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Cut labor costs and increase efficiency with robotic tote handling

Totes are used for e-commerce fulfillment, kitting, order consolidation, packing and other processes that leverage traditional material handling equipment, but quite often tote stacking and de-stacking are left to manual operations. The rigid structure of totes enables AS/RS, conveyor, sortation and other automated equipment to easily route them securely through material handling processes, and their design and size provide the flexibility to accommodate a wide range of products and primary packaging types.

From manual to automation: A fast track to efficiency

Recirculating totes back through automated systems or building pallet loads typically requires manual intervention, with employees bending, lifting and twisting to stack them. This type of arduous, repetitive task carries the risk of injury, and a lack of labor availability combined with high turnover rates means operations cannot rely on manual tote handling to deliver consistent efficient results.

An automated tote handling solution offers a much higher level of overall efficiency. Robotic tote handling delivers increased reliability, higher throughput, reduced long-term costs and ergonomic improvements that enhance workplace safety. From an operational standpoint, the increased speed of an automated solution enables operations to carry reduced tote inventory and use a smaller footprint for tote stacking and palletizing.

Advanced robotic tooling makes it possible

With the number of tote types and configurations, flexible, customizable end-of-arm tooling enables robotic solutions tailored to handle unique tote requirements. These can accommodate fluctuations in size, shape and weight to seamlessly handle totes in a variety of applications, from end-of-line palletizing to stacking in preparation for new fulfillment cycles. 

Flexible end of arm tooling can also handle other types of packaging and execute other tasks. Taking advantage of this modularity enables operations to maximize the utility from robotic systems and increase ROI. 

To learn more about robotic tooling best-suited to handle the products and packaging types in your operation, read the Intelligrated white paper, Picking the best robotic tooling for palletizing.

AS/RS keys to success

There's no doubt automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) are powerful tools that optimize productivity and throughput capacity in distribution and fulfillment operations. Shuttle systems have emerged as the next generation of AS/RS technology due to their storage volume, speed, flexibility and scalable layout configurations. But what should companies consider when evaluating and adopting this technology in their facility?

Applications of AS/RS

Together, automated systems and workflow modifications can solve the challenges of high-throughput e-commerce fulfillment. Shuttle systems in particular maximize efficiency based on operational needs, strategically releasing products in sequence for truck unloading and mixed-load pallet building or grouping similar orders together for faster fulfillment. Shuttles are also valuable in buffering applications, preparing incoming materials or kitting operations for assembly.

The vendor partnership

AS/RS technologies are a large capital expenditure, and an investment of such magnitude merits a long-term partnership with a special focus on experience and support capabilities. It's important to ask the right questions during the RFP process. Does the vendor have experience integrating other large, multimillion-dollar systems? Do they have a reputation for stability and seeing projects through to success? Is the equipment manufactured locally with responsive support and fast repairs?

Integration and scalability

Systems integration requires not only physical connections but also significant data integration links. Tightly coupled systems not only improve performance but drive a better ROI. Consider the overall system, both today and in the future, during the initial AS/RS design and installation to streamline efficiency and enable scalability over time as order volumes and storage requirements increase.

Operational advantages

Goods-to-operator fulfillment enabled by AS/RS can more than double labor productivity by eliminating walk time between picks. Furthermore, in comparison to other AS/RS technology, shuttles hold key advantages in throughput capability, accuracy and layout flexibility. The chart below provides a comparison: 

For more information, read the full white paper, What to consider for a successful AS/RS investment, by Tom Meyers, senior product manager, integrated systems. To learn more about Intelligrated's AS/RS solutions, click here

New On The Move webinar - Driving labor cost savings across the store network

It's estimated that 40 percent of all purchases today utilize more than one commerce channel. A common example of these channel-crossing orders is the "click and collect" method, where customers take an active role in fulfillment by ordering online and picking up products at the nearest retail outlet. In today's inter-connected commerce environments, there are a number of ways that a customer can place an order and expect to receive it. These channel-crossing orders require multiple touch points and place unprecedented demands on store labor, cutting into profit margins that can add up to significant losses across the network.

While these scenarios are playing out more frequently, many retail outlets are caught off-guard by customer expectations and struggle to maintain promised service levels. Meanwhile, the expectations of a standard online order continues to change, driven by e-commerce players, with two-day delivery quickly becoming the new norm and one- or same-day delivery representing a true priority order.

What this means to stores is that retailers not only have to be prepared to fulfill click and collect orders, but they will also likely have to contribute to the shipping process by fulfilling orders from the back room. It's a brave new world for retail outlets that are left to navigate this changing omnichannel landscape. To remain competitive and profitable, they will have to control labor costs and maximize workforce efficiencies at every point of the fulfillment process across the store network. 

In our next On The Move webinar, Jason Franklin, product manager of Intelligrated labor management software (LMS), will explain how the same processes used in warehouses and DCs to control labor costs can be as effective in the back rooms of retail outlets. On Tuesday, August 23 at 2 p.m. EDT, our sixth webinar in this series is targeted for business leaders who want to learn how LMS can drive cost savings throughout the store network. You'll learn how LMS helps stores achieve these efficiencies by: 

  • Helping outlets prepare for in-store order pickup and shipping
  • Driving labor cost savings through planning and execution monitoring
  • Meeting service level agreements and increasing throughput without adding labor
  • Establishing process predictability to operations through accurate forecasting
  • Employing more agile order-building processes

Register now to join Jason Franklin on Tuesday, August 23 at 2 p.m. EDT for this important discussion.

Webinar explores polybags for reducing shipping costs

The increase in e-commerce home deliveries, combined with the advent of dimensional (or DIM) pricing in 2015 on some carrier ground deliveries, has translated to increased shipping costs associated with order fulfillment. As e-commerce continues to fuel the growth in small item home deliveries, last-mile carriers were quick to adopt this volumetric pricing strategy. To keep shipping costs low and ensure that web shoppers kept clicking the Submit Order button, retailers have since began the transition from traditional, corrugated cartons (boxes) to alternative shipping containers such as bubble mailers and polybags. In our most recent On The Move Webinar, “Goodbye cartons, hello polybags,” I explored the impacts this packaging shift has had on fulfillment strategies.

I kicked off the Webinar with a brief explanation of DIM pricing, including specific examples of how larger, yet lighter items are more expensive to ship than heavier, smaller products. I then shared two key statistics that demonstrated the impacts of this pricing change:

  • 33 percent of all ground shipments are affected by DIM pricing
  • Shipping costs increased 42 percent in 2015 compared to 2014

The first live Webinar poll question confirmed that 50 percent of attendees have already made changes to their organization to address the DIM pricing change. The second question revealed that 61 percent of attendees have already incorporated polybags into their packaging mix, with cartons still the most common packaging option at 93 percent. Clearly, there will always be a place for traditional packaging, but the pliable nature of polybags makes them ideal for irregular-shaped items or softer apparel-type products. But the rule of thumb with packaging is: the more pliable the packaging, the lower the DIM weight and shipping costs. Conversely, the more pliable the packaging, the more challenges it presents to the automated material handling system.

The remainder of the Webinar discussed the many ways retailers can lower shipping weights. Note that the first four items on this list precede addressing actual conveyance/sortation strategies:

  1. Re-negotiate with carriers
  2. Utilize on-demand packaging solutions via machines that create cartons based on order profile
  3. Install cartonization software that tells packers the optimal size package to use
  4. Deploy rate shopping software that selects the optimal carrier based on size, weight, destination and negotiated rates
  5. Perform pre-sortation at the fulfillment center to skip shipping zones and dramatically cut costs
  6. Reduce packaging sizes either with new systems designed to accommodate polybag flow from pack-out operations to shipping or by investigating opportunities to handle polybags with existing equipment

The two primary methods for incorporating polybags into fulfillment centers are singulated and bulk flow systems. I discussed the pros and cons of each method and explained that the bulk flow system eventually requires automated or manual singulation prior to final sortation in the fulfillment center.

I then explained some of the challenges associated with conveying polybags through the DC, including: the potential for extra catch points; the difficulty conveyor cameras have detecting the leading and trailing edges of an item; and the challenge of barcode identification due to package irregularities.

Finally, I addressed the variety of conveyor and sortation equipment types and their ability to handle these pliable polybags. There are a multitude of factors to consider and as many equipment options to evaluate, from rollers and belt zones to diverters and sweep sorters. With so many considerations, it’s vitally important for retailers to consult with an experienced material handling solution provider. To learn how you can integrate polybags into your DC operations, please visit our archives to view this Webinar in its entirety or speak to an Intelligrated material handling expert.

Next On The Move webinar to discuss transition from cartons to polybags

The explosive growth in e-commerce and the need to reduce shipping costs have changed the packaging methods used to send goods from manufacturers to consumers. From polybags to thin shipping envelopes and bubble packs, today's e-commerce operations have a myriad of packaging options at their disposal. As a result, direct-to-consumer orders are more frequently being shipped in polybags than ever before. In our next On The Move webinar, Tim Kraus, product management manager, will discuss the far-reaching implications of this shift throughout the materials handling industry.

In particular, Kraus will explain how this transition from rigid cartons to polybags is quickly redefining material handling systems, processes and technologies. While these new packaging options offer reduced overall package size and dimensional weight, they present new challenges for material handling systems - especially those originally designed for more rigid packaging types. 

"Goodbye cartons, hello polybags" is the fifth webinar in the On The Move series and will take place on Thursday, July 21 at 2 p.m. EDT. As an expert on the application of conveyor and sortation solutions for the distribution, manufacturing and parcel delivery markets, Kraus will explore the drivers behind the shift from rigid cartons to polybags, explain what exactly is changing and provide strategies to help you make the transition. Attendees can expect Kraus to expound on the following key points: 

  • How the desire to reduce shipping costs is leading to further adoption of polybags
  • Why the pliable nature of polybags creates challenges for traditional material handling systems
  • How singulated systems compare to bulk handling in terms of total fulfillment costs
  • How appropriate system design, material handling equipment and devices can solve these challenges

Kraus will also discuss some of the common challenges of moving polybags through conveyor and sortation systems, including: product damage, shingling, jams, snags, irregular item and label orientation, and side-by-side products. He'll explore the considerations of transitioning existing technologies and material handling equipment to polybags, including: 

  • Can it effectively handle the product?
  • Can it locate the true position of the item?
  • Can it identify the package contents?

By answering these questions, Kraus will ultimately help attendees evaluate whether to optimize their current system or invest in new conveyor and sortation technologies. Register now to join Tim Kraus on Thursday, July 21 at 2 p.m. EDT for our next On The Move webinar.

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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.