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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!

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!

Picking Solutions Storage Solutions

At Storage Solutions, we pride ourselves on offering customers a solution for every square foot of their operation. We group our solutions into four main categories. These include simple, dense, picking and specialty solutions.

Simple Solutions

If you’re looking for a basic storage solution to get your facility organized, then our simple solutions might be just what you need. Our simple offerings include pallet rack, shelving, mezzanines and more. Within those categories, we offer a variety of styles, colors and capacities designed to work with whatever your needs may be.

Dense Solutions

Our dense solutions are perfect for anyone trying to decrease their facility footprint. Dense solutions include pushback, pallet flow, drive in/drive thru, and semi-automated deep lane storage. These solutions allow you to maximize your facility storage by using the space you have to the fullest.

Picking Solutions

If your main goal within your operation is to increase efficiency and decrease labor costs, then a picking solution may be the best option for you. These solutions include pick modules, carton flow, and light-duty cantilever. Any of these options will provide the boost you need in your day-to-day operations.

Specialty Solutions

Finally, we have our specialty solution offering. If you have a need that seems somewhat out of the ordinary, then one of our specialty solutions can probably help! These include tube rack, dual load, drive-in and cantilever. These solutions are perfect for high seismic areas, for storing oddly shaped items and more!

Regardless of what your needs are, we have a team of experts in place to analyze your operation and help. We love working with our customers to make sure all of their needs are being met. Learn more about our storage solutions here or contact us today to help you select the best possible solution for your facility.

This week we are introducing you to one of our tenured employees Eric McDonald. Eric has been with Storage Solutions for over 10 years and is one of the best in the business. Some of his previous projects have included pick modules, mezzanines and much more.

Eric McDonaldSchool/Area of Study: Simpson College/Indianola, IA – Marketing Major/Communication Studies Minor

Role with Storage Solutions:  Senior Vice President – National Accounts

HometownKansas City, MO

Family: Wife Tasha, 3 Children – Braden (8), Elsie (6) & Sophie (3)

What can you be found doing when you’re not working? (hobbies/interests): >Going to & watching sporting events, playing golf, fishing, hunting, camping, about anything athletic and/or outdoors – especially if we can do it as a family

Fun Fact:  I have an uncle named Ronald McDonald!

Are YOU interested in joining our Storage Solutions team or know someone that would be a great addition to our growing team? We’re always looking for strong new candidates! Check out our careers page for more information & to apply!

“If you build it, they will come…”  No truer words have ever been spoken, though we’re pretty sure whoever said it first wasn’t referring to a warehouse full of pallet rack.  But nonetheless, it’s true.  The key to providing your customers with the best possible service is to give them a storage system that works.

That’s what’s happening for our customer in Indiana.  Through building such an innovative and effective warehouse system, they are in turn going to be able to provide their customers with the best possible products and services. It’s a win for everybody.

In addition to the pick module post from last week, we have begun installing the pallet rack system throughout the warehouse.

Aspects Of This Project:

  • 1,920 bays of selective and tire rack
  • 2,016 uprights
  • 24,000 beams, wire decks and column protectors
  • Sprinklers installed
  • 13,800 linear feet of wire guidance (for fork trucks)

Check it out!

Storage Solutions Pallet Rack

Photo from last week:

Storage Solutions Pallet Rack

To follow all Project H Project Spotlight Series posts, click here.

Check back next week to see the FINAL RESULTS and a pretty fantastic time lapse video that shows you this project from start to finish.

Things are going well over here in Indiana with our second installation of Project H for our Project Spotlight!  This week, we’re breaking down the specs involved in this installation… specifically pick modules.

Aspects of the project:

  • 3 pick modules
  • 8,852 deep pallet flow lanes
  • 8,048 carton flow lanes
  • 501 sections of bin shelving, 8 levels each

Check it out!!

Storage Solutions Pick Module

Check out last week’s Project Spotlight: Project H post

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What are pick modules?

According to MHEDA’s resource website, wikiMHEDA, our go-to source for so many material handling definitions, pick modules can describe anything from a large area of a warehouse designated by order picking (such as multi-level mezzanine picking), to the individual sections of flow rack or other storage media that make up the picking area.

Why Pick Modules?

Pick modules provide high density storage and are typically customized to meet a particular warehouse or distribution center’s unique requirements.  Various storage solutions (pallet flow rack, carton flow, pallet rack, pushback rack, etc.) are integrated inside multi-level work platforms, allowing product to move more efficiently through a distribution facility or warehouse.

Be sure to check in again next week.  We’ll showcase another part of Project H.  It’s all coming together!  And we guarantee you’re going to LOVE the end result.