The digital age has transformed the postal sector, offering alternatives for personal correspondence, billing, advertising and news, while driving the growth of e-commerce. Increasing parcel volumes, aggressive delivery timelines and other pressures confront operations with unprecedented postal processing challenges.
These topics will be the focus of the educational sessions and solution demonstrations at the National Postal Forum, May 21-24 in Baltimore. For a preview of what's to come at NPF, read on for the top five challenges facing parcel and postal sortation operations today.
Challenge 1: Package variety
E-commerce is the fastest growing retail segment, with direct-to-consumer orders accounting for over half of shipping volume since 2014. In addition to flats and letters, this challenges postal sortation solutions with a variety of product sizes and shapes like soft packs, polybags and corrugate boxes. And this shift is not yet complete - while most parcel volume is currently between 44-88 pounds, the dominance may switch to small packets less than 4.4 pounds. The variety of packaging types forces postal operations to find sortation solutions with the capability to keep up. For example, sliding shoe, tilt-tray and cross-belt sorters provide fast, gentle handling of letters, soft packs, polybags, corrugated cases, cartons, totes and other odd or oversized items.
Challenge 2: Volume
In addition to a variety of package types, postal sortation systems must process growing order volumes. While traditional mail volume has remained relatively flat since 2012, USPS has seen significant increases in package deliveries, driven by e-commerce. In that sense, postal operation sortation systems have adopted many of the same characteristics of sortation solutions for e-commerce. Serving this expanded volume has also driven major logistics companies to expand their operations, opening up one or two new regional sorting hubs, on average. Sortation solutions must offer the necessary throughput speed and scalability to deliver dependable, accurate throughput during seasonal spikes or long-term growth in volume. Tilt-tray and cross-belt sorters are capable of delivering the necessary capacity and speed when handling the wide-ranging product mix of post and parcel sorting environments.
Challenge 3: Automation integration
Automation offers a solution to improve overall postal operator efficiency. Part of this benefit comes from streamlining processes and reducing manual touches, helping protect operations from labor shortages as demographic shifts make their mark on the workforce. In modern processing centers, these automated systems include more than just sortation, as a variety of transportation and diverting functions can be automated. Putting conveyor, sortation, software and other technologies together requires deep integration experience and the capability to handle emerging technologies. As more businesses adopt the Internet of Things, data gathered from automation can help fuel this data-driven quest for greater efficiency and transparency. More post and parcel logistics processes continue to be automated, with significant increases in drone use over the last two years as companies explore adopting them as an everyday delivery solution.
Challenge 4: Customer expectation
At the click of a mouse or tap of a touch screen, consumers expect quick access to a variety of products from virtually anywhere. Keeping up with aggressive delivery timelines requires order fulfillment solutions that leverage sortation for greater efficiency inside and outside the four walls, setting up downstream logistics processes for success. For example, sequentially releasing orders to match delivery routes offers greater efficiency after leaving the processing hub. Furthermore, postal operators and retailers must collaborate to enable different delivery features, such as click-and-collect, parcel lockers and delivery time visibility into logistics processes. In the race for speed and transparency, postal operators must adapt their logistics and IT processes to keep up.
Challenge 5: Space utilization
As population dynamics shift and more people move to cities, carriers must serve greater volumes in areas with limited, more expensive real estate. Instead of building out, these conditions encourage postal operations to build up and increase storage density by adopting vertical storage solutions. Implementing vertical sortation solutions saves valuable floor space and can save money - helping avoid the cost of expansion or new construction.
To learn more about innovative sortation solutions designed to overcome the challenges facing post and parcel operations, visit USS, an Intelligrated company, at NPF booth #309 or email email@example.com to schedule a meeting at the show.
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.
Warehouse operations depend on varying degrees of automation to maintain process efficiencies. Getting product out the door and into customers' hands requires the predictable execution of repetitive tasks - from picking, putting and sorting to shipping, receiving and storage. Even slight deviations from standard processes can put customer serivce levels at risk. And while many operators know that automation will help them avoid these pitfalls, they are unsure about which automation solution is best suited for their business.
In Intelligrated's recent On The Move webinar, titled "Sort it out! Making smart sortation automation decisions," I discussed the full range of sortation automation solutions available for modern distribution and fulfillment operations. Making the move to automation is a difficult decision, requiring careful evaluation of all variables, including:
- Pick density - how closely things are stored together
- Peak to average order volumes
- Number of SKUs, unit movement, orders across SKUs
- Conveyability of product - liquids, fragile, eaches, full cartons
- Customer service levels and delivery commitments
- Orders per day
- The cost and accessibility of labor
- Product volume
- Expected future growth of the company
- CAPEX budget requirements
- ROI expectations
While these are all important factors, order volume is often the first thing operators consider when selecting a sortation automation solution. Unfortunately, there is no cookie cutter equation to help operators select equipment purely based on order volume. Their expectations, key performance indicators and business requirements - now and in the future - are equally important factors.
It's the marriage of people, processes and equipment/automation that drives the automation decisions and solutions required. The investment in automation should provide long-term capacity, including the scalability to grow and adapt to changing requirements. Only then can operators ensure a return on their automation investment.
To help demonstrate the options available to today's DC operators, the webinar presented automation options from entry-level, manual types to sophisticated sortation and conveyance systems. For e-commerce retailers who must sort 25,000 items per hour to fill up to 150,000 orders per day, a state-of-the-art, tilt-tray conveyor and sortation solution is required. But for mail order or catalog companies, voice, GoKart and pick-to-light picking technologies may be just what they need to increase throughput and reduce errors.
To determine which sortation and automation solution is suitable for your operation, please visit our On The Move webinar archives and view this session in its entirety.
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.
Halloween has haunted, Thanksgiving is over and the madness of Black Friday has passed. Now the race is on to finish the holiday season strong as major carriers continue their efforts to get gifts under the tree by the time stockings are hung by the chimney with care.
But impressing the in-laws with those last-minute monogrammed stocking stuffers depends on more than retailers providing a seamless shopping experience and shippers driving Santa's sleigh. Products need to make their way out of storage, run through value-added services and consolidation before heading out to shipping.
All year round, Intelligrated makes it possible to deliver on fulfillment promises with efficient labor, processes and automated equipment that ensure consistent throughput and accuracy, from picking and replenishment to conveyor and sortation.
Holiday season means peak order volumes
According to the National Retail Federation, holiday sales increased to $626.1 billion last year, including nine percent growth in online and other non-store sales. This increase in e-commerce demand applies extra pressure on distribution operations to route, pack, personalize and consolidate orders in time for shipping cut-off times.
These multi-step processes place a premium on fast, accurate sortation. Just like Santa's reindeer operate on a tight schedule, retailers cannot afford unplanned downtime or delays. Keeping operations moving swiftly requires precise diverts to direct orders to the right chutes and avoid jams, re-circulations or other errors that can stretch order cycle times and occupy system capacity.
Innovative sortation technology maximizes accuracy, throughput
Maximizing the precision of diverts from cross-belt sortation equipment depends on the size of the item and its exact location on the sortation surface. Traditional technology assumes, sometimes incorrectly, that an item is located in the center of a cross-belt and discharges at the center of the chute based on those conditions. However, Intelligrated's patented dynamic discharge compensation (DDC) technology is designed to more accurately handle the diverse product mix associated with e-commerce and holiday fulfillment, from golf clubs and footballs to apparel and shoes. DDC uses an overhead vision system to detect the exact size and location of an item, and adjust the discharge based on those criteria, enabling more precise diverts and 99.9 percent accuracy levels.
Though Intelligrated does not drive Santa's sleigh, his workshops are in good hands. The equipment, software and expert support keep gifts flowing from the North Pole to the right place at the right time. Happy holidays from Intelligrated!