Monday, November 28, 2016

How Mechatronics Shows the Path to Higher Productivity in Order Fulfillment Automation

Far too often, distribution operations compartmentalize areas and direct managers to focus on solving daily operational issues andman-working-wearing-voice-set requirements in specific departments within the distribution center (DC). However, a more effective approach is to combine higher accuracy and more efficient design driven with technologies such as pick-to-voice, and then combine better picking with pack automation into an integrated continuous flow distribution machine. Results: better processes are magnified with the right technology, and customers report gains of 70% or higher productivity improvement in their order fulfillment operations!

Order Fulfillment using a Mechatronics Design

Distribution operations can benefit from applying the philosophy of mechatronics, a thought process that is a growing trend in machine design. Mechatronics, the engineering of an automated machine or production line, is a holistic design approach in which mechanical and electronic design teams work together to produce a more efficient machine.

The designers look at moving points in a machine and evaluate all the mechanical motion – with gears or pulleys, a hydraulic or pneumatic motion control, or digital servo control of the motion and sensors and the control system works together. This combined effort allows the designers to produce automated machines that give customers increased performance and ability to run smaller batches or a greater diversity of package sizes.

This same holistic design concept is required when implementing process improvements in order fulfillment operations. Without this holistic view, compartmentalized thinking may result. The shipping manager, for instance, may have a specific area KPI productivity goal not related to receiving, inventory forward stock levels, picking rates etc. This leads to a work environment in which managers don’t talk and collaborate with their peers about ways to streamline cross-department order flow in the DC. The fact is, the largest boost in order fulfillment productivity and higher DC profitability levels occurs when the entire pick, pack, and ship process design is considered collectively, i.e. holistically planning, designing and implementing leaner pick, pack, and ship distribution processes.

By designing a system that considers the combined processes of pick, pack, and ship as a single continuous order flow operation, the distribution center gains far higher yields in productivity, as opposed to looking at singular or isolated process improvements such as adding pick to voice, or print-and-apply labeling of the shipping label as single area standalone automated system in the pack area.

Better Design leads to a Higher ROI

Thinking about and designing a distribution operation in its entirety including receiving, inventory management, and pick, pack, and ship process achieves far greater results and a higher ROI. One of the first steps is deploying “better practices” by doing an A, B, C, SKU movement analysis, and then re-slotting to obtain an optimized pick path. This helps for the short term but to consistently get results, a customer must invest in a Warehouse Management and Warehouse Control System (WMS-WCS) that contains all the software functionality to drive and enforce consistent receiving and put-away logic that will lead to a more efficient slotting and picking path.

man-wearing-head-setCompanies that implement what Numina Group refers to as a “Lean Pick and Pack Process” eliminate touches and combine pick and validate tasks into a single step by picking direct to the right size order shipping carton. A leaner pick process, enforced with Pick by Voice technology that validates the pick- and put-to-carton process, and hands-free barcode scanning that validates the SKU or lot/ serial barcode, allows the packing process to take advantage of upstream pack automation.

Additional benefits are derived when packing automation is applied to the process, including in-line scan weigh dimensioning, pack sheet documentation print, fold and insert technology, automatic or semi-automatic carton taping, and print-and-apply labeling to auto-apply the compliance, carton content and shipping labels. The combination of these technologies removes several touches out of the manifesting and shipping process.

Achieve Dramatic Results

Taking advantage of the principles of mechatronics in distribution – the power of a process design that  combines pick, pack, and ship order fulfillment operation will achieve an integrated solution that uses less conveyor, material handling equipment, better product storage and retrieval methods, lower labor costs across picking, packing, shipping and replenishment within a smaller space footprint.

A lean, automated order fulfillment operation reduces labor costs, improves accuracy and shortens the order delivery window to lowers your overall cost of doing business.This delivers higher operational profitability, improved customer satisfaction and a fast ROI – sweet music to the CFO and CEO.

If you’re interested in learning more on means to boost productivity by applying our “mechatronics design principles”  in your fulfillment operations, contact the Numina Group today.

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