Tag Archive for: Autonomous Mobile Robots

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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.

Reliance on Data is the Key to Growing Your Business

Historically, businesses satisfied with no or slow growth used a qualitative approach to planning, evaluating, and growing their bottom lines. What worked before? What did that one person say that one time? What’s your gut feeling?

Now, as more distribution and fulfillment centers are tasked with meeting increased customer demands, including needing a more comprehensive array of products and expectations of receiving orders in two days or less, those qualitative “hunches” are leaving companies faced with ever-increasing challenges, especially around operational costs.

So, more and more of these businesses are turning to data-based solutions to make decisions and measure performance. However, they may not know where to start. That’s where we come in.

So how does data allow you to grow your business?

Locate and Eliminate Bottlenecks

The quickest place to begin dramatically increasing fulfillment throughput is identifying where your facility is experiencing suboptimal material flow. Typically, we start there in facilities that rely on too much walking – the most costly part of fulfillment. The potentially scariest misconception with the design of material flow is the thought of associating it with massive infrastructure investment. It shouldn’t be. There are solutions available – like inVia Robotics’ PickMate that can improve your team’s productivity by 10x and begin delivering a return on your investment on the first day of implementation.

But it all begins with data. The key to understanding your business needs begins with understanding your current environment, and the key to growth is using that data to make intelligent decisions about how to go about meeting your goals.

Set Benchmarks and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

The first step in starting a data-driven approach is the establishment of benchmarks. Without identifying standards, you don’t know what success is. If you haven’t begun collecting your data in all the focus areas for your business, you can start with industry benchmarks while you manage your data. Industry benchmarks can be found from trade associations, but you can also investigate magazines, articles, case studies, or even networking with colleagues. The key to begin is to do thoughtful, thorough research and don’t necessarily rely on what shows up on the first Google result.

When it comes to measuring one’s business, many have a misunderstanding between “metrics” and “KPIs.” Metrics track what is happening during certain intervals, while KPIs measure your metrics against your desired outcomes. But what are your desired results? Look at the points in the operation where you want to see growth or change. Is it time to ship? Warehouse capacity? Percentage of accurate shipments?

Again, the first place to begin building your benchmarks is by collecting the data. Once you have that data, you can establish your KPIs. You can’t get there overnight; it takes time. You need to think about where you see growth and change to begin. As you collect data, you can start developing KPIs to achieve your realistic, data-backed goals.

It’s all about making data-driven decisions, not intuition-based decisions.

Forecast Growth and Model Changes

Forecasting growth through KPIs is significant to businesses, and it is done by establishing data that can be measured both through repeatability and scalability. While you can forecast growth without scalable and repeatable data, it is likely to be inaccurate. Also, it may be more what you want versus what you can do.

You can play with these formulas, flows, and processes as you build something scalable and repeatable because you’re using accurate data. You can model changes and make more credible decisions that affect your business. Would you rather forecast growth based on what you want or based on anomalies that happened in the past? Or do you want to be 99.9% sure in making the decision? “We want to get to $10 million” is not forecasting; it is an arbitrary goal.

Challenge Current Processes & Equipment to Improve Productivity

Challenging the status quo can be difficult for managers, workers, and leaders. After all, the most common but dangerous phrase in any business is “we’ve always done it this way.” It takes a well-thought-out plan and confidence in that plan to help overcome hesitancy that is natural when change is presented.

By relying on a data-driven plan, one that is based on your business’s unique challenges, one that is well modeled based on your internal models and projections, you can have confidence that you can overcome those challenges that come with growth, labor challenges, and supply disruptions.

How Can We Help?

In speaking with our engineering group, we can help determine potential growth areas within your organization with our data-driven analysis of material flow. With even just a few pieces of data, we can get started because we can use our operational knowledge of available solutions to fill in any gaps. By increasing storage density, identifying opportunities to improve throughput dramatically, and seeking opportunities to reduce labor costs as your business grows. We can develop that roadmap with you.

We have in-house expertise on staff with real operational experience in designing optimal material flow, dynamic solutions in everything from conveyance to automation, technological solutions like warehouse execution systems and warehouse management systems (WES/WMS), and plenty more. Give us a call today or let us know what your needs are in this form, and we can talk about what steps you can take to solve the challenges around your unique needs.

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.

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.

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 system, 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 packaging 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!

Storage Solutions for Third-Party Logistics Firms

One of the most common challenges we encounter with our third-party logistics (3PL) clients involves the ever-diminishing time expectation between when an end-user orders a product and when they think it should be at their door. To meet challenges associated with this trend, 3PL firms are consistently looking at ways to decrease pick time through storage and fulfillment processes.

For the uninitiated, the Material Handling Industry glossary defines a third-party logistics firm as “a business arrangement whereby logistics services, often including warehousing, are contracted to an independent business that specializes in such services and is not connected through direct ownership to the producer or factory requiring the service.”

Because a 3PL’s mission is to maintain profitable logistical operations of fulfillment within the facility – while not taking ownership of the products themselves – 3PL firms tend to prefer flexibility, scalability, and versatility. Typically, 3PLs are working on relatively short-term contracts with their clients (on average 1-5 years), so they want the ability to use the equipment for their current client on their next job.

3PLs are usually storing products for companies that fulfill small orders (for example, retail or e-commerce). This type of fulfillment is typically labor-intensive and costly, so finding the right mix of storage solutions is critical for optimizing operations. However, because their clients are frequently changing or renewing, 3PLs prefer standard solutions that can apply across various industries to allow these firms to be versatile in accommodating multiple pallets in multiple sizes if a client leaves or does not renew.

So, what are the standard storage solutions for 3PL? Let’s take a look:

Pallet Racking

Pallet rack is overwhelmingly the most common storage medium for 3PL firms. Traditionally, most of the industry will use a configuration of pallet rack at 54″ H x 40″ W x 48″ D with 2500-lb capacity beams, which covers most storage applications. That size is also ideal for shipping, as it allows shippers to be more efficient because they can optimally cube out a truck at that size with double-stacked pallets.

Small Parts Storage Solutions

To cover small parts storage, 3PLs rely on a massive amount of shelving and hand stack racks in their facilities. The products required to be most accessible will typically be at the floor-level, so sometimes those shelves are created by adding additional beam levels on the rack that currently exists (along with wire decking) to allow for optimal storage. If you do not have the racking above the shelving, you sacrifice valuable vertical storage space within the facility.

If more than one level of small parts storage is required, then we involve bin mezzanines. However, there are additional costs – both hard and soft — whenever other levels are constructed. Outside of the hard costs of the decking, lighting, sprinklers, etc., there is the soft cost of the additional travel time for the picker associated with the 2nd or 3rd level.

Vertical Reciprocating Conveyor (VRC)

When we introduce multiple levels within a 3PL facility, we typically enlist a vertical reciprocating conveyor (VRC) to assist with moving single-load products vertically for storage or for picking. They can carry pallets, carts, cartons, or products to pickers or for storage on different levels, saving travel time associated with walking up and down stairs. VRCs can be assembled using single or double masts, single or double rails, and even some models can travel on an incline/decline grade versus solely traveling perpendicularly to the floor.

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)

Because of the high cost and rigidity of traditional automation solutions, which are great for specialized, static retrieval and storage, most 3PLs avoid installing them. However, there are great on-demand automation solutions like autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that can offer a great deal of support to 3PL facilities. AMR solutions are very portable, reconfigurable, and can be reprogrammed in a matter of hours versus the days or weeks it could take to disassemble and reconfigure some of the more extensive, static storage options. AMRs can improve pick speeds, lower labor costs, and provide other safety matters within most fulfillment operations. Plus, as needs change and the business grows over time, these solutions can scale and grow along with the organization.

Safety Solutions for Third-Party Logistics Firms

As with any installation, we recommend thinking through the safety of the employees, facility, and equipment within the design. After all, safety should be part of your operational philosophy, not just a mandate or requirement. When a project comes up, we provide warehouse safety solutions like mirrors, guard rails, signage, end-of-rack protectors, end-of-aisle protectors, and anything else that may be pertinent to operational safety. At the design and strategy stage, these can be afterthoughts, but we recommend getting everything you need when you begin designing storage solutions for 3PLs.

What’s Next?

While most 3PLs utilize some combination of the storage solutions listed above, we still see operations that require more robust set-ups like traditional conveyors, drive-in racking, and pushback rack. The size of the investment is typically determined by the client paying for the equipment.

Our team has decades of combined experience working with 3PLs across the country to deliver better storage options, quicker fulfillment processes, and greater order accuracy. We know that finding the right answer usually involves finding scalable, flexible, and portable solutions, all while being cost-effective.

We take that approach to every aspect of the fulfillment process, from storage and racking to the facility’s flow. If your third-party logistics operations could use a tune-up, give us a call today and let one of our experts learn about the challenges you face and provide solutions designed around your business’s unique needs.

Conveyors or AMRs

For decades, conveyor systems have been a standard solution in warehouses to move products through the fulfillment process. They grew popular because they can handle the heavy-lifting of transporting products while saving the wear-and-tear on your workers, who would otherwise be required to move those products physically.

Unfortunately, conveyor systems can be expensive, bulky, and take up too much room on the warehouse floor. More importantly, they offer an inherent lack of flexibility as companies adapt to changes in the way consumers are ordering products.

One solution we see in this area is integrating autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) alongside conveyors. For the right tasks, these AMRs can give businesses the adaptability to adjust their operations to meet where consumer demand is going. For warehouses and distribution centers, flexibility is more important now than ever. The speed of change is accelerating, and warehouses that rely solely on conveyor systems may not be able to react with the swiftness they need to.

Where AMRs can replace conveyors is in the areas of transportation and work distribution. They assist in moving products from one pick zone to the next or from a pick zone to a packing area or a quality control area. They can also move products from pick locations to a put-to-light area. Several applications potentially make sense for this change. Really, other than when a package must move through a place at a very high rate, AMRs can potentially make sense to replace conveyors.

By integrating AMRs, you can have your labor force working on more valuable tasks like picking versus physically moving products themselves. We have broken down the many advantages of these AMRs in warehouse operations prior (link), but this relatively new technology is a smart, flexible technology that can sometimes replace functionality historically handled by conveyance.

Look, conveyors will never go away completely. There are some things a conveyor does that really can’t be replaced altogether. Especially with high-speed transportation or sortation, a conveyor will probably be needed. However, full reliance on these monuments of infrastructure may keep your company from adapting as necessary to changes within the supply chain industry.

Really, an investment like this is an investment in your facility’s ability to be dynamic in response to demand changes. As e-commerce continues to grow at an unprecedented pace, facilities need to follow suit and understand how to react accordingly. By prioritizing adaptability in your processes, you can meet the challenge of changing demand quicker. That means down the road, your costs will be fewer, your downtime will lessen, and ultimately your customers will be more satisfied.

Of course, if you need any assistance in evaluating your facility design, the Storage Solutions team will help. Our experts have decades of experience in equipping warehouses and distribution centers with the right mix of tools to get the job done right. We understand that, as the industry continues to change, adaptability is becoming increasingly important. Armed with the right combination of technology with tried-and-true mechanisms, warehouses can respond to dynamic changes with relative ease.

If you are considering adding conveyor systems to your facility, talk with us first. While we recognize the value that these systems have traditionally brought to warehouse operations, technology has evolved to the point where they may not be the best option any longer. Our team of experts can talk with you about your processes, challenges, and then design a custom workflow to amplify efficiencies without breaking the bank.

Fulfillment Strategy

Good news! Your business is growing! Now, what do you do?

Growth in business is often nonlinear. Instead, growth comes in stages. Like a staircase, businesses grow until it is time to invest in more people, technology, or equipment needed to advance to that next stage. Then, repeat.

Usually, the move to each new “stage” occurs when the cost of labor becomes higher than the cost associated with investing in new equipment. Especially when it is time to make that jump from “small” to “midsize” business, managers often debate which investment they need to make.

For those businesses in any growth stage, there are some excellent fulfillment optimization tools out there. These tools are mature, proven pieces of equipment and/or technology with a proven return-on-investment attached.

Let’s take a look at a few that we have seen be particularly useful to improve warehouse operations:

Modular Pack Stations

Modular pack stations are simple workstations that allow packers to efficiently right-size a box to a series of products, add void-fill, tape, and send down a conveyor to shipping once packed. A proper modular pack station will have everything ergonomically located and within arm’s reach from a packer. These pack stations optimize product flow, boost productivity, and improve your packing area’s floor space by keeping everything clean and organized. Workers are happier because they have everything they need at their fingertips, and accessories like ergonomic floor mats can be added to absorb shock and take the stress off joints.

Gravity Flow Racks

Gravity Flow Racks are perfect for packing environments in which identical kits are created from the same sets of products. The racks are comprised of a mobile cart with angled flow wheels on each level that allow gravity to deliver the next part in line to you seamlessly. If you have a gravity flow rack next to a pack station or area, you could put all of the components one would need for a day’s worth of packing, and then allow the packer to ergonomically access whatever part is required next. These are mobile, sturdy, and adjustable, with the ability to be accessorized to meet whatever challenges your worker has.

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)

Automated material handling is another resource available to improve productivity in picking areas. Our partners at Fetch Robotics, a leading provider of On-Demand Automation, offer AMRs that do not require an integration with a WMS/WES and can be programmed to move carts from the storage/kitting area to the point of use line side. The carts could also be programmed to pick up packing materials or totes and return them to another area of the warehouse to be reloaded with new products/packages.

Value-Added Solutions via Simple Conveyor Lines

Conveyor lines offer a dynamic solution to improve productivity, quality assurance, and safety for a warehouse or distribution center. Conveyors also can give facilities the ability to move totes at higher speeds. However, conveyors bring with them the opportunity to add Value Added Services (VAS) to your packing process. VAS includes items like coupons, magazines, or marketing pieces that encourage the end customers to make another order. Adding VAS through conveyor has become increasingly popular in recent years and has helped e-commerce companies stand out among their competitors.

Pick-to-Light / Put-to-Light Solutions

Pick-to-Light and put-to-light technologies help with order accuracy and fulfillment speed by indicating when a specific product needs to be placed in (or picked from) a specific area. We recently put a spotlight on these technologies in an earlier blog (https://storage-solutions.com/pick-to-light-put-to-light-systems/), but these systems have proven successful for businesses in e-commerce or direct-to-consumer industries in which there is a high volume of orders.

Let’s Talk!

While these products and technologies all may vary in their ideal use for your business, they are all mature pieces of equipment with proven returns-on-investment attached. There may not be one perfect solution for you, but rather a combination of solutions that can custom fit your operations while leaving room for growth. If you need help getting started or making that decision to hit the next stage of your business growth, give us a call, and we can help find you solutions for every square foot of your facility.

Pick Modules AMRs

If there is one pain point we hear most often from operations managers, they are always fighting a battle between what they need to accomplish today versus preparing for changes down the road. The priority always defaults to ensure that day-to-day operations remain steady, restricting the amount of planning one could be doing.

Often, the operation team doesn’t know what is coming down the road. The team is often blind to the decision to add a new product, remove a product, or some other mandate that will require a new aisle or a lane to their storage configuration. However, especially in the age of Amazon, those changes are coming faster than before. The change is happening regardless — “when” not “if.”

Traditionally, pick modules have been constructed along with a conveyor system within a facility to optimize the fulfillment process. The pick modules and conveyance systems can be seen essentially as giant monuments within a facility. Costly and inflexible, multi-level structures have been “how things have been done” for so long that even the most attuned manager may not realize that alternatives exist. Not only do they exist, but they may also make more sense for certain operations.

Pick modules are becoming the “old school” way to process orders. Technology continues to evolve, and new processes have shown that perhaps that old-school way of thinking may be outdated. Especially when it comes to adaptability, the types of changes you can make with a pick module or a conveyor are limited. What can an operations manager do when a change is required?

In response, we have seen facilities create several efficiencies and save resources by switching to a more “new school” methodology by modernizing using autonomous mobile robots. By automating material transport with AMRs, you can see all the same benefits of the traditional pick module/conveyor system, without the massive investment in infrastructure.

The thought behind the process is the same: You can conduct the same picking operation, but you pick in an environment where everything is on the ground. Instead of using the inflexible conveyor to move products, you utilize the AMRs. Instead of the multi-tiered structure, you can use vertical storage space to store safety stock or reserve inventory. Plus, you still save the steps – and time – for your employees to move products down the line.

The real advantage of this system is how quickly you can adapt to the next change. Let’s face it: consumer demands and behavior will continue to change, but it is unlikely that change will come in the form of slower expectations with a greater appreciation for errors. Using cloud-based on-demand automation software, changes in processes can be quickly made via a mobile device. That is a little easier than installing a new “monument” to an old school way of thinking.

The costs are similar, especially when you consider the ongoing maintenance costs that come with the conveyor. By adopting this “new school” way of thinking, you set yourself up to adapt to the next change in the fulfillment process. This is the type of investment that can see returns early through efficiencies and continue delivering for years to come.

When it comes to investing in the future of your operations, the decision isn’t always easy. However, learning more is.

Our Solutions Development team would love to learn more about the challenges you face and develop a simple, smart, and strategic way to address those concerns for the future while understanding the need to fight the fires that come with managing day-to-day operations in a distribution center. We’re here to help – give us a call today!

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.