be used in a much more meaningful way in the warehouse, including:

  • Rapid new user onboarding (no speech training required)
  • Unparalleled remote support capabilities
  • Powerful coaching options coupled with the ability to listen and replay any end user's audio tag

Modern speech technology changes the game

Doug and I explained that these impacts are made possible by modern advancements in speech recognition technology that are found in our smartphones, smart TVs and other Voice-enabled devices. We demonstrated how these technologies are leveraged to deliver significant improvements in modern warehouse Voice applications. Here are few of the transformative capabilities enabled by the current generation of technology that were discussed:

  • Network-based service - Rather than being limited by the computing power of a mobile device, this cutting-edge speech recognition technology leverages powerful servers and advanced algorithms. This eliminates the need for expensive, proprietary devices and opens the door to features not previously available. Now DC operations managers can monitor and support multiple distribution centers from a centralized location in real time, including individual end user interactions with the system.
  • Out-of-the box speech recognition - With more than 70 leading languages and dialects built into the system, Voice solutions can be immediately put to use without requiring cumbersome creation of "voice templates" by each individual employee. This enables rapid user acceptance and achievement of corporate productivity goals.
  • Advanced warehouse capabilities - Large vocabulary and advanced, configurable software enables the automation of complex mobility tasks. Modern Voice technology also improves warehouse efficiencies through the consolidation of multiple pieces of information into a single spoken response, by interleaving separate work tasks into a common flow. They also allow multiple users to be active on the same task together, to facilitate role-modeling from the best workers, streamlining training initiatives. 

What all this means to typical warehouse operations is that modern Voice systems more easily and rapidly achieve success when compared to their predecessors. As a result, DC managers can immediately put Voice to work on a larger selection of critical processes, instead of dealing with the distraction of trying to implement outdated technologies. Finally, because it is scalable and flexible in nature, modern warehouse Voice systems can blend a broad spectrum of different mobile worker technologies, including: pick- and put-to-light; RF scanning; robotics; and location-based services. 

With the increasing complexity of omnichannel fulfillment scenarios, DC managers can utilize modern Voice systems to usher in a new era of productivity and efficiency. To learn more about how you can exploit Intelligrated Voice in your DC operations, please visit the archives section on our website to view this webinar in its entirety. While there, be sure to register for our next episode that will explore how to maximize your material handling system’s ROI with effective lifecycle management.

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