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Think you need to invest in a Unit-Load Automated Storage and Retrieval System (AS/RS)? Maybe not.

Combining automated guided vehicles (AGVs) or autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) with deep lane storage provides similar operational benefits! Dependent on your application this solution:

  • Costs less
  • Reduces manual labor
  • Offers more flexibility
  • Is more easily scalable

Our data-driven engineering approach can create a customized solution for each unique operation.

Let us help you find the right solution.

Introducing Automation Can Reduce Employee Turnover

We hear from our clients that labor is the biggest challenge in their business every day. In particular, labor availability and turnover are often mentioned as issues companies are desperate to find a solution for.

The costs associated with employee churn add up in a tangible way for fulfillment and distribution centers. On average, the total cost of a warehouse associate is roughly $50,000 per year (a $20-per-hour wage at 2,500 hours per year), and the average cost of replacing that associate is roughly 25% of their total cost.

In a warehouse that employs 100 associates, those costs start at $500,000 per year. Then you should consider the costs of training new employees, onboarding, unemployment taxes, and additional overtime required to keep your operations running at the desired rate.

While labor appears to be the problem, here at Storage Solutions, we believe employee walking is the most detrimental activity in a warehouse. Though there are management-level and HR-level tactics to reduce turnover, we can’t ignore the reality that no one likes walking around a facility for miles every day. In addition to walking, manual pick processes are rigid on your associates’ physical well-being. With so much competition for the labor out there – and competitors constantly offering slightly higher wages and signing bonuses to warehouse workers, why would an employee continue to work for you?

Automating your pick process can drastically improve your employee’s job quality, so they aren’t interested in going elsewhere. By introducing goods-to-person picking technology, for instance, warehouses:

  • Essentially eliminate walking from the job. You automate the picking and delivery of a product from storage to a place where your associate can be stationary at a pick station and conduct their business, rapidly expediting the picking process and keeping your employees from manually transferring packages across long distances.
  • Give your best employees higher-level tasks. Employees who are loyal to your company can be rewarded by focusing on higher-level tasks than walking. No one wants high levels of labor intensity when they can be using their brains more than their feet.
  • Reduce onboarding and training costs. If you are operating a 500,000 square foot warehouse storing a high volume and variance of SKUs without automating your pick process, it takes a while to learn which product is stored in every location. When employee churn is high, it can lead to a slower pick speed and a higher number of inaccurate orders.
  • Improve accuracy and nearly eliminate costs of inaccurate orders. An automated solution can dynamically learn where products are stored and deliver goods with nearly-perfect precision. These solutions help your bottom line by increasing fulfillment speeds and reducing product returns. It is estimated that each return costs up to $50, which adds up quickly in high-volume fulfillment scenarios.

How Can We Help?

With automated solutions, you reduce your reliance on manual labor and unpredictable labor markets. Storage Solutions has formed partnerships with several of the industry’s most dynamic, innovative, and creative technology providers and has the operational experience to implement the right solution to meet your business goals.

We take an agnostic approach to learn your unique challenges and provide options with return on investment in mind that help you scale as your needs change.

Click here to let us know how we can best assist you, or give us a call today, so we can learn about your challenges and begin to develop a roadmap to help you grow faster without relying on the dynamics of the ever-changing labor market.

7-automation-solutions-to-support-ecommerce

There is a rapidly growing market for interest in automation solutions, especially in response to the COVID-19 crisis that has reshaped supply chains globally.

Before the crisis began, businesses of all types were slowly shifting to support e-commerce. However, when the pandemic hit, that shift suddenly forced those interested in these solutions to re-evaluate if automation was required to meet customer demand. With the recent acceleration of e-commerce demand, many fulfillment centers need to incorporate automation to a higher degree.

To meet customer demand – where the time between order and delivery expectation is shorter than any time in history – warehouses need to change. Warehouses that are not fully prepared for this rapid rise of e-commerce often rely on an excessive amount of labor (including additional overtime), missing ship dates, and do not meet customer expectations on order accuracy or fulfillment times, all while confronting an ever-increasing volume of SKUs.

The pain points are all building up for those who have not yet adjusted. In those cases, how does one respond?

Some businesses start from scratch by building new facilities, while others are looking to adjust by retrofitting under their current footprint. These companies are looking to increase storage density, reduce time and costs, and achieve higher throughput capabilities by introducing automation into their processes.

Several solutions help warehouses and distribution centers stay competitive and thrive in today’s changing world. Below, we have highlighted seven automation solutions we have seen be useful in these efforts, no matter what level of automation your facility currently has implemented:

Solution 1: Goods-to-Person Picking with HAI Robotics

HAI Robotics ActionHAI Robotics is an intelligent, efficient, and flexible automation solution that utilizes a combination of HAIPICK robots, customizable storage units, software, and workstations to create a robotic goods-to-person picking workflow in a warehouse setting. These robots can handle up to eight cases simultaneously and reach heights up to 33 feet, increasing operational efficiency by up to 4x while also increasing storage density by up to 130%.

This solution replaces the repetitive, time-consuming costs of manual storage and handling and introduces a goods-to-person technology that can drastically improve fulfillment efforts.

Solution 2: Goods-to-Person Tote Handling AS/RS with Opex Perfect Pick

Goods-to-Man Tote Handling AS/RSHigh-speed AS/RS tote handling solutions offer scalable goods-to-person picking that improves the speed with which orders are picked, increases order accuracy, and reduces labor costs related to the picking process. It is a low-risk solution for those looking to introduce automated solutions into their operations. An additional benefit of this solution is that an operator can customize either the software or the system quickly if needed.

These systems offer high-density storage both vertically and horizontally within the system with robots that deliver products to a packing station or workstation for further fulfillment. It utilizes put-to-light technology that offers a high degree of accuracy, even with high volumes of order picking.

Solution 3: Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)AMRs offer a wide variety of benefits, including facilitating complex fulfillment, zone picking, each picking, case picking, maximizes labor, reduces labor costs, and can be designed to be scalable, flexible, and adaptable to nearly any fulfillment process. Because they do not require massive investment or even a WMS, on-demand automation solutions like AMRs are becoming adopted widely, especially for those looking to make low-risk introductions into automation.

Solution 4: Handle Complex Product Mixes with EffiMat® and ClassicMat™

Effimat-in-ActionEffimat® is an ideal solution for fast-moving products and small parts but can also increase fulfillment efficiencies with slow runners. The technology can determine the speed with which to pick the order. However, ClassicMat™ is constructed to be the ideal handler for slow runners and can prevent the parts from lowering the speed of the order.

By combining the two technologies and using their intelligent software system, users are ensured highly efficient storage or production environments that can handle complex product mixes.

Solution 5: Put to Light Tables/Workstations

Put-to-Light TablesPut-to-Light systems are an automated sortation method to break down larger product quantities into smaller individual orders. Known as the “scan and sort method,” this order fulfillment method takes items that are usually batch picked beforehand and transports them to the put station. The operator will scan a bar code on individual items, and the lights will illuminate with any customer order including that product. This technology solution will increase productivity as it reduces the time associated with searching for the put location. By the time the operator is done, the next product is already waiting, meaning it is a nonstop picking environment where workers are never waiting on automation.

Put-to-Light offers the same hardware devices and software as pick to light, meaning you can utilize both systems on one platform. This process will be beneficial when it comes to training new employees to use this technology solution. This system’s primary goal is to give you the ability to pack and ship more orders in less time while reducing errors.

Solution 6: Mixed Use of AMRs, Pick Modules, and Conveyors

AMRs and Conveyor CombosWe’ve touched on the integration of AMRs in conjunction with pick modules in addition to (or in place of) conveyors here. In short, by using this solution, you are shifting the work of your labor force to more valuable tasks. Like many automated solutions, it lessens the pick process’s length and gives you a flexible, scalable solution to adjust as e-commerce continues to grow.  Click here to learn more about this solution.

Solution 7: Introduce Automation without Massive Infrastructure with inVia Robotics

inVia Robotics ActioninVia Robotics offers a “crawl-walk-run” approach to introducing automation with their PickMate, Picker Robots, and PickerWall solutions. Users can integrate robotics at your scale, ultimately improving productivity up to 10x while seeing a return on investment on day one of implementation.

inVia is the only technology that can create a goods-to-person picking environment out of an existing pick module while not requiring massive infrastructure changes within your facility.

Their unique robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription models offer an ideal place to start automation because the subscription model removes the massive capital expenditure from the equation

Which is Right for You?

Which is the right solution for you? Will you need a WES/WMS system? Do you need a partner to help you consider using an engineered solution in the future?
There are several factors distribution centers need to consider, not only to meet today’s demand but also to facilitate growth and adaptability for future unforeseen changes in fulfillment expectations.

We have the design and expertise to partner with you through the decision-making and implementation processes. Give us a call today!

Unprecedented Volatility Blog

To describe the 2020s thus far as “unprecedented” would be an understatement.

For the early part of this decade, various unforeseen and mostly unpredictable forces have tested the world’s supply chain, from sourcing material to delivering it to the end-user. Already adjusting to the acceleration of the direct-to-consumer model, the supply chain has endured COVID-19, labor shortages and unpredictability, and unexpected economic and political factors around the globe.

So what does that mean for your team and your customers? It’s more important now than ever before that you know your budget is used on the most efficient and productive solution to store and move your product in the face of a rapidly changing environment.

What do you need to know? How can Storage Solutions help navigate the unknowns?

Volatility Around Steel and Commodity Prices

Steel prices peaked in late 2021. During the last quarter of 2021, steel prices were roughly triple where they had been before the pandemic. Already in the first quarter of 2022, the market has seen steel prices fall to about 60% of their peak before wildly jumping another 40%. In a matter of days, prices are fluctuating at rates that previously took months or years.

All that volatility means manufacturers cannot hold quoted prices for very long. In years past, Storage Solutions and our vendors could hold prices for weeks because of the stability of the steel markets. Now?

Most quotes expire after a week – or even less in some cases – and you, the end-user, are forced to make decisions quicker than ever before. And to further complicate matters, each manufacturer is handling the uncertainty differently – putting additional strain on the market.

Global Instability & Inflation Causing Havoc

In addition to the material market, the logistics and transportation industries are also in a state of shock. Demand for transportation has never been higher. Meanwhile, the trucking market, which hauls over 70% of U.S. freight, is undergoing a historic labor shortage.

It does not take an economist to recognize that when supply and demand are diverting at this rate, prices for shipping will skyrocket.

The effects of inflation and global instability also take their toll on the supply chain. In addition to an already dire situation, gas prices have been up 47% since March 2021, adding even more costs to ship material across the country. Every organization across the supply chain feels the effects of these price increases.

While there is no “magic bullet” for any of these challenges, having Storage Solutions as a partner like us can help navigate the unknowns. Here’s how:

The Right Partner Can Mitigate Risks Caused by Volatility

Find a partner with the right connections. When it comes to sourcing new warehouse equipment, Storage Solutions works with many different pallet rack and equipment manufacturers. We have built many important relationships over the years, which helps customers find the best fit for their needs.

Find a partner who can take advantage of unrivaled manufacturer alliances. We have established foundational relationships that give us access to dedicated production allotments with our manufacturing partners. These allotments help fill the volume of orders we place each month and cut down on standard lead times. We have built long-term relationships with the industry’s leading pallet rack, shelving, and mezzanine manufacturers.

Look for a company that keeps new warehouse equipment on hand. We have a 330,000 square foot warehouse in central Indiana that holds new warehouse equipment available for immediate purchase by our customers. When lead times don’t meet our customers’ project timetables, we often store uprights, beams, wire decking, and other products to fit a project’s specific needs.

Look for a partner who also sources used materials. Our warehouse is not only home to new warehouse equipment but also allows us to store and actively source quality preowned warehouse equipment. We have a dedicated team that purchases quality pre-owned warehouse equipment from teardowns and relocations. If you want to sell your used equipment, keep in mind that we’re always interested in buying!

Look for a partner who can help you develop innovative warehouse solutions. Whether developing a new facility or helping reconfigure an existing racking layout, we understand that downtime needs to be minimized. We approach each situation with an operations-based focus and pride ourselves on finding creative ways to meet our clients’ needs on every project.

What’s the Next Step for You?

When considering a partner for a project, keep in mind that Storage Solutions has the experience, expertise, and partnerships to help you navigate the challenges your business now faces.

Storage Solutions has professionals on staff who can provide material sourcing alternatives, construct a more dynamic project plan, or develop project initiatives to keep your business moving forward while we provide your next warehouse material handling equipment solution.

Dynamic Solutions Beat Labor Challenges

Throughout the supply chain, businesses are experiencing labor challenges in various ways, and it has taken a toll on throughput and profitability for many.

First of all, labor availability is at an all-time low, and fulfillment centers are routinely operating at below capacity because of it. That puts undue pressure on the remaining workers, who are then overextended in attempting to meet consumers’ increasing expectations on quicker delivery for an ever-increasing share of e-commerce orders. In this environment, fulfillment centers are also adjusting to fewer shipments of full pallets and a more significant share of each or order picks, which are more expensive and lead to increased labor costs.

Plus, because labor availability is so low, companies are required to raise wages – and sometimes add bonuses – to attract new employees. That factor makes employee retention more difficult because now there is more competition for those higher-paying jobs, so workers are more apt to jump from one company to another. So, in changing careers and changing companies, quality control is affected as more employees need to be trained.

In short, the labor market is a mess right now. COVID-19 and other external factors have caused a dramatic shift in supply chain employment, and companies are feeling the pain of all these changes. Some have adopted dynamic strategies to reduce dependency on human labor for fulfilling orders, and some are in the process of investigating potential options for their operations.

In fact, one of the most common themes we hear from clients is that they may have waited too late, and now they need to play catch-up. We have found that clients are getting their biggest “bang for the buck” on integrating solutions around their picking, packing, and replenishment operations.

Below are a few dynamic solutions we design and provide that may help your business catch up to meet today’s challenges, but in reality, these solutions should also come with a roadmap to help your operations adapt to future challenges that may be unforeseen.

Adding Conveyor and Sortation Solutions

Conveyor and sortation solutions can be a solvent for labor challenges, primarily by reducing the amount of physical travel required by transporting products long distances within a facility. Through proper design, conveyors can dramatically improve fulfillment speeds, add quality control, and improve safety in a facility.

Even if you have a conveyor system currently running in your facility, it may be time to re-evaluate your design as demand and needs change. Retrofitting existing conveyors with new parts, sortation solutions, or new motors can also make a sizeable impact on your replenishment, picking, and packing efforts.

Condense Your Footprint with Vertical Lift Modules

While condensing your storage doesn’t always directly solve labor challenges, vertical lift modules (VLMs) offer various benefits to fulfillment operations, particularly when it comes to picking items to a cart. VLMs offer a fully-automated goods-to-person picking and storage solution that can be ideal when your process involves small-to-medium products.

Pick-to-light batching tables can be incorporated to allow for picking multiple orders to drive higher pick rates and eliminate guesswork from the batching process. With these high pick rates and additional throughput and accuracy, you can drive labor savings.

Introduce Automated Warehouse Robotics

Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) are two typical warehouse solutions to labor challenges because of their fulfillment rates, operational costs, safety benefits, and order accuracy. Our partners at Fetch Robotics and inVia Robotics work with your labor force to support replenishment, picking, and transportation of products. These solutions can be installed as a subscription service, meaning you don’t have to invest in massive infrastructure at your facility.

These solutions integrate with your warehouse management systems (WMS) to optimize pick paths to support your pick process or do the picking entirely, depending on your needs. Ultimately, though, they remove the costliest aspect of fulfillment – humans walking through a warehouse.

Reduce Costs When You Automate Your Packaging

Especially as a greater share of orders are being shipped individually than by-the-pallet, automating your packaging process can support increased throughput and lower labor costs. From case sealers to auto-baggers to print-and-apply labeling systems, there are several solutions that can prevent you from paying someone to package individual or group orders.

These end-of-the-line solutions can automatically measure and add void-fill, reducing waste, freight costs, and can improve customer satisfaction along the way.

Invest in Automation with Goods-to-Person Picking Systems

Even if you have no level of automation in your operations, it may be worth investigating how to integrate automated goods-to-person picking systems in your facility. However, before diving in too deep, we recommend speaking with an expert that has conducted a data-driven analysis of your material flow to determine the right solution for your business goals.

Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) can come in cart-based solutions, crane-based solutions, cart-crane combinations, mini-load AS/RS, and more. They all drive extremely high pick rates, optimal storage design, ergonomic support and can scale as your business goals grow. However, because there are so many options out there, finding the right solution requires the design and expertise of a proper project partner. We’d be happy to discuss these options with you!

Need Some Advice? Contact an Expert

Our team of experts has experience with various solutions that can relieve the dependency on labor and drive an ROI by increasing your throughput. For us, solving labor challenges is less about eliminating workers but more about keeping your best employees around by making their jobs more accessible, more consistent and creating opportunities for less wear-and-tear per pick.

If you’re reacting to labor challenges, call us today to find which of these solutions is suitable for your operations.

SSI Difference - Size Scope Skill

With all the obstacles that can belie any project – from labor shortages to logistical challenges to project management issues – it pays to work with a company that can solve challenges. Especially in times like these, when it seems all of these challenges are happening simultaneously, it pays off to work with a partner that offers the size, scope, and skill to overcome those and get the job done on time and on budget.

As the most significant storage equipment integrator in North America, we have the capabilities to get projects done on a shorter timeline and with a lesser impact on your day-to-day operations that other companies do not have.

What does that mean? How does that benefit you? Let’s explain…

We Can Source Warehouse Storage Equipment When Others Can’t

When it comes to buying power, we are unmatched in our industry. We are a Top-5 purchaser of pallet racking from the Top-8 manufacturers in North America when most other integrators cannot boast that claim for one or two of them. This status means that we have buying power that allows us to source equipment that others cannot because of our size and scope.

That status also means that we can achieve quicker lead times than others. Because each project is unique, we can get things done faster than the competition. We have such good relationships with our partners that, in the rare instance where production space is open, our manufacturing partners will reach out to us to see if we are interested in their supply. Of course, we are!

So, when some manufacturers may be sitting on 24-week production schedules, we can fit orders into their existing schedule because they know we’re always looking to buy. These unique vendor relationships allow us to place orders on reserved production because we know we can connect our clients to new equipment faster than others.

Another differentiator we can boast of is our 330,000 square-foot warehouse, located in Central Indiana, just north of Indianapolis. We always have new and preowned equipment in stock, and our warehouse allows us to be aggressive in acquiring inventory, which means we can help fill orders quicker. Plus, when there is a delay on a project and equipment is in transit, there are times that we can use and hold those uprights, beams, wire decks, or other equipment in our facility until the project gets back on track.

We are Growing at a Record Pace, Adding More Strategic Partners & Staff Along the Way

As a team, we continue to grow in size and skill. We have added dozens of new talent in sales, engineering, project management, installation, and operations in the past few years, which means we can accommodate a higher volume of projects at any given time and handle a larger share of each clients’ challenges. We have always engaged in training and continuous improvement, but we’ve made a real effort to get our staff accredited and certified in their area of expertise, and it’s paying off for our team and our partners.

We have new strategic partnerships with industry leaders like Daifuku, MHS Global, inVia Robotics, OPEX, and more, which means we are more connected to the latest-and-greatest solutions that can genuinely drive ROI on our clients’ projects. These are new areas of specialization that we have never been able to offer before.

Our approach means we can put the processes and programs to our client’s success. By being proactive – instead of reactive – we can control a project that many others cannot. That pays off by creating long-term partnerships with our growing number of clients because they know we can help solve nearly any challenge that may lay ahead.

We Have the In-House Talent to Navigate Project Planning and Execution

Another one of our main differentiators is our ability to provide in-house Turnkey Services to accommodate project planning and execution. Not only can we assist in the engineering and permitting process, but we offer an unmatched, robust project management team dedicated to each project. That team provides oversight on each component of a project and is in constant communication regarding safety checkpoints, installation progress, permits, logistics, and all the elements required to ensure a project is executed at a top-of-class level.

We offer this as an in-house solution because we ultimately want to be a partner that makes the best use of our clients’ time. Instead of being stuck calling around trying to find answers – or finding out what questions you even need to ask – we already know whom to ask, what to ask, and how to navigate the challenges associated with planning and executing these projects.

Our logistics and installation teams are also held in-house to provide complete control over projects and to ensure that there are no “gaps” in relying on two third-party vendors to coordinate with each other.

Especially now, in late 2021, supply chain and labor markets are experiencing massive delays and challenges. Fewer trucks are available. Delivery times are all over the place. Labor shortages are nationwide. We are not immune from these challenges, but we experience them to lesser degrees than our competition because we can control more resources than others. In other words, just because there is a labor shortage or supply chain disruption, it doesn’t mean we can’t get the job done. Our team can.

When our internal resources are stretched, and we do need to reach out to a third-party vendor, we have built a massive nationwide network of vetted vendors that we can utilize when necessary, and we can leverage our relationships when essential for our clients to receive preferential treatments.

We’re Ready to Get Started!

If you’ve worked with us before, you know our agnostic approach to sourcing solutions means we can deliver your project with fewer challenges than any other partner. If you haven’t worked with us before, give us a call and share more about how we have the size, scope, and skill that positions us as a true industry leader. That position makes us an ideal partner, especially in the current environment of unforeseen challenges and obstacles.

Whether you are about to plan a significant project like designing a new distribution center, investigating whether or not to introduce automation to your operations, or are just exploring options for a project partner, give us a call. We have a team in-house that can help you at every stage of that project, from design through implementation and support.

 

Planning for Future Flexibility

Depending on your business cycle, planning comes at different times of the fiscal year. Typically, we see businesses planning for next year’s budget or big projects toward the second half of the year, especially in the third quarter (and sometimes, into the fourth).

However – as evidenced in almost every line of business – we are in a different world this year. Between the changing dynamics caused by COVID-19 and its variants, supply chain shortages, and fluctuating labor availability, planning for a flexible operational future has never been more critical.

Some of the common challenges that have affected the warehouse industry have been there for decades. Labor availability, rising prices, and material flow challenges have all been around for years. However, warehouses and distribution centers have been tasked with some unique challenges over the last two years, including the Amazon Effect’s dramatic rise, an incredibly volatile trade landscape, and unique labor challenges that started with the onset of COVID-19 in the United States.

At the core of finding solutions to these challenges is planning for flexibility in your operations. If there were a common thread among successful businesses amid the pandemic, it would be those who were dynamic, technologically adept, and those who maximized the value of their fulfillment operations. So, going into the next year or extensive set of projects, it stands to reason those companies will continue their success.

Steel prices are high, lead times are long, and that may not be changing soon.

According to Mining Technology, in July 2021, steel prices have been trading around 200% higher than during a pre-pandemic March 2020, and there isn’t any market movement to indicate price reductions until at least 2022. The report states, “Prices are expected to remain high due to the massive outstripping of demand vs. supply, and the time it will take for supply to catch up and replenish depleted steel stockpiles.”

So, not only is steel more expensive, but it is also more challenging for some companies to source materials; there is little inventory available. It helps to be a distributor of the size of Storage Solutions. Because we are the most significant storage equipment integrator in North America, we can leverage our unmatched partnerships with reserved production capacity programs for pallet racking, mezzanines, pick modules, and other equipment needs. However, just because we are more likely to source steel doesn’t necessarily mean it will be cheaper.

It is challenging to plan for a scenario like this. For example, let’s say you plan a project to start in a year, and the material price jumps 200% and cannot be guaranteed for delivery; what do you do? For us, it means our team of experts understands market forecasts like this, advises our partners on the best course of action early, and helps find the material they need to stick to their budget more closely. After all, when you’re building a three-level mezzanine with pick modules and vertical reciprocating conveyors and a 10% spike in pricing is coming, it is better to work with a partner who knows the market and can advocate action before that spike becomes 200%.

Labor challenges are real, expanding, and causing chaos in nearly every industry.

Suppose there is one common challenge among most companies in North America – if not the world – is the ever-evolving labor market. At the same time, labor challenges have been common in the warehousing industry for decades. However, during the same period in which warehouse managers are battling a volatile steel market and long lead times, they are also fighting “The Great Resignation.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.7% of the entire U.S. workforce quit their jobs in July 2021, and a majority of these resignations took place in retail, professional services, transportation, warehousing, and utilities. The hope is that July 2021 was the peak of “The Great Resignation,” the term that refers to a rising turnover trend that arose in March 2020 with the start of COVID-19 spread in the U.S.

Some of the variables behind these trends are in a company’s control. There are elements like workplace conditions, benefits, flexibility, and more that can be managed to some degree. However, what happens when the competitor down the road can offer slightly better conditions or pay? What happens if another “Act of God” causes significant supply chain disruptions and strained conditions? How do you keep your business running if your employees can’t go to work?

At the same time, costs are also rising – not only with the actual labor rates and what is needed to complete order fulfillment. The operational costs go into recruiting, hosting job fairs, hiring, training (and then repeated if that process when the employee leaves). When those “soft” labor costs get added into the complete picture, then the situation becomes clear: you need to find a fix.

In terms of labor, planning for flexibility could mean a higher reliance on warehouse robotics and technology to solve these challenges. Solutions exist that can dramatically improve fulfillment rates while reducing dependence on human labor and lower costs. This environment doesn’t mean replacing your workers, only reducing your turnover. You can keep your best employees participating in higher-level tasks than walking around. For instance, inVia’s PickMate solution assists employees who are picking products by calculating the most efficient and accurate path to get products from storage to pack-out. This solution does not require an investment in infrastructure and can deliver an ROI on day one of implementation.

PickMate is just one example of the countless options that can improve aspects of your operation and better your bottom line. There are certainly systems out there that can enhance your operations. The best way to start is to work with an industry leader like Storage Solutions that takes an agnostic approach to find the best solution for you based on your operational needs and business goals.

So, what can you do to plan for flexibility in the future?

If you need some help determining how to move forward, give us a call. With our robust project management, creative design engineers, and network of manufacturing partners, we take most of the burden off of the planning process because we know all aspects of the project, from design to installation, through implementation and support.

Whether your challenges are sourcing material, designing material flow, labor challenges, or meet changing customer expectations, we can be there to assist in building out a roadmap that helps you reach your goals, both short-and-long-term. We’ve worked with companies along the distribution chain to develop simple, smart, and strategic solutions to their storage, picking & operational challenges.

While some of those challenges can be solved with active project management and responding reactively to problems, we take the correct approach – a proactive one – in recommending flexibility in developing your plans. Let’s get started today!

Productive Budget Uses

As we enter the fourth fiscal quarter of the year, we are often talking with clients about quick, simple additions, products, and new initiatives to try with the remainder of their annual budget. As operations managers look toward 2022, there are typically several options that can increase productivity, keep employees safe, or offer new benefits to your operations.

Whether you are sitting on $3,000 or $300,000, closing out the year on a productive note is a pivotal way to build momentum to start next year on a positive note. After a tumultuous year like 2020 – one that offered (and still offers) a high degree of uncertainty, this may be an excellent time to see a return on a relatively minor investment.

Below are four of the most common suggestions we offer our clients when they talk to us about the challenges they see in today’s environment with an eye on utilizing the remainder of their allocated budgetary funds.

Rack Additions to Support Facility Volume

Carton Flow FlextrakAmong the most common challenges we see from our clients is finding new and creative ways to increase storage volume and quicken the fulfillment process without expanding the facility’s footprint. Adding rack additions that can support a more efficient pick process is an easy way to see a return on investment without breaking the bank. One example of this would be adding carton flow systems or replacing full-width roller tracks with polycarbonate skate wheel tracks. Why? The beds formed with the latter option creates a full flow bed, adding flexibility without needing to reconfigure your racking. You can learn more about the pros and cons of different carton flow systems here.

Safety Products Focused on Employee Protection

driver-cagesWe have recently highlighted a group of warehouse safety products that assist facilities in adjusting to “the new normal” we are all experiencing. From building access cages to automated smart disinfection solutions, there are various products available to keep your employees safe. In a world where operations managers are looking to reduce labor costs and labor uncertainty, these products can offer a quick return by keeping your associates active and productive.

Safety Products Focused on Rack Protection

Safety Equipment and ProductsThe old phrase, “prevention is better than the cure,” certainly pertains to warehouse management. By installing warehouse safety products like building protector columns, end-of-aisle protectors, safety guard rails, or upright protection, you can prevent damage to your equipment that may arise from forklift accidents or improper storage methods. Our design consultants have decades of experience in seeing what products are ideal for any distribution center, and we’ve worked with businesses across North America as a trusted ally in their safety efforts.

Damaged Rack Repairs and Replacements

Damaged RackBy following the Rack Manufacturers Institute’s guidelines, rack safety surveys should be conducted annually at the very minimum. However, in warehouses with high traffic areas, narrow aisles, transfer aisles, or cold environments, the RMI suggests performing these surveys as frequently as once per month. If you have damaged equipment, we can recommend both pre-owned or new equipment, based on your needs. The preowned equipment we store in our 330,000 square-foot warehouse is protected from the elements and has all passed our Certified Pre-Owned standards, offering additional savings to the distribution centers looking to save on their replacement costs.

Let’s Talk!

Wherever you are in your project planning stage, we are here to offer advice and solutions to suit your needs. We are always looking for new ways to support our partners and clients, and whether you are planning that major project in 2021 or just looking to end 2020 on a positive note, we are ready to get started. Give us a call today!

Increased Volume of E-Commerce Orders

According to Digital Commerce 360, e-commerce, as a portion of total retail sales, rose 44% in 2020, triple the rate increase of sales over the prior year. While the result has been increased convenience for consumers, warehouses, fulfillment centers, and distribution centers are looking to overcome challenges associated with that dramatic shift in consumer behavior.

Some are looking at building new facilities dedicated to fulfilling these types of orders. Others are looking to design and technology solutions that can help them meet the unique demands of their current facilities. Either way, they are seeking to resolve fulfillment challenges that are resulting from the rise of e-commerce.

With massive change in consumer behavior underway – and more change to come down the road – let us take a closer look at each of the significant pain points caused by the rapid increase of e-commerce on the supply chain.

The most accessible place to start in examining common challenges to facilitate more e-commerce orders is in the facility’s design. Warehouses are reaching storage capacity for their original intended design and function. After all, many warehouses were built to sustain and maximize full pallet orders. Now, there is a requirement to facilitate a more significant share of e-commerce orders, which means they need to react to higher order volume and store a wider variety of SKUs.

There are also inherent design hurdles to overcome regarding where – and how – the products are stored and retrieved. For instance, the warehouse goes from storing pallets and cases in static racking, where employees are driving powered equipment to travel to a location, pick a pallet or case, take it to a shipping area, and send it out the door. Now, they need to make individual products accessible, typically available at the floor level, and make it easy for someone to pick either a unit or multiple SKUs for an order.

They need to mold their processes to move from case-or-pallet picking to include the each picking required by e-commerce. In that transition, they are learning that it is very different to pick individual products.

With each picking, the process for fulfillment is nearly double the number of steps compared to case-or-pallet selection. Forklift retrieval for full pallet or case picking, where a high volume of a single product can be moved and shipped – process warehouses have made efficient for decades.

For a higher percentage of orders, workers must now pick, consolidate, pack, and then ship orders, all while customers are demanding their products be delivered more quickly than ever. Now operations will need to establish a consolidation process, packing process, and shipping process.

After all, e-commerce orders are requiring these businesses to double their processes. Are those processes optimized? How are they integrated with the full pallet orders? What tools are available to help with the transition?

Those are all reasons why the operational cost of fulfilling a single order for e-commerce is higher than that of a pallet or case order. Distribution centers and warehouses are already under increased wage pressure, and now they need to integrate these new, increased operational expenses that chip away at their bottom line.

In addition, the costs for labor rising are not only the costs for labor, but the availability of reliable labor is a real challenge that warehouses, fulfillment centers, and distribution centers are all facing. Whether it is due to the COVID-19 pandemic or other external forces, absenteeism is growing in this sector.

Combine all the above, then also factor that we are amid a labor shortage in the supply chain industry, which in part arose due to a sharp rise in demand for trained workers, among other external factors.

What Challenges Are You Experiencing?

What other challenges are you experiencing as a result of the rise of e-commerce? There are emerging trends that dynamic operations respond to, but we understand that each fulfillment center has its unique challenges, and we are here to help.

To adjust to the challenges caused by a rising share of e-commerce orders, a similarly increasing share of distribution and fulfillment centers are investigating adding automation, technology, and dense storage solutions. Autonomous mobile robots, automated packing solutions, and goods-to-person picking solutions all have applications to combat the challenges caused by the higher order volume and can be implemented without requiring an investment in costly infrastructure. These solutions also help relieve high labor costs and labor reliance while helping drive throughput and speed in the fulfillment process.

Whether you are experiencing labor challenges, seeking alternatives to manual fulfillment, or investigating long-term ROI strategies, give us a call. We have multiple partners who can provide solutions to these challenges in introduce increased labor efficiency into your operations. Our team has years of experience designing an ideal solution based on your data and our years of expertise.

AMRs & Shuttle Systems in Picking and Replenishment

It is no secret that e-commerce continues to take a larger and larger share of total retail sales. Throw in a pandemic that forced millions of people and businesses to shop from home, and you will find that fulfillment centers, distribution centers, and warehouses are increasingly searching for methods to optimize fulfillment while minimizing how expensive that process can be.

For operations designed for more traditional case-or-pallet distribution, that process can be costly.

For instance, let us say a facility was outfitted with a large, three-story pick module with a 100,000 sq. ft. footprint. They formerly relied on forklifts to move a whole pallet of products from storage to shipping. Now, they see an increasing share of orders requiring just one or two items from that pallet, requiring a human to physically travel, find the item, and bring it back to packing, where it will be packaged and shipped. All of those new processes add up in terms of labor costs, packing, and shipping costs. Plus, order accuracy and fulfillment times are now in question. How does a company react?

After all, let us say in this example, the business is just emerging from a disruptive year and have this significant, fixed pick module asset that they are a little unsure of how to optimize their picking and replenishment processes, which are getting more expensive by the day. They see growth in e-commerce orders, but is it here to stay? Is making an investment in a fully automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) worth it? Are there alternatives?

Not many businesses can avoid facilitating e-commerce orders. Maybe the order volume or SKU variance is not as high in their warehouses as the nation’s biggest retailers. However, they still see an increase in fulfilling these orders. The answer may rest with a strategic investment in automated mobile robots (AMRs) and top-of-the-line software.

How AMRs Optimize Picking and Replenishment in E-Commerce Operations

Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are becoming a popular solution to challenges stemming from the sudden explosion of e-commerce demand, primarily because they can move products within a facility without substantial infrastructure investments.

AMRs can travel, pick, transfer, and replenish warehouses across a nearly infinite number of SKUs with fantastic accuracy. With their diverse set of applications, they help reduce reliance on human labor and allow your associates to remain in critical locations and be dedicated to higher importance tasks than walking around a facility.

Some AMRs even bill as a monthly cost, so you can begin implementing them without affecting as much cash flow as a pick module would. Then they offer the flexibility to scale up with additional robots as your business needs change.

For those who have installed multi-level pick modules and boast small-to-mid-sized e-commerce operations, AMRs solutions can be a cost-effective solution to lower labor costs and increase throughput on e-commerce orders. With these solutions, businesses are not required to reconfigure their operations while running.

These solutions also remove the most significant obstacle facing the adoption of automation – that initial investment – by retrofitting into existing structures like pallet racks or pick modules. Because they can be integrated into your currently-existing facility, they can offer a return-on-investment on day one through cost savings and labor throughput.

How Shuttle Systems Optimize Picking and Replenishment in E-Commerce Operations

Around the middle of the 2010’s, shuttle systems – also henceforth referred to as automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) – began to be refined in European supply chains and have since made their way to the United States. According to the Material Handling Industry glossary, AS/RS is a generic term that “refers to a variety of means under computer control for automatically depositing and retrieving loads from defined storage locations.”

They are essentially bi-directional shuttles that are programmed to be packed with a product on a tote or cart, travel along a designated path, and then place the product into a high-density storage unit. When that product is ordered, the cart will automatically retrieve it and deliver it back to a packer, who then prepares the product for shipping.

These goods-to-person systems eliminate the need for massive pick modules and the manual process of your labor force walking and storing, then walking and picking, then walking the product back to a pack station.

By utilizing an AS/RS, companies can save a tremendous amount of time and resources involved with placing products into storage and then retrieving those items once ordered. Instead of having that worker physically travel to locations along a path, the worker can stay in one place while the machines do the intensive labor.

There are also crane-based and cart-crane-based AS/RS solutions, which you can read about here.

Which Set of Solutions is Right for You?

Both shuttle systems and AMRs significantly reduce the highest variable expense in the fulfillment process: labor time spent on walking. Both answers will ultimately deliver their ROI by reducing labor costs and increasing labor productivity, perhaps faster than you may think. The right solution for your operation will depend on how you go about bringing your goods to your people in the most efficient way possible.

Determining the proper course of action in adopting new technology and equipment should start with defining a strategy to get your business to its next stage. Taking a piecemeal approach can leave you with a suboptimal workflow, slower fulfillment times, and higher operational costs.

Our team of experts has decades of experience finding the proper storage and fulfillment solutions installed and integrated with a short-term ROI in mind and an eye on long-term growth for the business.

Give us a call and let us uncover your challenges and provide insight into solutions to help your operations adapt to the ever-increasing role that e-commerce has with your business.