In today's environment of same-day service levels in the warehouse, the definition of high-speed will vary greatly by not only the industry, application, and organization, but also from quarter to quarter and year to year. It wasn't that long ago that next-day shipping set the benchmark; today it's literally measured by the hour (stay tuned because Amazon and others will likely be measuring delivery time by the minute).

So let's look at a number of tips that can help juice your numbers, starting with the "easiest" (nothing is easy, but many things are "easier" to do).

1. Easy process and existing hardware modifications. Look at your order fulfilment processes as if you have never seen it before. There could be low-hanging fruit that you haven't noticed it during the day to day battles. Examples include:

· Processes that require multiple touches. How can you kit, queue, or replenish differently to eliminate touches? Can you create a "hot zone" that eliminates orders being routed to multiple zones for completion? Eliminate zones and long-distance routing everywhere possible.

· Equipment that is laid out inefficiently. Identifying and implementing a quick fix might pay tremendous dividends.

· Existing software underutilization. Having visited thousands of warehouses, we often find processes that have either been set up improperly in their WMS or simply not utilized. In many cases, your organization owns the software, and increasing and fixing the software functionality is truly a low-hanging fruit that is easily harvested.

· Documentation and promotional material inserting into orders. The number of documents that have to be inserted into an order has risen exponentially over the last few years. Unfortunately, many organizations still resort to having operators at pack-out hand-insert them. Automate this process. There is fairly new technology in the marketplace that can generate a return on investment in under a year with perfect accuracy and almost plug- and-play simplicity.

2. Slotting will open your eyes... and often blow your mind! A thorough analysis of your inventory and order processing often provides tremendous value for an operation. By understanding a SKU’s physical characteristics, velocity, and order tendencies, the ability to increase throughput levels and eliminate wasted labor, floor space, and errors are usually abundant.

What will a good slotting report provide for handling your fast movers?

· Identify where in your warehouse each SKU should be located by utilizing a number of key criteria such as: best material handling equipment, floor location, and ergonomics. This translates to less walking, reaching, stretching and bending activities, and improved throughput.

· You should insist on a prioritized slotting report with each SKU movement generating a cost savings. Since SKU movement comes at a cost (labor), knowing which activities will generate exactly how much in labor savings (measured in dollars) makes resource planning much easier and justifiable.

· Do you have a group of SKUs that would perform better in a different material handling technology than what you currently have? A good slotting and material handling equipment configuration report can provide these answers.

· Optimize cube from receiving through shipping and into the truck.

· Will pre-packaging (or kitting) provide huge benefits? An example of this is an operation that routinely packaged SKUs in 50 quantities. A slotting analysis showed that by introducing five and 25 quantity packages of just 5% of their total SKUs would reduce their daily picking labor by over 25%. A huge savings.

Best way to implement slotting? An organization's choices are usually:

1. Buy slotting software and hire or train employees.

2. Utilize slotting modules in your WMS.

3. Use a third party resource.

Each choice has pros and cons. Your organization's time frame to implement and budget will be your best guide in making the decision.

3. Using intelligent Automation. When properly automating your picking process, you will improve not only your high-speed picking throughput, but you’ll also increase your accuracy and order cut-off times while reducing labor.

Which type of automation is best? The very short answer is the system(s) that optimizes your order profiles, product characteristics, and business model. For high-speed order fulfillment systems, the top technologies include:

A. A-Frame Pick-to-Tote/Shipper Systems. This system is comprised of vertical channels (each containing one SKU) that automatically insert the required SKUs into a passing tote or shipper as it passes by on conveyor. These systems can pick up to 4,200 orders per hour (A-Frames pick so fast that they are not measured in lines or items, but in orders), utilize zero picking labor, have triple sensor validation for assuring accuracy, and can be integrated into existing facilities.

B. Flat Sorter (Bombay) Systems. Single items are placed onto the moving induction platforms as they pass the operator. When the platform with the needed item/SKU moves over the order requiring that item/SKU, the platform's bottom doors open (like a plane dropping bombs), placing the SKU in the correct order. Any combination of order destinations can be utilized to meet an organization's requirements, such as: chutes, boxes, conveyor for bagging applications, etc. The size and length of the system, number of inductors, and order positions are determined by the order profiles and required throughput. These systems can reliably achieve throughput of 1,200 to 1,500 pieces per hour.

C. Shuttle Technologies. These systems utilize a series of carts or robots that move horizontally and/or vertically in a rack system, retrieving variable-sized cases or totes and delivering them to a workstation for picking. The speed, weight capacity, rack utilization, and configuration of each system is dependent on the exact manufacturer. They generally can handle up to 75-pound loads and can perform between 750 to 1,000 lines per hour.

D. Horizontal Carousel Systems, which are a series of bins with shelves mounted on a long oval track. Multiple carousels operate as one workstation (called a pod). The operator is picking from one carousel while the others are rotating and getting in position to be picked next. Integrated pick-to-light allows throughput of between 350 to 550 lines per hour with extremely high levels of accuracy.

E. Robotic Horizontal Carousels can also be tiered up to three levels and an integrated robot can be used to pick from the carousels and delivered to workstations via conveyor (similar to Shuttle Technologies). These systems often provide throughputs of 750 to 1,000 lines per hour with a very fast return on investment.

Handling high-speed order fulfilment requirements often relies on a blend of the above three tips. The key is knowing how much and when to implement, but always review your Return on Investment and business plan.

Ed Romaine is VP of Sales & Marketing, SI Systems. Previous to SI Systems, he was the CMO - VP Marketing at Integrated Systems Design (ISD) & Andersen Material Handling. He can be contacted at 484.894.5211 or romaine@sihs.com.
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