In a competitive omnichannel fulfillment era where retailers are constantly trying to meet rising customer service levels, flexibility in order fulfillment processes and distribution operations is mandatory for survival. It means having the ability to continuously adapt to a dynamic mix of order profiles and proliferating SKU counts, while always maintaining a keen awareness of their impacts on fulfillment processes and inventory consumption. It means effectively balancing retail, wholesale and direct-to-consumer requirements. And it means being nimble enough to adapt and respond in real time to spikes in demand.
If you think this all sounds difficult to achieve, you're right. But to successfully navigate these omnichannel requirements, retailers need real strategies to enable this degree of flexibility. This was the focus of a recent On The Move webinar I moderated, titled "Addressing the needs for flexibility in current distribution operations." It's a holistic approach that encompasses facility design, picking and putting processes, and the importance of effective labor management. Following is a summary of the webinar's high-level points:
Profiling, slotting and facility design. It's important to design your distribution facility to not only meet today's demands, but also have the flexibility to adapt to future requirements. Warehouse profiling, which seeks to maximize space utilization by determining which types of slotting options are best-suited for particular products, is vital to fully utilizing available facility space and reducing replenishment costs. Well-profiled items make the most efficient use of shelf and rack space.
Picking technologies. The selection of picking technologies and methods, or some combination thereof, is an important operational decision that helps enable flexibility in the warehouse. While some technologies may provide increased flexibility, there may be trade-offs in productivity and costs. Retailers must weigh the pros and cons of these methodologies and select options that meet their operational objectives and order and inventory profiles.
Putting strategies. Putting refers to the processes that support order consolidation through the gathering of multiple, independent storage or picking areas into a single, shippable container. Minimizing worker travel and touches, and "golden zone" allocations to increase accuracy and throughput are all part of an effective putting strategy necessary for adapting to e-commerce and store replenishment requirements.
Labor management software. LMS helps retailers match resources to the day's expected demands while maximizing the efficiency of all tasks throughout the warehouse. Demand planning, execution monitoring, resource allocation and continuous performance improvements can be achieved with LMS - establishing both process predictability and the flexibility to move resources to adapt to variations in a given plan.
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. For a more detailed explanation of each of these strategies, please visit our On The Move webinar archives and view my presentation in its entirety.
Omnichannel distribution center (DC) operators are always on the lookout for new order fulfillment technologies and seeking new ways to improve order accuracy and productivity. For many DCs, the problems they experience can be traced back to two primary issues:
1. Order fulfillment systems (including hardware and software) are not flexible enough to adapt to the varying order profiles, volumes and order filler workflows.
2. Order fulfillment processes are often disjointed, fragmented into several piecemeal systems that aren't easily coordinated into a unified operation.
These same DC operators are faced with ever-increasing consumer expectations. In a perfect world, they would also prefer a robust system capable of supporting complex order fulfillment processes that can also scale with fluctuations in demand. Intelligrated's flexible warehouse execution system (WES) adapts to these fluctuations with a proven suite of advanced fulfillment capabilities.
From pick- and put-to-light and Voice to RF scanning and mobile cart picking systems, Intelligrated offers comprehensive order fulfillment technologies that maximize warehouse productivity, speed and order accuracy.
- Pick and put-to-light systems - enable paperless, light-directed fulfillment with easy-to-read lights and displays
- Put-wall systems - provide goods-to-operator fulfillment for multi-line, mixed and single SKU orders
- Voice-directed picking - provides hands-free and eyes-up picking to facilitate fast fulfillment with extremely high order accuracy
- Mobile cart picking - combines pick-to-light, voice automation and RF technology to enable fulfillment of low-velocity items, enhanced mobility and go-anywhere flexibility
- RF handheld and mobile devices - support fulfillment of low-velocity items, providing favorable productivity gains over manual processes and, more importantly, real-time feedback of order filler progress
- WES software - automates the fulfillment processes within and beyond the four walls to drive maximum throughput and accuracy
As a single-source order fulfillment provider, Intelligrated fulfillment systems not only ensure maximum compatibility between software and hardware components, but also enable the integration of multiple technologies to accomplish complex tasks.
The broad range of PTL devices alone significantly increases the possibility of creating a solution that precisely meets DC requirements, including any or all of these scenarios: pallet, case and each picking; zone pick and pass or zoneless picking; and single multi-line batch picking for order consolidation. And as the manufacturer of the PTL hardware, Intelligrated can also develop custom PTL hardware as needed.
Perhaps Intelligrated's greatest strength is its proven experience and deep order fulfillment system expertise. This means you can be sure that we will develop an order fulfillment system that meets your DC's specific requirements and service level objectives. So if you're ready to realize the value of a true single source provider, contact us to begin a partnership with Intelligrated.
With consumer expectations on the rise, omnichannel distribution centers (DCs) are tasked with increasing the speed of their order fulfillment operations without compromising accuracy. Retailers are facing challenges on multiple fronts, balancing traditional in-store requirements associated with keeping product on the shelves and the multifaceted demands of e-commerce. Maintaining high order accuracy and DC workforce productivity is the difference between thriving and becoming a casualty in this highly competitive marketplace.
There is no shortage of potential pitfalls for omnichannel retailers:
- Fluctuations in order volume dictate a spectrum of staffing and process requirements; order fulfillment systems must be capable of flexing to meet demand.
- Direct-to-consumer order profiles are often comprised of a high volume of individual SKUs, requiring labor-intensive "each" picking scenarios.
- Shortened delivery timelines, reduced shipping costs and in-store fulfillment of online orders add complexity to the order fulfillment process.
With ample opportunities for order errors and productivity lapses, DC managers must have clear strategies and effective tools in place to avoid these pitfalls. Intelligrated's warehouse execution system (WES) software delivers a suite of proven capabilities to help managers take control of their fulfillment processes and gain a competitive edge, including: light-, voice-, and RF-directed picking and putting; mobile cart systems; sophisticated carton routing; AS/RS shuttle systems; material handling equipment (MHE) control via put walls and advanced labor management systems.
Through the tight integration of Intelligrated's comprehensive system hardware options and its flexible WES software, retailers can deploy the order fulfillment technology they need to achieve these critical objectives.
- Adapt to order volume fluctuations - Many modern fulfillment systems are unable to adapt order filler resources and workflows to meet variances in order volume. When order volume is low and fewer workers are needed, Intelligrated's WES software and pick-to-light (PTL) system limit the order filler's walking distance by allowing them to efficiently pick a a batch of orders in a single path. As order volume increases, the system adapts to include more workers and ramp up productivity by enabling the sharing of work zones.
- Manage a high volume of individual SKUs - Intelligrated's xD PTL hardware device economizes available slotting space in a flow rack by dynamically sizing the slot width to match the SKU. This allows for frequent reconfiguring of the picking station in accordance with changing SKU profiles - especially useful for adapting to smaller items. The xL PTL device coordinates front side slotting with replenishment activities on the the back side of the flow rack, giving operators light-directed put away instructions to place SKUs in the correct flow location while also determining proper slot widths.
- Meet increasing consumer expectations - Meeting service level agreements without cutting into profit margins or negatively impacting other areas of the business requires visibility into all areas of DC operations. Intelligrated (WES) provides this visibility through its live dashboards, giving DC managers access to the actionable data needed to make informed resource adjustments. The seamless integration of WES software with all hardware controls optimum movement of orders and materials through the DC.
Intelligrated's tightly coupled WES software and system hardware options deliver the order fulfillment technology DCs need to meet service level, accuracy and productivity requirements. For more information about these options, download our latest white paper.
The Christmas season will soon be upon us, and distribution centers (DCs) everywhere are gearing up for the e-commerce order fulfillment push. Ever increasing SKU numbers and “piece” picking requirements combined with rush orders and an influx of temporary employees can spell disaster for retailers trying to keep customers happy during the all-important holiday season. With so much at stake, operations managers are looking for new tools to gain a competitive edge. Intelligrated Voice — with its advanced speaker-independent speech recognition technology, exceptional workflow scalability and superior employee onboarding capabilities — can give you a powerful edge.
In my last blog, I talked about how Intelligrated Voice picking technologies can deliver significant improvements in order accuracy and overall DC productivity. These advantages are always critical, regardless of the season or evolving business requirements. But the unique challenges that operations managers face during peak fulfillment periods bring the true benefits of Intelligrated Voice to the forefront. Here are five things it could do to transform your holiday fulfillment productivity:
1. Onboard new employees in a half-day - Training seasonal and part-time employees to quickly become productive picking team members is a recurring challenge for operations managers. Intelligrated Voice utilizes VoIP technology to enable coaching and assistance via three-way conversations, even if the supervisor or help desk is remote. Industry-leading, multilingual speech technology does not require training to establish speech recognition. This means your seasonal workforce can be trained and ready to hit the floor in less than half a day.
2. Achieve 99.9 percent order accuracy - Order errors during the holiday season create a domino effect of returns, inspection, re-stocking, re-picking, re-shipping, time lost and the potential loss of customer loyalty. The key to achieving order accuracy during seasonal pushes is an efficient and adaptable picking strategy. With 99.9 percent order accuracy, Intelligrated Voice picking systems all but remove fulfillment errors at a time when it matters most.
3. Adapt to seasonal workflows - Maximizing seasonal order fulfillment requires all aspects of the DC working in harmony. These fast-paced operations can’t always pause to replace outdated picking technologies. With multi-modal Intelligrated Voice, you have the option to blend it with other processes, such as scanning and pick/put-to-lights. And its rapid adoption rate provides staffing flexibility that makes it ideal for ramping up to meet seasonal requirements.
4. Gain visibility to labor performance - Labor management is especially important during seasonal crunches and new (or temporary) employee onboarding. With Intelligrated Voice, managers can incentivize performance, coach new employees on the job and drive compliance through real-time visibility and playback of actual worker audio. It also pairs with the Intelligrated Labor Management System to provide advanced analytics and enhance business intelligence, streamlining the entire labor management process.
5. Improve productivity by 45 percent - Meeting the seasonal push is not an excuse to let order fulfillment productivity slip. On the contrary, operations managers want nothing more than to maintain and even improve upon normal productivity levels. Compared to legacy paper picking and RF scanning approaches, Intelligrated Voice delivers a 45 percent improvement in productivity —while keeping pickers’ hands free, eyes up for fast work and safer from potential missteps.
While these examples show how Intelligrated Voice addresses the challenges of the holiday order fulfillment season, it’s the technology infrastructure that makes it all work. Instead of legacy proprietary hardware Intelligrated offers an open choice of leading rugged smartphones and wireless headsets, avoiding unnecessary hardware lock-in. An innovative VoIP-based architecture enables a unique training and support model where new workers can be fully productive in a week with as little as 2-3 hours of shadowing with an experienced worker. VoIP technology also provides for easy remote help while novice workers are mid-task, and great supervisory coaching by enabling playback of a worker’s actual audio where they may need guidance. With this flexibility, Intelligrated Voice can be utilized to automate any mobile process inside (or beyond) the four walls of the DC.
Fulfillment centers strive to optimize throughput, speed and accuracy to cost-effectively meet promised service levels. Managers play a difficult balancing act of minimizing employee turnover to avoid continuous training and re-training, adjusting processes to efficiently balance work volume and planning for demand fluctuation to accommodate seasonal spikes. Voice technology can scale to match changing business requirements and offers a solution to empower management with greater control, flexibility and visibility into operations on the floor.
Read on for the top seven benefits of using voice in the direct order fulfillment process and utilizing Intelligrated’s voice technology over legacy voice products.
Distribution is a fast-paced game with high-stakes and little margin for error. Customers place a premium on fast service, but receiving the wrong product renders speed meaningless. Erroneous orders not only cost time and money in the form of returns processing and a replacement shipment, but levy even greater costs by damaging customer satisfaction and reducing repeat business. By implementing voice solutions, operations can achieve more than 99.9 percent fulfillment accuracy — a critical metric in the competitive retail and e-commerce landscape. This keeps the right products flowing to keep store shelves stocked and avoid lost revenue.
Simplicity is often the best route to productivity. But in order to maintain control of inventory and manage the fulfillment process, operations often arm employees with scanners or paper pick lists, keeping their hands occupied and adding extra complication to the picking process. This enforces an effective ceiling on employee productivity and operational success, risking insufficient stock on store shelves and missed shipping cut off times. In contrast, voice technology reduces steps required to complete a task and keeps pickers’ hands free and eyes up, improving safety, ergonomics and increasing productivity up to 35 percent.
If a sharp holiday peak hits or if business experiences sustained organic growth, how can fulfillment operations maintain high service levels while meeting increased order volumes? Voice solutions provide that scalability through simple and cost-effective worker and workflow additions, ensuring operations can handle demand while avoiding wasteful investment. Voice’s ability to support large vocabularies of thousands of words enables it to automate a greater variety of complex mobile work tasks.
4. Rapid adoption of automation
Fast-paced fulfillment operations do not have time to replace out-of-date technology or implement complex training programs required for RF data entry. With voice, supervisors leverage unique, easier training and support capabilities to quickly scale up new, part-time or seasonal workers to meet and exceed corporate productivity targets. Especially useful during peak season, innovative training features help facilities quickly integrate seasonal labor into picking operations.
A highly practical example is when a new hire forgets the proper process for handling an exception, such as a short. They can put their work on hold and place a quick call to a supervisor who can then provide brief coaching or join the actual voice transaction through a three-way call to role model best practices to properly completing the work task.
Supervisors can also speed site adoption by playing workers’ actual audio back to them at any point in a transaction to advise on the most effective work behaviors.
5. Management visibility
Easy access to the right information not only leads to faster management decisions; it also benefits employees on the floor by providing real-time information to help gauge self-improvement efforts. Dashboards provide real-time visibility into individual worker, group, zone, site and company-wide productivity levels, daily progress and time remaining to complete assigned tasks, enabling management to make rapid operational decisions. Workers are also able to ask for their current performance level, especially valuable in locations using incentive plans.
6. Multilingual capabilities
Going international? For businesses expanding their global footprint or integrating non-native employees, Intelligrated’s voice system is a perfect fit, offering support for all the world’s leading languages and speaking more languages than any other voice solution. Workers can choose their language of preference at any shift, enabling them to build deeper local language skills and become more valuable to the company. This enables operations to accommodate diverse labor pools and quickly scale productivity levels.
7. Solution flexibility
Reconciling systems from multiple vendors can be a challenge, leading operations to dedicate significant IT resources to integration in order to reap the full benefit of technology investments. Intelligrated’s flexible voice platform enables easy integration with other Intelligrated system components or existing facility infrastructure. Combined with a WES, WMS, WCS or ERP system, Intelligrated voice solutions come as a fully-integrated solution that not only provides clear task instructions, but communicates and interacts with multiple enterprise software systems. On the floor, it’s compatible with the broadest range of rugged, non-proprietary mobility hardware, avoiding vendor lock-in while quickly embracing the latest mobility innovations that come to market.
Discover the efficiency gains and cost savings from voice technology by downloading Intelligrated’s ROI of voice picking white paper.