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Archives for October 2016

« 10 Ways to Achieve E-Commerce Distribution Success, Part 10 of 10 - Improve Wave Management

By Ian Hobkirk | 10/17/2016 | 6:05 AM

By Ian Hobkirk
Managing Director of Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors

Under increasing pressure to work faster, better, and smarter in today’s omni-channel and e-commerce business environment, companies need help getting their distribution operations up to speed with customer demands and expectations. To help, Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors has identified 10 key tactics that successful companies are employing in order to make a graceful transition to higher levels of e-commerce in the distribution center.

 

In Parts 1 through 4 of this ten-part blog series, I covered the four Basic Tactics: Create a Forward Pick Area, Setup Effective Replenishment, Determine Overall Pick Strategy and Determine the Optimal Pick Methodology. Parts 5 through 7 focused on the Intermediate Tactics: Practice Real-Time Warehousing, Optimize Packing, and Manage Parcel Shipments Effectively. Parts 8 and 9 covered the first two Advanced Tactics: Pick-to-Shipping Container and Goods-to-Picker Systems. This blog, the final blog in our 10 part series, is about improving wave management, the third Advanced Tactic.

 

 

TACTIC #10: IMPROVE WAVE MANAGEMENT

The forms of material handling automation covered in Part IX can create tremendous labor savings in the order picking process, largely through the creation of very large pick waves. Rather than accessing the same pick face several hundred times to pick a fast moving item, the entire supply of that item may be picked at one time and then separated by order using either a manual put-to-store process, or automated unit sortation technology such as a tilt-tray, cross belt, or bomb-bay sorters. These processes and technologies can contribute to ultra-high pick rates, but can sometimes create an unintended consequence.

 

Cluster picking and batch picking work best when a large pool of orders is built and combined into a pick wave. These large waves can take a long time to pick – sometimes several hours. This can have an impact on a company’s order cutoff time – the latest time a consumer can place and order and expect it to ship the same day it is placed. Order cutoff time is a function of the parcel carrier’s last pickup time, and the total order processing time. With a four-hour wave-pick processing time and a parcel pickup time of 7:00 PM, a company must have an order cutoff time of around 1:30 PM.

 

By having such an early cut-off time, a company may place itself at a disadvantage compared to its competitors who may be smaller in size but able to offer later cutoffs. Furthermore, they may miss an additional opportunity to up sell consumers by offering faster service for an expediting fee. If the company had a way to quickly process a smaller percentage of orders and pick them faster, the company might be able to offer later cutoff times for those orders where an additional fee is paid, but keep the same standard cutoff time for non-expedited orders. The challenge with this strategy in a highly automated system is that in many cases, the entire large pick wave must first be processed before any additional orders can be processed.

 

“Wave-less” Picking and Other Variations

In recent years, advances in wave management have allowed for the ability to dynamically insert high-priority orders into a large wave without having to wait for wave completion. This capability is sometimes referred to as “wave-less” picking, since the traditional concept of a pick wave is altered considerably with this approach. It should be pointed out that with this concept, the benefits of picking in large waves – grouping similar orders together and picking SKUs in bulk – are still preserved. However, a much greater level of flexibility is available to allow orders to be prioritized on the fly without waiting for a wave to complete. There are also overall efficiency benefits, as the wave ramp-up and ramp-down periods – with accompanying productivity declines – can be smoothed out.

 

This concept has been largely pioneered by developers of warehouse control software (WCS). This software acts as middleware between a WMS and the machine-level controls of the material handling system. It manages the orders in a particular wave and directs the picking process and manages the material handling equipment (MHE). This capability – while not inexpensive – can sometimes be implemented without replacing either the MHE or WMS in the distribution center.

 

 

It’s Time to Hone Your E-Commerce Distribution Strategy

This concludes our series on e-commerce. The proliferation of e-commerce affects all companies across the entire consumer goods supply chain, whether they are large or small, manufacturers or retailers. Even if a manufacturer has not chosen to develop their own e-commerce channel, it may be driven into the fray by having to fulfill e-commerce orders on behalf of their retail customers. With proper foresight and the courage to take the first few steps, companies can embrace e-commerce as a competitive differentiator that can drive higher profits and ensure that the enterprise is well positioned for the future.

 

Related Reading: Whitepaper: “E-Commerce in the Distribution Center, Making a Graceful Transition.”

10 Ways to Achieve E-Commerce Distribution Success, Part 9 of 10 - Employ Goods-to-Picker Systems

By Ian Hobkirk | 10/05/2016 | 7:14 AM

October 5th, 2016

Under increasing pressure to work faster, better, and smarter in today’s omni-channel and e-commerce business environment, companies need help getting their distribution operations up to speed with customer demands and expectations. To help, Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors has identified 10 key tactics that successful companies are employing in order to make a graceful transition to higher levels of e-commerce in the distribution center.

 

In Parts I1 through 4 of this ten-part blog series, I covered the four basic tactics: Create a Forward Pick Area, Setup Effective Replenishment, Determine Overall Pick Strategy and Determine the Optimal Pick Methodology. Parts 5 through 7 focused on the Intermediate Tactics: Practice Real-Time Warehousing, Optimizing Packing, and Manage Parcel Shipments Effectively. Part 8 embarked on the first of the three Advanced Tactics: Pick-to-Shipping Container and this blog, part 9, explores Goods-to-Picker Systems as the second Advanced Strategy.

 

 

TACTIC #9: EMPLOY GOODS-TO-PICKER SYSTEMS

Eventually, if piece-pick requirements increase to a certain level, then goods-to-picker systems may make sense as a means of reducing pick labor (and improving space utilization). While good cart-based systems can produce pick rates of between 100 and 200 lines per hour, goods-to-picker systems have been known to allow rates of 400–600 lines per hour.

 

Goods-to-picker systems are available as many different forms of technology. A company’s choice of a system should be driven by:

 

•    Throughput requirements

•    Product makeup

•    Order profiles

•    Space requirements

•    Budgetary limitations

•    Flexibility needs

 

Some of the major forms of goods-to-picker systems include:

 

Horizontal Carousels

These systems produce very high pick rates but are not as space-effective as other technologies. Creative use of mezzanines and lift tables can extend the working height of these systems and make better use of cube. Successful horizontal carousel systems require that multiple units be grouped in a pod, where a single picker works multiple machines at the same time. This necessitates the use of sophisticated software to plan and execute each batch of orders that are picked. Unfortunately, over the last several decades, the mechanical designs of horizontal carousels evolved at a faster rate than the requisite software capabilities, and as a result many horizontal carousels systems were installed in the 1980’s and 1990’s, which failed to meet expectations. Some supply chain executives have a bad taste in their mouths from this situation; these individuals can take comfort in the improved software capabilities that have arisen in recent years. There are many, many examples of successful systems in a wide variety of industries.

 

Vertical Carousels     

Vertical carousels typically do not produce the same high pick rates as their horizontal cousins, but can still often exceed rates from cart-based systems. Vertical carousels excel when space utilization is the dominant design factor. The full height of a building can be typically utilized for storage while the picker remains on the floor level. Like horizontal carousels, software and system design are key to ensure that operators can pick from multiple units at the same time. It is also important that the parts stored in vertical carousels be somewhat uniform in size and height.

 

 

Vertical Lift Modules

From the outside, Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs) appear very similar to vertical carousels, but their operation is very different. A big advantage that VLMs have in this case is their ability to accept items of varying sizes and heights. VLMs are not quite as space efficient as vertical carousels due to the large extractor shaft in the center of the unit as well as lost space from the access window, but these disadvantages start to lessen as storage heights increase. Like vertical carousels, VLMs should be considered in areas that are space-constrained.

 

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)

AS/RS is an entire category of its own, and comprised of a variety of products which each work slightly differently. The major categories include pallet-handling and case-handling systems, with many varieties even within these categorizations. Common characteristics involve an extractor device of some kind retrieving a load and bringing it to an operator for picking.

Related Reading on how AS/RS can save space: “Six Ways to Postpone Your Warehouse Expansion.”

 

In the next and final installment of this ten-part blog series we’ll discuss the third Advanced Topic: Improve wave Management.

10 Ways to Achieve E-Commerce Distribution Success, Part 8 of 10 - Pick-to-Shipping-Container

By Ian Hobkirk | 10/05/2016 | 5:16 AM

10 Ways to Achieve E-Commerce Distribution Success, Part 8 of 10 – Pick-to-Shipping-Container

September 28th, 2016

Under increasing pressure to work faster, better, and smarter in today’s omni-channel and e-commerce business environment, companies need help getting their distribution operations up to speed with customer demands and expectations. To help, Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors has identified 10 key tactics that successful companies are employing in order to make a graceful transition to higher levels of e-commerce in the distribution center.

In Parts 1 through 4 of this ten-part series, I hit on the four basic tactics: Create a Forward Pick Area, Setup Effective Replenishment, Determine Overall Pick Strategy and Determine the Optimal Pick Methodology. Parts 5 through 7 focused on the Intermediate Tactics: Practice Real-Time Warehousing, Optimize Packing, and Manage Parcel Shipments Effectively; with this blog, part 8, we embark on the first of the three Advanced Tactics: Pick-to-Shipping Container.

 

 TACTIC #8: PICK-TO-SHIPPING-CONTAINER

 

As discussed in Tactic #6 (Part VI – Optimize Packing), picking to the shipping container can greatly reduce handling requirements in the packing area. In order to execute on a strategy like this, there are several pre-requisites:

  1. Accurate product dimensions and weight must exist
  2. Scan-verification at time of picking must take place
  3. A cartonization system must be used to calculate the correct size shipping container
  4. A capable WMS system must be in use

 

Product Dimensions

For companies with a large number of SKUs available for e-commerce orders, capturing the measurements of each item can seem like a daunting task. However, automatic cubing devices can greatly speed this process. An automatic cubing device uses ultrasonic technology to ascertain the dimensions of an item. An operator places the item on the cubing device, presses a button, and within seconds, the length, width, height, and weight of the item are captured.  A SKU number is entered (or scanned from a bar-code), and the information is recorded in a database.

Image Source: Cubiscan

 

Using this technology can be a fast and accurate way to capture cubic dimensions of items. A variety of such devices are available, so companies should choose carefully. Minimum and maximum product size plays a role in device selection, as does the frequency of irregular parts (items that are not shaped like a rectangle). Cubing devices can usually be purchased or rented for short term engagements.

 

In high-inventory-turn environments, many companies find that an effective approach to cubing is to capture the cube of all inbound product at receipt, when it must be handled anyway. Then, after the bulk of the SKUs have been cubed, the remaining items are cubed as needed by selecting them from their bin locations.

 

Even with cubing technology, the effort is still very labor-intense, as ultimately, each SKU in the DC must be handled. In view of this, careful planning should go into the effort to ensure that all of the necessary data is collected. It is vital to distinguish between different pack sizes of the same item. For example, an item may come in a pack size of three. It is important to know if the unit of sale in this case is one or three. If the saleable unit is at the “each” level, then the box must be opened and the individual unit cubed. If the unit is sold in multiple pack sizes, it can be helpful to capture each individual pack size separately. In some cases, vendors may be able to provide data on product dimensions, but the same care must be exercised to ensure that the pack-size issues are communicated properly.

 

Although time-consuming, gathering cube data can be extremely useful for a number of distribution initiatives, including:

 

  • Picking to the shipping container
  • Slotting
  • System-directed put-away
  • Check-weighing
  • Pre-manifesting

 

Related Content: Planning a Warehouse Layout with Imperfect Data

 

In the next installment of this ten-part blog series we’ll discuss the second of the three Advanced Tactics: Employ Goods-to-Picker Systems.

 

 

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Ian Hobkirk

Ian Hobkirk

Ian Hobkirk is the founder and Managing Director of Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors. Over his 20-year career, he has helped hundreds of companies reduce their distribution labor costs, improve space utilization, and meet their customer service objectives. He has formed supply chain consulting organizations for two different systems integration firms, and managed the supply chain execution practice at The AberdeenGroup, a leading technology analyst firm.



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