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Tag: order fulfillment

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.

Learn how modern voice technology can unshackle your DC operations in new webinar

In recent years, speech recognition technology has become more commonplace in our everyday lives.  From mobile devices and computers to car navigation systems and TVs, voice-enabled interfaces are tapping the potential of hands-free efficiency and mobility.  Distribution center (DC) order fulfillment processes are no exception.

For the past 20 years, warehouse voice systems have helped improve order fulfillment pick and put-away accuracies, as well as increase workforce productivity.  Unlike the personal voice assistants in our smartphones awaiting our beck and call, the utilization of voice technology in order fulfillment is much more structured.  And with recent advances in speech recognition technology, it's now even easier for DC operators to leverage the power of voice-enabled systems to transform the efficiency of their operations.

On Jan. 12 at 2 p.m. EST, Doug Brown, Intelligrated's voice product manager; and Sean Wallingford, senior director, strategic operations for Intelligrated Software will present our second On The Move webinar entitled, "Unshackle your DC operations with modern voice technology."  In this informative webinar, Doug and Sean will discuss the current state of voice technology and explore its many benefits in warehouse order fulfillment and labor management processes.

Unshackle your DC operations with modern voice technology

The primary advantage of today's speech recognition technology is the integration of network-based processing power that utilizes Internet servers to translate voice input.  Instead of being constrained by limited device-level resources - such as CPU, memory and battery - leading warehouse voice systems tap into a network of servers equipped with best-available speech recognition technology.  This provides advanced mutliple language support, even adapting to regional dialects and individual speech patterns.  

The upcoming webinar will discuss how this network-based technology can  be used to transform warehouse accuracy and productivity:

  • Automate work processes to accomplish more with greater accuracy - its large vocabulary enables DC operators to perform the most complex tasks within or beyond the four walls, without the restrictions of Wi-Fi networks.  This opens up the potential to interleave worker tasks to improve process accuracies, such as cycle counting and real-time replenishment.
  • Integrate quickly and easily - network-based voice technology works right out of the box and drops into existing operations, enabling rapid user acceptance through simple role-modeling and remote support from DC experts.  Order fillers have the option to pause and ask for help, while DC operators can review audio playback to evaluate productivity and troubleshoot issues.
  • Avoid technology lock-ins - unlike voice technology that's enabled at the device level, network servers are upgraded as new technology becomes available.  This eliminates the problems of being "locked in" to stagnant technologies and dictated to use specific mobile devices or operating systems.  This flexibility allows voice systems to easily scale with changing business needs and blend with other order fulfillment applications - all while remaining compliant with speech industry standards. 

So if you're interested in learning more about the latest voice technologies and how you can use them to improve warehouse processes, join us on Jan. 12 at 2 p.m. EST for our next On The Move webinar.  Click here to register and save the date for this informative and timely event. 

First On The Move webinar discussed the importance of LMS in DCs

We recently presented the first installment of Intelligrated's new On The Move webinar, an educational series designed to address the fulfillment challenges and trends taking place in the material handling industry.  In our inaugural episode, entitled "Responding to labor management challenges in an omnichannel world," Jason Franklin discussed how the convergence of a dwindling warehouse workforce with increasing consumer product delivery expectations is creating a perfect storm for distribution center (DC) operators.

In a world where online shopping, in-store pickup and same-day (and free) shipping are typical consumer scenarios, DC operators are facing complexities on both labor and order fulfillment fronts.  But as Jason explained in the webinar, these are problems that Intelligrated's GoalPost® labor management software (LMS) is specifically designed to address.  This blog is a summary of the key aspects discussed.

Meeting the challenge of omnichannel consumer expectations

Whether online via a computer or mobile device, picking up the telephone or going to the store, today's consumers purchase goods from multiple channels and expect a seamless shopping experience at every turn.  This adds complexity to the order fulfillment process, and subsequent strain on the labor force to meet customer service level agreements (SLAs).  With multiple channels to deliver product through, a diverse mix of order priorities and the challenge of e-commerce driving more labor intensive "each" picking scenarios, DC operators must maximize the productivity of their workforce.

Adapting to an evolving workforce and labor shortages

The complexity of omnichannel order fulfillment requires a higher skill level than traditional DC labor tasks.  While order fulfillment and replenishment account for 50-65 percent of labor costs in warehouse operations, the industry is in the midst of a labor transition due to several factors:

  • Aging of traditional workforce and loss of "tribal" knowledge
  • Introduction of millennial generation with a different set of workplace expectations
  • Increasing wage competition
  • Difficulty retaining employees and recouping lost training efforts
  • Accommodating a multigenerational workforce

LMS is the key to addressing modern labor and omnichannel challenges

This combination of market forces is driving retailers to improve the speed and accuracy of measurable tasks such as picking, packing and replenishment and develop clear performance standards.  Retailers are also deploying DC-like processes in their stores to maintain these efficiencies and help meet customer SLAs.  To tackle these converging challenges, LMS helps DC managers implement a culture of accountability while creating an attractive workplace where performance is incentivized.  Here are just a few of the ways Intelligrated LMS can be used to achieve these objectives:

  • Develop engineered standards to create clearly defined expectations
  • Communicate shared objectives to get employees working toward common goals
  • Establish a fair and transparent evaluation system to urge employee accountability
  • Incentivize performance through monetary and other reward programs
  • Uncover areas of improvement and deploy them to the rest of the team
  • Predict staffing requirements and precisely match labor needs to incoming orders and tasks

One of the true advantages of an LMS is its flexibility to adapt to your process requirements and provide immediate improvements.  To realize its full potential, DC operators should seek out an LMS provider with both software and labor management expertise.

If you were unable to attend this webinar, please visit the archives section on our website to view it in its entirety.  While there, be sure to register for our next episode that will explore how modern voice technology can unshackle your DC operations.

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The information you provide is solely used by Intelligrated. Intelligrated will not distribute email addresses to third party organizations. For more information, please read our Privacy Information.