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.
Modern e-tailers and omnichannel retailers have permanently changed the order fulfillment game. Many customers have traded the in-store experience for online shopping, and as a result, brick and mortar retailers are struggling to compete. To support their customers' willingness to order products online (sight unseen), e-tailers have built their operations with a network of distribution centers placed in strategic locations. Instead of putting a store in every town, their distribution networks are enabling expedited delivery to their customers.
This paradigm shift to online order fulfillment has left many traditional retailers in an existential quandary. Many are asking, "What should I do with my existing network of brick and mortar stores intended to support an entirely different model?" The truth of the matter is, stores are still an important part of the customer experience; there's no substitute for being able to see and feel a product before actually buying it.
And for some customers, any delivery expectation is just too long to wait. The only way for them to fulfill that need for instant gratification is to physically go to the store and buy it. One method retailers are using to support this preference is by allowing customers to order online and then pick up the product at their nearest store. The only problem with this scenario is that some stores are unprepared or ill-equipped to efficiently deliver on this promise.
So, even though traditional retailers may not have regional distribution centers in every strategic location to enable same-day deliveries, they do have an opportunity to leverage their existing network of stores to their full potential.
In Intelligrated's next On The Move webinar, Sean Wallingford, senior director of strategic operations from Intelligrated Software, and James Hendrickson, senior product manager, retail solutions from Honeywell, will explain how retailers can level the playing field by turning their stores into distribution centers - and in the process create a customer experience that drives brand loyalty. From receiving, staging and put-away to picking, packing and shipping, Sean and James will explain how stores can improve the tactical execution of their everyday processes to enable them to focus on strategic objectives such as improving the in-store experience of their customers. Attendees will learn:
- The advantages of a physical storefront over a virtual one
- The importance of "buy online, pick up in store" order fulfillment
- The similiarities between DC and store processes
- How to improve tactical execution to improve the customer experience
- Why DC-like efficiencies are critical in stores
Register now to join Sean Wallingford and James Hendrickson on Thursday, December 15 at 2 p.m. EST for this important webinar.
Today's omnichannel fulfillment operations face unprecendented challenges. Rapidly increasing SKU counts, the proliferation of single-item orders and same-day delivery expectations are impacting nearly every piece of the order fulfillment process. From inventory storage and picking to order consolidation and shipping, fulfillment centers are implementing new solutions to survive and keep pace with demand.
In our most recent On The Move webinar, I took a closer look at the trending solutions leading retailers are deploying to keep pace with omnichannel demands. The reality of today's e-commerce driven world is that many fulfillment centers are handling up to 700,000 active SKUs; all must be available for picking at any given time. While it's estimated that 75 percent of SKUs account for 99.9 percent of orders, even the less frequently ordered products must be managed to meet the same service level agreements.
This trend presents significant fulfillment challenges and is changing the means by which omnichannel operations are being conducted. Common picking strategies retailers are deploying range from improvements to manual methods to increasing degrees of automation:
- Manual pick modules with traditional shelving - Still a valid option, especially combined with RF, voice and augmented reality in the picking area; can be constrained by the availability of labor
- Mini-load cranes - Allow for better utilization of building space, although not necessarily for retrofits in existing lower-profile buildings; ideal for lower-rate pick items
- Shuttle systems - Effective in existing or new buildings, shuttles reduce the need for labor when paired with goods-to-operator (GTO) methodology; well-suited for higher rates of demand as well as high- and low-rate items
One caveat to increasing automation is a reminder that for maximum utilization and ROI, these systems should be designed for peak demand periods.
On the order fulfillment side of the equation, I also provided general guidelines for developing the ideal solution for a particular application, keeping in mind that fulfillment centers may be responsible for as many as 300,000 orders per day. Order fulfillment strategies I presented in the webinar included:
- Light-directed cart fulfillment - Basic method that many big-box retailers are deploying in their DC networks (not dedicated e-commerce fulfillment centers.) Allows discreet and batch-picking for up to 10,000 orders per day.
- Zone routing pick-and-pass - Ideal for up to 50,000 orders per day, system integrates pick-to-light, RF or voice-directed pick modules via intelligent conveyor and sortation methods. Alternatively, some operations are using small automated guide vehicles (AGV) or robots to route orders from zone to zone.
- Put walls - Ideal for peak output periods or seasonal promotions with higher order volumes. They can be combined with an existing zone routing system which can then become a batch pick option for the put wall system.
- Tilt-tray / cross-belt sortation - Well-suited for up to 150,000 orders per day or pick rates up to 25,000 items per hour. It allows retailers to run e-commerce, B2B and retail fulfillment operations on the same sorter; can be combined with mobile put walls to flex with peak volumes.
Finally, I discussed the increasing role of robotics in omnichannel fulfillment centers, especially as technologies transition from case picking mixed-pallet building to each picking requirements. To learn more and view this webinar in its entirety, please visit our On The Move webinar archives.
We recently presented an On The Move webinar called "Conquering palletizing challenges in manufacturing and warehouse environments." One of the most interesting aspects of our webinars is the ability to poll the audience during the presentation and learn more about their operations and preferences. To kick off this webinar, we asked the audience what palletizing method they were currently using. Surprisingly, the majority of attendees were either using manual palletizing procedures (42 percent) or none at all (42 percent). The remainder of the polling group were equally distributed between conventional and robotic palletizing.
These results reveal something that we know all too well: that the importance of palletizing in manufacturing and warehouse operations is something that's often overlooked. Inadequate palletizing processes create a ripple effect throughout the facility's operations that ultimately jeopardize customer commitments and have a direct impact on the bottom line. So, to make sure you're selecting the correct palletizing strategy for your operation, we presented the following six key considerations:
1. Palletizing and line efficiency. The impact of palletizer downtime on operating performance has a direct impact on a facility's overall efficiency. It's important to think of the palletizing function as part of the overall production or distribution system, with inefficiencies causing backups to the whole operation. The speed of your operation plays an important role in the palletizing selection.
2. Packaging trends create new challenges. Less packaging, more fragile materials, smaller items and more totes are changing the palletizing landscape. In some cases, the pallet itself is becoming the consumer display method. All of these factors can dramatically affect stacking patterns and pallet stability.
3. Explosion in the number of SKUs. E-commerce has increased the variety of case and pack sizes, including large packs for club stores and small packs for convenience. This variance requires a palletizer capable of rapid, tool-less changeover to continually adapt.
4. Changing load configurations. End-of-aisle display loads, "label out" preferences and reduced pack strength all impact how pallet loads are constructed. Palletizers must enable frequent pattern revisions and incorporate various options to shore up load strength, such as: shorter loads, stretch film, tier sheets, trays and cap sheets, and corner boards.
5. Increasingly stringent safety requirements. Deploying a palletizing solution in your facility requires careful consideration of applicable safety standards. Robotic and automated solutions must adhere to CAT 3 control system requirements.
6. Labor market challenges. The dwindling pool of qualified workers, increasing minimum wages, high turnover rate in manual palletizing functions and the potential for injury are all reasons to consider an automated palletizing solution.
With all of these factors to consider, the next topic we discussed in the webinar was the different palletizing solutions available - from high-speed row-forming and inline conventional machines to robotic and hybrid solutions. If it's time to consider a change to your palletizing strategy, please visit the webinar library on our website and view this presentation in its entirety. Then, consult with one of our palletizing experts to determine what the best solution is for your operations.