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!

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.

Packing and Shipping Solutions for ECommerce

As e-commerce orders continue to comprise an increasingly more significant share of orders in fulfillment centers nationwide, warehouse managers continually evaluate practices to keep the costs associated with fulfilling these smaller, less profitable orders down.

The overall costs associated with packing and shipping e-commerce orders formerly were not a major concern because they made up a small percentage of total shipments. After all, many fulfillment operations have built their processes around shipping out full pallets or cases of products down the supply chain. However, as the rise of e-commerce continues to take over a more significant share of orders, it becomes critical to examine solutions that can not only lower labor costs but also increase fulfillment accuracy and speed while reducing shipping costs.

In taking a closer look at the packing and shipping elements of fulfilling e-commerce orders, there are efficiencies to be found. Look at the process of boxing, for instance. It is easily the most expensive part of packing because it is the most time-consuming and uses the most materials. Also, put yourself in the shoes of a packer; you are tasked with packing as quickly as possible. You have a product in hand. Are you going to try and fit that product snugly into an appropriately sized box, or are you going to select the larger box by default and move on to the next pack?

From a management standpoint, that means wasted time and materials, and now you will need to order more of the larger, more expensive boxes more often. This also translates to higher shipping costs due to parcel carriers’ DIM weight pricing strategies. Multiply that out by hundreds or thousands of packages a day, multiplied by the number of packers who are all making those same decisions, and you can begin to see why you should start evaluating how best to automate this process.

Automated Packing Solution – Sealed Air iPack

Think about all the additional waste that comes from a packing process, especially in a peak season with sub-optimally trained workers who are not as familiar or capable of maximizing an efficient technique. You’re looking at tape guns (which cause a lot of waste) or messy glue getting onto packaging. You’re looking at those larger boxes, which require additional void-fill (even more costs).

With an automated packing solution like Sealed Air’s iPack, you have a standard tray holding the product, which slides into the iPack machine. The machine then adjusts the box’s height based on its size and folds around the product. This automated process removes the need for dunnage or air pillows and eliminates the labor required to fold and shut the box.

By removing the folding, taping, and void-fill, you can already see tripled increase in throughput. There are also ancillary benefits like reducing the corrugate, tighter inventory of packing materials, less supply of packing materials, and ultimately less labor.

Plus, once the package is on the iPack machine’s line, no one must touch the box again physically. That means less room for error and more time for your people to work on higher-level tasks. Other automated packing solutions are available in the industry that may make more customized-sized boxes, but they require additional human touches. iPack is the only automated packing solution that does not require the extra touch. If you are looking at an automated packing solution for e-commerce, we recommend this solution.

AutoBagger Technology – Sealed Air Autobagger

All things being equal, packing and shipping with bags is a significantly less expensive process than packing with boxes or other containers – at roughly 25% the price. However, operational and labor costs add up over time by keeping this a manual process. There’s opening the bag, closing and sealing the bag, handling the load after it has been packed, and more.

Each of those steps may not look significant for one pack, but the typical manual bagging process is 75-100 bags per hour. With an automated autobagging solution, packing and shipping rates can increase to 150-200 bags per hour, meaning more throughput with significantly reduced costs.

For instance, with Sealed Air’s Autobagger, an operator scans an order, and the WMS recognizes the product, adds the label, and opens the bag. The packer then drops the product in the bag when the Autobagger seals the product in the bag. Then, the product is taken away for shipping. Automated bagging removes up to five steps per bag when compared to the manual process.

Plus, but using the one-size-fits-all bags, you don’t have to worry about ordering different sizes, keeping those stocked with proper levels of inventory, and you don’t deal with as much void fill or dunnage as you would by packing with boxes—your return-on-investment results from the increase in productivity and a reduction in labor costs.

Autobagger Technology – Sealed Air FlowWrap

Additional automated bagging solutions can quickly and efficiently pack more delicate products like pillows, rugs, or clothing, such as Sealed Air’s FlowWrap machine. This solution created ready-to-ship, custom-sized polybag packages, which can bag up to 1,800 parcels an hour. It is another solution that right-sizes the bags to closely fit the materials within, which similarly creates savings on throughput at material optimization.

The advantage of a FlowWrap solution comes to fulfillment centers that need to pack and ship a wide range of products and may only see one or two units per order. In this scenario, we estimate that a FlowWrap machine can perform at nearly twice the Autobagger solution rate, making it an excellent alternative for high-demand e-commerce fulfillment.

Automated Packing Solution – Sealed Air PriorityPak

If your fulfillment center packs and ships small cube products like electronics, books, or printed materials, a solution like Sealed Air’s PriorityPak may be an ideal automated packing solution for your operations. This system is a high-speed product containment and protective packaging solution that uses advanced sensor technology to create compact, custom packaging for varying packaging requirements.

Like the other products, this system is designed to reduce labor costs, improve order accuracy, and increase fulfillment volume. In most scenarios, the PriorityPak solution can create up to ten packages per minute, compared to traditional manual rates of packing one to three containers per minute. The result is as compact of a shipping package as possible, which reduces postage costs.

One unique advantage this solution offers is the additional protection that is inherent to the packaging system. The PriorityPak will encapsulate your products in a Cold Seal® cohesive protective packages that locks and seals products in place, which is ideal if you need your products to be secure or wear and tear from shipping the product could cause damage.

What Next? 

Integrating automated solutions into your operations does not need to be a complicated process, but it helps if you have an expert by your side to guide you through the process. If you are struggling to find, maintain, or lower your overall labor cost, one of the best places to look at is automated packaging equipment.

Our team of experts knows the ins and outs of these products and can connect you with the best solution for your business, depending on the unique challenges you face. With automated packing and shipping solutions, we can help you reduce labor and waste while increasing throughput at the same time. Give us a call today!

Rising Share of E-Commerce Orders

In 2017, e-commerce orders represented about 10.4% of total retail sales, according to a study conducted by eMarketer. In 2021, that number jumped to 18.1%. That same study estimates that by 2023, more than 22% of total retail sales are facilitated online. With that massive jump in a relatively short amount of time, warehouses, distribution centers, and fulfillment centers across the supply chain are reacting and adapting their practices to accommodate this rising share of e-commerce orders.

Traditionally, warehouses have long been configured for pallet-in and pallet-out for shipping orders. However, both e-commerce orders and direct-to-consumer fulfillment require a completely different picking and packing process. These processes are more expensive for fulfillment centers that don’t have systems to handle e-commerce orders because they need a lot more human capital and labor cost.

While facilities are making changes to adapt to the e-commerce and direct-to-consumer explosion, some are left behind, wondering what the best course of action is for their operations. While each operation is unique, businesses can take a few actionable steps to adapt their existing facility to accommodate an increased level of e-commerce.

Tactic 1: Create a Forward Pick Area

According to Warehouse Science, a forward pick (or fast-pick) area is “[an area] from which it is most efficient to pick, but which must be restocked from a reserve or overflow or bulk storage area.” Essentially, you treat your static storage media as “reserve storage” and move specific products to a storage area, from which most of your orders are picked. This forward pick area needs more frequent replenishment than the reserve storage, but the flip side is that orders can be fulfilled more quickly.

The products stored in this area need to be the appropriate SKUs & stored in the proper storage medium based on the cubic movement of the SKU. If you decide to use the most ordered SKUs, they need to be stored in a larger storage medium to avoid excessive restocking of the forward pick area which could cost some of the efficiency you gained by creating this dedicated storage area.

Typically, the best practice is to use a warehouse execution system (WES) or workflow optimization software to determine the best SKUs to minimize your labor costs. Our team of experts has decades of experience matching the right software for your unique needs with our agnostic approach to vendors and partners for our clients.

Tactic 2: Evaluate New Storage and Picking Methods

Another way to adapt to changes caused by an increased level of e-commerce orders is to add systems and capabilities that allow for batch and zone picking. Vertical lift modules are a goods-to-person solution that can take small-sized products, store them in a high-density, low-footprint storage system and deliver them to pickers, who then assemble orders on a cart or take them to a shipping area.

Zone picking is good for multi-line orders because it reduces travel time for pickers, and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are another goods-to-person solution to assist in these efforts. At a high level, AMRs can take the walking/travel element out of the picking process by moving the products from storage to a given location, be it a packing station, a conveyor, or just to an employee, who can then pick the items & package them together.

To a more considerable degree, automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) or other automation solutions that support goods to person picking can also reduce travel time and create more dense storage. However, these will generally come in at a higher initial cost than the AMR solution, which can be integrated without affecting your existing infrastructure.

Tactic 3: Automate Packing Processes

E-commerce and direct-to-consumer orders usually are not pallet-sized orders; they are parcel-sized orders. So, when a facility is accustomed to shipping pallets, how do you adopt best practices for these smaller orders? If the order is a single-line order, you could probably have the shipping team place a label on the item & ship it. However, what happens with multi-line orders?

Automated packing solutions exist that can accommodate a wide variety of consolidating and shipping multi-line orders. They can also accommodate potential requirements like polybags, dunnage, airbags, Styrofoam peanuts, and various other materials to keep packages safe from damage. By automating these processes – from right-sizing packages to physically loading trucks – you save a sizeable amount of labor costs that were not needed in a pre-e-commerce world.

Where Do You Go From Here?

If you have seen an increase in each or case picking, then give us a call. Whether you are adapting your current facility to account for increased levels of e-commerce or your manufacturing partners are considering a more direct-to-consumer strategy, having the capability to meet your customers’ expectations on fulfillment time and accuracy is essential. We would recommend starting at the design stage and finding a partner that understands how to optimize material flow and storage media. Of course, Storage Solutions has a team of experts on staff that can assist with these challenges.

Contact us today, and we can talk through your challenges, identify some quick wins, and formulate a plan of action. We may suggest dense storage, automation, or some other process-related plan built for your business. Depending on your needs, we may help without a site visit, but we may suggest one as well.

Either way, we should talk. Give us a call today!

inVia Robotics SSI Partnership

Storage Solutions is excited to announce a new partnership with inVia Robotics, a leading provider of automation solutions, that will allow the two companies to provide innovative solutions to challenges faced by warehouses, distribution centers, and fulfillment centers across North America.

As “The Amazon Effect” continues to challenge these facilities with quicker fulfillment demands, rising labor costs, and inefficient processes, the barrier to entry historically has been the investment that comes with adding infrastructure or reconfiguring an operation. inVia Robotics’ warehouse fulfillment solutions are designed to help clients meet today’s customer demand while maintaining the flexibility to adapt to tomorrow.

Their Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) subscription-based pricing model also allows warehouses to adapt their traditional pick modules and shelving units into a true goods-to-person picking environment without requiring a massive investment in physical infrastructure. inVia Robotics offers the only automation solutions that can back that claim.

This new partnership will bring forth three levels of automation to fulfillment centers:

Software Only. inVia Logic starts with software that optimizes the most inefficient and costly fulfillment task: picking.

InVia Picker. When you add robots to perform some tasks in a facility, you can automate select tasks – like picking and replenishment — prone to inefficiency and inaccuracy.

inVia Picker+. This option will upgrade your operations to automate all fulfillment tasks by adding workflows and warehouse locations, giving you full automation benefits.

The modular, scalable offerings mitigate the cost of change for warehouses, allowing warehouses to plan by pacing deployment as their needs evolve. When fully deployed, robots can retrieve all goods for each day’s orders overnight and consolidate them in one forward picking location. That means your human labor can do higher-level tasks like sorting and packing, rather than spending that time walking and gathering.

“When you optimize your operations, you can truly start to grow and scale your business,” explained Kurt Nantkes, Chief Revenue Officer at inVia Robotics. “Our business model is built on integrated, long-term customer relationships like these, where we can focus on supporting growth.”

“With our ‘simple, smart, strategic,’ approach, we can examine a facility’s operations and fairly quickly find opportunities for automation, bringing increased throughput and cost savings via lower labor costs,” explained Eric McDonald, Chief Customer Officer of Storage Solutions. “Our clients partner with us because they know we bring the expertise in storage design, picking and process optimization. We see this partnership as a huge value for our client base, particularly those who are interested in automation but unsure where to start.”

inVia Robotics was recently recognized by Frost & Sullivan as a 2020 Best Practices’ New Product Innovation Award winner for North America for the development of their goods-to-person robotics systems. Their solutions bring unmatched order, accuracy, and efficiency into your warehouse, translating customer demands into business realities. All these systems are adaptable and fully scalable, providing a return on investment on the first day the software or robotics are integrated.

To learn more about inVia Robotics’ warehouse fulfillment solutions, contact a Storage Solutions expert today and let us share how these integrations can help you introduce or expand automation in your operations.

EASY Automation Appraisal Requirements

As e-commerce represents an ever-increasing percentage of orders within distribution and fulfillment centers, warehouse managers evaluate automation solutions to combat the increased operational costs associated with e-commerce orders. In a warehouse or fulfillment center designed for traditional pallet storage and picking, those orders being fulfilled through each or case picking can add up and get expensive.

Currently, many of the operations we have worked with have responded to the additional e-commerce orders by “throwing labor” at this issue. What happens during peak seasons? Do you throw even more labor at it? What about if there are changes in ordering patterns? Do you hire and train temporary workers? That is where automation can come in and deliver solutions for these challenges.

However, it can be challenging to decide the appropriate level of automation for your current operations. It can be even more challenging to determine the proper level for you in 3 to 5 years. Do you integrate more now and deal with the cost today or slowly build a system and integrate it into your operations?

We created our EASY Automation Appraisals, where our team can take a data-driven, engineered solutions approach to determine the best plan of action for your facility. After all, each operation is different, and we want to connect you with the appropriate set of solutions, never to oversell or stick you with a system that you cannot fully optimize.

So, if you are at that stage where costs are rising due to an increase in each or case picking compared to your rate of pallet picking, your operation may be an ideal candidate for an EASY Appraisal. But what all is needed to conduct one within your facility?

  • Order Line Data – The most critical data for us.
  • Inventory On Hand – Historical data showing what all are you storing & how much of each item?
  • AutoCAD Layout of the Facility – We want to know where everything is at, as it stands today.
  • SKU Item Master List – We want to know what size your products are, how big their cases are, and what size pallets or cases are currently being stored?
  • Labor Rates & Outlay – How much are you trying to process, and how much does it cost to do it?
  • Outbound Shipping Requirements – Do you need poly bags? Does your packaging require dunnage?

Not all that information is technically needed – we have enough experience to work around virtually any roadblock – but having all that information will give us a clear understanding of what to look for in your operations. From there, our engineering team can tour your facility and see your processes in action ourselves. You can learn more about our EASY Appraisals here.

Are You Ready for an EASY Automation Appraisal?

The changes associated with fulfilling e-commerce orders are going to affect the structure of your business. It is a question of “when,” not “if.” If you are unsure how to adapt to those changes or adopt best practices with these systems, that is where we come in. These appraisals are designed to fit your needs now with a growth plan. We also offer a business case for how these additions can deliver an ROI within a few months or years.

Give us a call today to share more about the specific challenges you see in your operations and allow our team to develop custom engineered solutions that can help you combat those rising labor costs while increasing throughput and order accuracy.

Contact us today to schedule your EASY Automation Appraisal!

Automated Packing Solutions Blog

As e-commerce continues to grow rapidly, fulfillment centers are exploring avenues to maintain or lower operational costs through process improvement, data-driven design, and technology solutions. For companies experiencing growth in their e-commerce fulfillment demands – or are new to e-commerce fulfillment altogether – it may be challenging to find a place to start.

The packing process is one of the more costly areas for most fulfillment centers in that stage. For the most part, freight, materials, and operational or labor costs all rise as order volume rises, and if there is no strategy in place to maintain or lower those costs, expenses can get out of hand quickly.

By investing in automated packing technology solutions, distribution centers, warehouses, and fulfillment centers can minimize these cost increases while boosting productivity, increasing fulfillment velocity, and improving your overall customer experience.

What Should I Look for with an Automated Packing Solution?

With any well-designed automated packing solution, it is essential to value the reduction of waste. Not only are you paying for material you may not be entirely using, but you are creating a messier working condition and requiring additional cleanup – two factors that can cause increases in labor costs over time.

To that end, some systems offer to automate tray forming, which allows enough material to ship the product with minimal scrap. Once the product is in the tray and any value-added services like coupons or marketing materials are included, the ideal packing solution can automatically measure and void fill an inflatable or paper cushioning to keep the product secure for shipment.
Another feature of an optimal end-of-the-line solution would include automatic lid placement and pack closure. After the lid is placed and the pack is closed, shipping information and any other required labels can be applied to the package, either by a packer or automatically by the packing solution.

Lastly, once the system is implemented, you will want to find a partner that offers ongoing customer service in the event of a disruption. The right solution partner should help you meet your customers’ needs and your operational needs long after installation. Some systems even offer remote repair and offsite monitoring, which can detect problems, perform routine maintenance, and conduct productivity analyses.

The result should showcase a product that looks similar to a product shipped from the most comprehensive e-commerce fulfillment centers, with tamper-evident, easy-to-open, and easy-to-return packaging. A right-sized package can also reduce freight costs, and customers are happy because the product is secure and delivered in line with their expectations.

Find a Custom Automated Packing Solution for Your Needs

Each business has its challenges, and the optimal solutions for those challenges genuinely depend on the organization’s distinctive needs. As part of an overall fulfillment strategy, the right automated packing solution should be uniquely designed to minimize freight, operational costs, and weight while improving productivity for a valid return on investment.

If you are interested in increasing your fulfillment velocity and meeting your customers’ demands for rapid delivery, give us a call. Our team of experts will learn about your business’s specific challenges and connect you with the right automated packing solution that best fits your operational needs.

EASY Appraisal

As fulfillment centers battle against labor challenges, increasing costs, and quicker fulfillment expectations, many explore the world of warehouse automation to lower expenses while meeting changing demand.

The problem is: where does one begin when it comes to evaluating how these tools can positively impact your operation? How does one determine which of the multitude of solutions that are available today is the right fit to meet their specific needs?

Easy Automation Appraisal LogoWith our EASY Appraisal, our team can work with you hand-in-hand to ensure the correct measures are being taken to help you achieve your goals.

Our EASY Appraisal is a simple process where our experts tour your facility and get to understand your unique operations. There, we can determine where your pain points exist, how your workflow takes place, and formulate a plan of action. Our ultimate goal is to create a business case that will deliver an ROI and set you on a path for growth.

We consider four variables into our process:

Engineering Theory: Our data driven approach to evaluating your storage and fulfillment needs.

Automation Hardware: The most appropriate systems designed for your needs, without overselling or overequipping.

Software Integration: Setting you up with the correct tools to manage these systems

Your Needs: We customize all our solutions to meet your requirements, meaning you will not get an out-of-the-box plan. We recognize each business has its own unique needs and challenges.

At an introductory level, we can deploy these solutions within hours, without the need for facility reconfiguration, IT systems, or WMS integrations. If your organization is interested in more significant automation levels, we can work with your organization to determine what is needed to meet operational challenges that can be resolved through automation.

Using our “Simple, Smart, Strategic” approach, we can work with facilities of all types to integrate automation solutions at any scale. Starting small, we design these systems to be flexible and scale as needs change.

Ready to get started?

Want to learn more? Our Solutions Engineering professionals are ready to answer any questions you may have about introducing automation into your facility. We have the expertise to deliver solutions, big or small, that can provide a return-on-investment more quickly than you may realize.

Automation Solutions to Facilitate E-Commerce

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, nationally, and locally.

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. No matter the degree of automation integrated before COVID-19, 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 not meeting 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 AS/RS – AMR Hybrid Solutions

Goods-to-Person AS/RS - AMR HybridOne unique AMR solution we have seen successfully facilitate e-commerce is a Goods-to-Person AS/RS+AMR Hybrid Solution. This high-density, automated storage-and-retrieval system (AS/RS) can move goods to-and-from a storage mechanism that allows for vertical storage of up to 36 feet. The system can support small-item picking and delivery of the goods to a packing station. The system is also scalable, giving the ability to adjust as your needs grow by adding additional AMRs and racking. We have seen this solution be especially useful in micro-fulfillment centers and as a solution in facilities with a high volume of SKUs.

Solution 2: Goods-to-Man Tote Handling AS/RS

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: Vertical Lift Machines (VLMs) in Groups

Vertical Lift Machines (VLMs)VLMs are another goods-to-man solution that helps pickers efficiently fulfill orders while optimizing floor space within a facility. For instance, it can fit what would typically take up 5,000 square feet of floor space into about 150 square feet (meaning a 90% improvement in floorspace utilization). These are usually used for small cube items but can facilitate some heavier items in certain situations.

Products are placed on a tray, and the VLM will deliver the tray to the picking area, where a laser will dictate the exact location where the item is stored. This process allows for extremely high pick rates with a high level of accuracy to go along with the advantages of the additional cubic storage volume they offer.

Solution 5: Put to Light Tables – Picking from Multiple Machines

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: Horizontal AMR – AS/RS Solutions

Horizontal AMR - AS/RSAmong the most dynamic environments thriving in today’s high-demand world are ones that utilize highly automated horizontal AMRs in AS/RS storage environments. In this environment, a facility’s layout is full of mobile shelving units with caged-off pick cells surrounding the area. The robots find the shelf, then deliver the shelf back to its appropriate location once picked. It completely removes the need for human labor to travel the pick floor.

This style of goods-to-person to bin-to-person picking eliminates the redundant walking of pickers while also improving accuracy and reducing labor costs.

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!