On-Demand Automation Intro Blog

On-Demand Automation may be a foreign term to warehouse managers who look at the prospect of introducing automation as an insurmountable hurdle in their warehouse operations. Those decision-makers are hesitant to learn about implementation because they see the idea as too costly, too distracting, and too steep of a learning curve.

“It will take too many resources. I will never get a return on my investment. I’ll have to reconfigure my entire operation.”

These are all misconceptions, especially by introducing on-demand automation.

In short, on-demand automation allows warehouses to introduce technology into any facility, as is, at any scale, without installing IT systems, and with the flexibility to change at any time. Fetch Robotics, a pioneer of on-demand automation, offers software that works with a line of autonomous mobile robots that increases productivity with a return on investment in under two years for most applications.

On-demand automation is the perfect way to introduce automation into your operation, earning ROI while providing evidence for buy-in from stakeholders for further investment into automation.
How does this all happen?

  • Deploy AMRs in hours: In the past, automation brought long lead times, engineering, and installation requirements. With on-demand automation, we can create virtual conveyors or transport maps in just hours using cloud-based software.
  • No facility reconfiguration: Most automation solutions require changes to your facility, including floor space, layout, and storage mediums, to work with the system. However, on-demand automation solutions work with your existing floorplan and can independently navigate without modifying anything.
  • No additional IT systems: Because on-demand solutions use cloud-based software like FetchCore, they can work with or without Warehouse Management systems. That flexibility means AMRs are ready to go no matter your operating system.
  • Scalability: Once you go with on-demand automation, you can add to your robot fleet without adding infrastructure. So, you can continue to easily add AMRs as needed without investing in costly automation systems.
  • Flexibility: Consumer demand is changing rapidly, so warehouse managers need to be adaptable. On-demand solutions are not limited to a single-function workflow. Modifications can be made on the cloud-based platform and pushed to the robot in just a few clicks.
  • Data, data, data: On-demand automation software collects data from robots, equipment, systems, and devices across all facility operations, giving you actionable insights on how your warehouse operates.

If you are interested in automation but just not sure how to get started, we will help. Our Solutions Development team is prepared to answer any questions or misconceptions you may have about introducing automation into your operations. It may not be as difficult or costly as you think, with a return on investment quicker than you may realize.

Pick-to-Light Put-to-Light Spotlight

Order accuracy and fulfillment throughput are two measures of a successful warehouse that could vary by a wide margin, depending on your order volume, error allowance, and pick rate.

Two solutions that can allow companies to increase throughput & accuracy are put-to-light or pick-to-light technologies. Depending on their needs, these systems offer efficiencies such as reduced lead times, increased order accuracy, labor efficiency, and more. If these are challenges that you face, you may see a return on your investment in the technology faster than you think.

Both technologies use similar hardware and software and allow companies to reduce training time for employees, getting them up to speed – quite literally – faster.

Is Your Business Right for Pick-to-Light?

The profile of a distribution center that could benefit most from a pick-to-light system is housing a fixed set of SKUs with a high volume of orders. Here is how it works:

  1. Operators scan a bar code on a tote to start an order
  2. The lights on your pick locations illuminate, directing pickers to designated slots
  3. Pickers select product in appropriate quantities
  4. Operators confirm the picks using buttons on the lights
  5. Steps 1-4 are repeated until the order is fulfilled
  6. Order is sent to shipping

These systems do have two downsides with higher upfront costs for larger-scale facilities and limited flexibilities in terms of reconfiguration. However, that is often offset through a return on investment that comes with increased order accuracy and labor productivity. Particularly in zone picking operations, this system keeps your team active in an assembly-line process that builds orders actively.

Is Your Business Right for Put-to-Light?

The businesses that benefit the most from put-to-light systems fulfill a high volume of orders from a relatively small number of SKUs, particularly in e-commerce. How it works:

  1. SKUs are picked in large batches for multiple orders & sent to the put area
  2. The operator scans a bar code
  3. Lights illuminate on the put wall indicating which orders need the SKU
  4. Those items are put to the appropriate order totes, boxes or slots
  5. Once all items are put to an order, the put wall operator is notified that order is complete & it is sent to packing
  6. Another associate packs the goods at a packing station
  7. Order is sent to shipping

While there are more advanced fulfillment systems, put-to-light can offer increased efficiencies and accuracy in fulfillment. It provides a paperless strategy that links an employee to an order and can facilitate distribution centers that house a subset of SKUs that account for a large percentage of item movement. E-commerce, direct-to-consumer-and other situations with a large volume of small line count orders often see the best return.

Learn More, Get Started

By reducing errors, quicker picking and faster fulfillment, put-to-light, and pick-to-light systems are beneficial for a variety of industries. However, it may not be necessary if your order accuracies and workflows are at ideal levels. But are they at the appropriate levels of efficiency? How do you know?

Our team has years of expertise in the utilization of both put-to-light and pick-to-light technologies and would be happy to speak with you if you think your business can benefit from installing these systems. If you are interested, or even unsure if your warehouse is an ideal fit, contact us today to learn more!

autonomous mobile robots-social-distancing

If there is one thing every person can agree on, it is that we do not know what our world will look like after the COVID-19 crisis finally concludes. As a society, we will likely re-evaluate social practices. As people, we may re-think how we go about our daily lives. As warehouse managers, we may look at this disruption as an opportunity to automate processes where we can.

In the age of social distancing – where we are asking humans to stay anywhere from six to 27 feet away from one another – we have seen an increase of interest in technology solutions like autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).

In the current environment, AMRs also enhance safety by allowing simple automated methods to transfer work from one person in the operation to another while eliminating the need for direct human contact. This allows your team to maintain or increase productivity, while also enhancing personal safety for your employees.

In short, an AMR is a warehouse manager’s dream. They are powered by sensors and on-board computers and programmed explicitly to carry out repeatable tasks within an operation. They are capable of reacting to their environment and avoid things like people, forklifts, and pallets while carrying products from one place to another.

AMRs Can Reduce Labor Disruptions

Right now, you do not have to look too far to see industries impacted by labor disruptions. Labor disruptions can result in anything from a flat tire to a worldwide pandemic – and everything in between. AMRs are just one of many technology solutions that can reduce labor disruptions. They are ideal because they are flexible and cost-effective and can be programmed without the need for substantial additional investment in facility infrastructure or IT.

Autonomous Mobile Robots Can Work Alongside Your Team

Warehouse associates can benefit from the integration of AMRs, especially in the realm of health and safety. For instance, in the picking process, one a product is picked and placed upon a robot such as Fetch Robotics’ HMIShelf, the robot can then take the package to a pre-determined place in your warehouse. This process saves the associate the trouble of lifting and carrying the product, reducing the stress on back, knees, feet, and overall wear-and-tear.

By shortening the distance traveled by humans in your warehouse, you are also reducing the risk of forklift accidents and injuries. These collaborative work scenarios then allow your humans to focus on higher-level tasks and let the robots do the heavy lifting. Literally.

AMRs Can Optimize Efficiency

Every percentage of the laborious, monotonous, and physically exerting labor done by humans that you can transfer to an AMR pays off. Pick times get reduced. Turnover becomes lessened. And, not only will employees be more appreciative of their jobs being safer, easier, and more fulfilling, the work they can do now becomes a better return on your investment in valuable human capital.

Evaluate, Then Evolve

As we continue to re-evaluate all of our practices, it may be a perfect time to re-evaluate the inclusion of technology solutions like AMRs or other systems that allow you to continue to operate at maximum capacity and efficiency, even during challenges times.

If you would like more information or would like to discuss the challenges you see with your workforce or operation, contact one of our Storage Solutions experts. We would love to connect and provide customized solutions that are suited to fit your needs.

Driver Cages Building Access Cages

While safety is always on the minds of warehouse managers, crises can trigger an evaluation of your practices. Who can access your facility? How easy is it to get in and out? How are you controlling your visitor access?

The COVID-19 crisis sweeping the world is causing much re-evaluation of safety protocols within warehouses. Our Storage Solutions experts have been recommending the installation of building access and driver cages at the entry points of warehouses across the country because they are a simple, smart, and strategic way to control access to facilities, creating an additional level of security to prevent unnecessary contact and the potential introduction of unwanted pathogens into a building.

driver-cagesBuilding Access Cages Are Adaptable

While these cages are customizable to suit your needs – they can be ordered in any size and can even be constructed as free-standing entities – typical cages offer the security of restricting full access to your facility while still allowing some level of visitor interaction through service windows. The service windows are ideal for exchanging small package deliveries and paperwork.

Give Your Team Control Over Who Can Access Your Facilities

building-access-cagesStandard cages are equipped with a push bar on the warehouse side of the enclosure to allow for visitor access when required. There are also coded push-button locks, and remote control latches available as well. This way, you can allow truck drivers or other visitors into your facility if they need to. If they don’t need to be in there, they are restricted to a defined area. There are also accessories available, such as benches, that you can install to keep your visitors comfortable until they are addressed, and cage ceilings if additional security is required.

Increase Safety After the Pandemic

wirecrafters-cagesAlthough managers are currently concerned about “flattening the curve” and containing the virus, these cages have untold benefits for as long as your warehouse is operating. Warehouse visitors are often not aware of how busy operations can be, how loud they can be, and how easily they can be introducing themselves into safety hazards. Fork truck traffic and automated machinery rely on clear paths and can cause immense harm if accidents occur.

There’s Never Been a Better Time to Think About Safety

By installing building access and driver cages, you are not only protecting your team and everything within the warehouse; you are protecting visitors from disrupting your business and potentially causing themselves harm.

Let’s face it: every facility can be safer. A time like this makes a perfect opportunity to make a minimal investment with a sizeable impact.

We work with the experts at WireCrafters to ensure that our partners’ warehouses are outfitted with exceptional quality solutions. Contact one of our Storage Solutions experts to learn more about these cages and take a natural step to make your facility safe and secure.

Delivery Expectation Changes

Some call the “Amazon Effect” a disruption. Some recognize it as an evolution of the retail market. While both may be true, one thing we all can agree on is how consumers are changing their expectations on delivery – both in terms of timing and specificity.

However, the “Amazon Effect” is not changing the retail industry alone. Shipping, wholesalers, warehouses, and other sectors that branch off the retail industry are all undergoing seismic changes in how to meet customers’ new levels of expediency. Essentially, consumer behavior & service expectations are proliferating through the business world as well. When people buy, they want their product as soon as possible. In order to meet these new delivery expectations, every point on the supply chain needs to adjust accordingly.

According to Forbes’ Insights Team:

Customer demands for ever more rapid fulfillment are forcing businesses of all kinds to warehouse their goods ever closer to intermediate and end-customers… Getting goods to consumers faster means “seven, eight or nine touches moving the freight to a network of warehouses and forward positions.” In short, says the executive, “that final mile is being redefined almost every day.”

When change is happening as quickly as it is, decision-makers who are “forward-thinking” are getting ahead of the curve.

Being “forward-thinking” means evaluating all aspects of your operations to maximize efficiencies — either by reducing inefficiencies or by introducing new technologies to meet your customers where demand is shifting. In a sense, you know changes in your clients’ expectations are coming if you have not already experienced them.

What Are Your Options?

  1. You could be proactive and adjust your operations now. Get ahead of your clients and provide a seamless experience in catering to their needs.
  2. You could be reactive and wait until your clients require you to change. Run the risk of your clients having a disruption of service when their needs change.
  3. You could never adjust to changes in your industry. Good luck with that.

When you are ready to explore your options to adjust to changes in delivery expectations, we are here to help. Storage Solutions has decades of combined experience in working with our clients and partners to optimize – not just for today’s needs, but for tomorrow’s growth as well.

essential solutions storage needs

As the COVID-19 crisis continues its lifecycle, businesses deemed non-essential are closing down across the country. Because our company serves many necessary logistics, construction, and supply chain industries, Storage Solutions is continuing to operate unless circumstances change. We were early to establish a COVID-19 Task Force and shift to a remote workplace, wherever applicable.

We also know that we are not alone in our essential role in our economy. Companies in the material handling industry are working safely to ensure deadlines are being met, and progress continues as well as it can, given the circumstances. We are seeing many businesses responding to a change in demand. Now more than ever, companies are seeing the need for flexible, dynamic operations and are adjusting how they work to meet those challenges head-on.

Our experts are always ready to learn about how the challenges are causing pain in operations. As our company is continuing to evolve, we have the expertise in providing essential solutions and so much more.

Let us know what we can do to help. Below are a few ways we are supporting companies who are running to the best of their ability to meet changing patterns in demand at a rate they may never have before.

We Are Buying and Selling Used Warehouse Equipment

We are here to help make sure your business and storage space has what it needs to operate as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Sometimes that means having an affordable solution. We hunt for the best-used equipment and thoroughly inspect every piece to ensure it’s 100% safe and ready to use.

If you are getting rid of your equipment, reconfiguring your warehouse to meet new demands, or relocating your operations, we are also here to help you solve the issues that naturally arise. Whether it’s tools, lighting, logistics, or anything else the job requires, Storage Solutions’ experience and integrated services approach creates truly effortless teardowns that don’t need your constant attention.

Plan Projects with Turnkey Solutions

Because we take an integrated supply and service approach, we can manage projects of any scale to meet your timeline and budget. Need to get permits signed off? We can do that. Need an installation schedule developed? That’s our bread and butter. Need to handle logistics? Why rely on another vendor when we can do that in-house. Our Project Managers assume the unexpected and work with you closely to give you a single point of contact and peace of mind with better command and more control.

Determining the Right Course with Design and Dynamic Solutions

We know that the best solutions start with the best designs (link to blog), and we are ready and capable to get started in providing Design Solutions to develop the optimal storage layout and pick process custom developed for your operation. We can address issues like SKU proliferation, the impact of e-commerce, anticipated changes in demand, and factor in costs associated with labor. We want to give you a flexible and scalable solution based on data and expertise.

We can also talk about how adding dynamic solutions like automation to your operation no make it more technology-driven, no matter what level of automation currently exists (if at all). Many companies are looking for creative ways to stay competitive in an ever-changing economy, and one of the most cost-effective forms of changing the way your warehouse works is to introduce these solutions.

Let’s Talk About Essential Solutions!

Whatever your needs may be during this time, we are here for you. We are interested in learning about the challenges you may face. Whether those challenges arose before, during, or after the crisis, we are ready. Give us a call at 800-474-2001, and our experts would love to connect.

We are here to serve you with the essential solutions that are necessary to keep your business optimally running. And, we are here to do so in the highest degree.

slowdown-growth-potential

Whether it comes as a result of an impossible-to-predict natural disaster or a regular component of a business cycle, a slowdown is going to happen every so often. Few industries are not susceptible.

Slowdowns do not necessarily mean that the business has stopped. In the current situation that affects the entire world, we are still operating at full steam. However, we are subject to regulations and restrictions that affect different cities, states, and regions throughout the country, and we adhere to the authorities there. While some projects are on pause or slowed because of external forces beyond our control, others are continuing per usual.

For those experiencing slowdowns due to external forces, there is a silver lining. During times like these, business owners and distribution center managers can take advantage of these rare slowdowns by taking a proactive approach to evaluating their operations.

What Works for Your Business? Let’s Do More.

The most natural place to start in evaluating your business is to look at what is successful. You have spent the time, resources, and investment in people and processes that led you down a path to success. After all, you have been in business for a reason. However, now is a great time to see what you can do about throwing more gas on that fire.

Are there new hires you can make in an area of your business? Can you bring someone’s problem-solving ability or mindset from one area of the company to another? For example, are there lessons you can apply from a recent win in one area of the business to another? Take a look at your past few years of reports, examine the peaks, and evaluate what it took to achieve those results. Then, do more.

What Isn’t Working for You? Can You Stop Doing Those Things?

It can seem simplistic to say, “We should stop doing the things that aren’t working for us.” However, you will rarely find a more productive time to investigate all of the areas of your business. What are those processes, partnerships, or procedures that can be removed or replaced?

Taking an accurate evaluation of your business also means you need to recognize what doesn’t work for you. It can be a difficult task because an honest assessment requires decision-makers to be humble and own up to actions that are not working the way they initially were intended. It forces action on shortcomings. However, turning those negative habits into positive ones allow your business to avoid any lags when the slowdowns stop, and your business is ready to speed up.

What Are Successful Programs You Can Adopt?

Slowdowns are also a great time to look at processes that competitors or partners have adopted recently. Would a new approach benefit your business? Would now be a good time to look at implementing something new that has worked elsewhere?

This step bears the fruit from building out your network. Is there someone you talked to at a recent conference or whom you interacted with on LinkedIn that may have some insight into something new for your business?

There’s never been a better time to stop, listen, and think about what others are doing and saying about successes in their business. How can you benefit from the lessons they’ve already learned?

It’s Time to Make the Lemonade.

Slow times can cause stress, headaches, and hardships. However, proactive businesses can stem the tide by taking the additional time afforded to them by evaluating their processes. When it is time to put the pedal to the metal, these decisions can pay off in real ways because you’ve done the leg work to put yourself in the best situation to succeed.

If you are looking for a place to start, we would love to help. Our teams are working safely and remotely during the COVID-19 crisis, and we are here to learn about the challenges you face. We are here to provide you with solutions for every square foot!

reduce-labor-disruptions-with-tech

By nature, warehouse operation managers are skilled problem solvers. The best of these managers can quell many disruptions with quick, efficient on-their-feet decisions. Planning plays a crucial role in ensuring a smooth operation. However, there will always be plenty of unforeseen hurdles to overcome, especially when it comes to labor disruptions.

No operation runs at 100% efficiency, without disruption. Even the best managers are going to come across underperformance from their teams. They will also need to overcome outdated design and other challenges that may come with traditional labor. Reducing these inefficiencies allow managers to make fewer, more thoughtful decisions by nature because they won’t be distracted by preventable disruptions.

If you are among those experiencing these issues, know that there are many flexible, cost-effective technology solutions available.

Technology Solutions for Your Operations

  1. Integrate Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs). AMRs work in collaboration with human labor to achieve optimal production efficiency without the need for costly facility renovations. As a Certified Fetch Solutions Provider, we can work with you to design workflows that can be easily adjusted thanks to their cloud-based software, FetchCore. Thanks to their built-in sensors, these robots can also dynamically follow a map, allowing for an optimal travel route.
  2. Begin Smart Slotting Your Inventory. Smart Slotting is a warehouse slotting optimization tool that factors in operational, space, replenishment, equipment costs, storage mediums, and more variables to define the lowest-cost operational plan for your facility. With Smart Slotting, we can take the guesswork out of facility layout by calculating the impact that potential changes will make before implementing them.
  3. Install Pick-to-Light and Put-to-Light Solutions. Because they use the same hardware and software, warehouses can utilize both Pick-to-Light and Put-to-Light Solutions to automate various fulfillment processes. The main goal of both systems is to give you the ability to pack and ship more orders in less time while reducing errors.
  4. Implement Warehouse Execution Systems. A Warehouse Execution System (WES) is a software solution that directs all processes that occur in a distribution center. This system will prioritize work in a way to optimize fulfillment while keeping your facility streamlined. These systems are ideal for operations with less-robust WMS or ERP support. Also, these systems may let you introduce zone or batch-picking to your pick process. This benefit is not possible through some Warehouse Management Systems (WMS).

Whatever the level of consistency you have in labor costs, it can increase with the implementation of technology solutions. Contact us today and let’s talk about what might be right for your operation.

Put to Light Technology Solutions

One thing is certain in the world of technology, and it is continually changing. Sometimes it can be hard to keep up. Regardless, it’s essential to make sure you know what your options are to make sure you are using technology in your favor.

Technology to Advance Your Distribution Operation

With all the challenges with staffing in the distribution and fulfillment, technology solutions can help in keeping your facility running without missing a beat. When you have the right systems in place, you’re able to accomplish more work with fewer human resources. One of the most essential features of these offerings is their ease of use. They are user-friendly, cutting down on training time and enabling your staff to get up and running in no time. To help you reach or exceed your goals, moving toward technical assistance may be the right move for your facility.

How We Can Help

We offer a wide array of solutions and services to keep your facility moving. These can make your business more efficient, less expensive, and even safer. Pick-to-light and put-to-light solutions help speed up the picking and replenishment process by utilizing lights to show where the product should be placed. Voice-directed picking software can increase productivity by using vocal commands for picking, putting, receiving, and other warehouse functions. And finally, to tie everything in your facility together, there are Warehouse Control and Execution Systems (WCS & WES). These systems streamline all of your facility processes, helping you optimize activity flow in your warehouse or distribution center.

With so many options out there, it can be hard to know which technology is the best fit for your facility. Let our team help you work toward optimal efficiency in your operation with these offerings and more. Learn more about our technology solutions here to see how you can get started.

Broken Case Picking Phases

There are many options available for Storage Solutions to address your broken case picking operational challenges. Therefore, it’s essential to make sure you are matching the right approach to what your warehouse needs. The more challenging your needs are, the more likely you are to be able to make a business case with a relatively short-term ROI for more complex solutions.

Our team uses a variety of criteria to decide what equipment, automation, and technology are best to optimize each solution. The volume of picked items is a crucial element of this process, so we’re going to walk through some examples of what we can do to tailor each operation for peak efficiency. We will break this down into four levels of pick activity, including low, medium, and high-volume operations, along with advanced systems for very high volume and complex processes.

Phase 1: Low Volume

In a low volume broken case picking operation, we typically see little or no automation and limited technology solutions. Limited labor requirements make it challenging to show an ROI for complex solutions. You are most likely dealing with bin shelving or hand stack pallet rack for a storage method. These operations often use paper pick lists or RF scanning technology to manage orders. With a low volume of items picked, frequently, the most cost-effective method would involve using a manual pick cart or gravity conveyor to move through the order selection process.

Phase 2: Medium Volume

For a medium-volume picking operation, simple automation and technology solutions are most appropriate. These systems lend themselves to incorporating more dense storage methods, such as carton and pallet flow. Often times, we have found lower-level automation options like powered conveyors and vertical lift machines (VLMs) to be cost-justified. Simple technology solutions like pick-to-light carts or put-to-light walls are other types of equipment that are optimal for a medium volume operation. Also, semi-automated tapers with void fill machines may also be the best option to maximize productivity in the packing area.

Phase 3: High Volume

Next, for a high volume picking operation, automation, and technology solutions will most likely be involved. While the storage methods may be similar to a medium-volume operation, the overall facility solution is typically configured differently. A multi-level pick module or pick zone-based solution will often make the most sense. Warehouse control systems (WCS) are often required to manage automation components. Packing and shipping are also more likely to rely on automation. The packing process could benefit from fully automated packing list insertion and fully automated tapers, weigh in motion scales & print & apply labeling tools.

Phase 4: Advanced

Lastly, advanced volume picking operations benefit the most from automation. This equipment can include various powered conveyors, sortation, semi-automated deep lane storage, ASRS, mobile robotics, or other “goods-to-man” solutions. The picking process will likely incorporate high-level technology solutions, including voice-directed picking. In addition, packing and shipping will also rely heavily on automation. Advanced pick operations can benefit from solutions such as automated unit sortation, weigh-in-motion scales, and automatic print/apply shipping labeling. Similarly, automatic carrier diverts are also substantial automation and technology options for advanced pick operations.

At the end of the day, every level of activity brings a different challenge, so it is crucial to plan for growth. We are here to help you implement the optimal facility to meet your current & future business needs. Our team will be with you throughout the process, making sure that we get you everything you need down to the finest details.

Click here to read more about how we can optimize your broken case picking facility!