Automated order fulfillment technology not only improves service levels, but also pays for itself in a short period of time, less than two years in many cases. Simple automation is the installation and integration of automated order fulfillment systems within your operations. The best split-case automated order fulfillment system for your facility can improve order fulfillment operations in four important ways, and in the process, it can achieve a rapid return on investment (ROI) through cost reductions.
Finding the Best Split-Case Automated Order Fulfillment System
- A-Frame: An A-Frame is an automated dispensing/picking system used for high speed split case order picking. It can be configured in a Pick-to-Belt, Pick-to-Tote or Pick-to-Shipper mode to suit a wide range of customer requirements for split case order picking. In its Pick-to-Tote configuration, the A-Frame system can handle up to 4,200 orders per hour (the number of lines per order is almost irrelevant). The system requires no labor, other than replenishment. Portable models are available to meet smaller scale, promotional or seasonal order fulfillment demands.
- Floor Robots: Floor robots pick up and deliver stored items on portable storage shelving to an operator, who then picks the required item. The robot then returns the unit to storage. Throughput rates range from 100 to 450 lines per hour/per operator. This system offers good storage density, and capacity can be increased by adding robots. Programming, equipment and ongoing maintenance costs make these systems expensive.
- Horizontal Carousels: Horizontal carousels are a series of bins that rotate horizontally around an oval track, delivering the stored item to the operator. They are designed for picking slow to medium moving items and cases, with throughput rates from 150 to 550 lines per hour/per operator. Horizontal carousels are commonly integrated in multiple units in a pod or workstation to enhance productivity and throughput. They offer good storage density at relatively low cost.
- Mini-Load System: This system handles slow moving smaller sized inventory from 100 to 250 pounds, stored in trays, totes or cases. It is optimized for high density storage with throughput rates ranging from 60 to 100 lines per hour.
- Pick-to-Light Flow Rack: Sections of gravity flow rack is used to queue fast moving inventory. A light display ranging from a simple “gumball” to alphanumeric displays indicates to the picker which SKU and what quantity needs to be picked. This system allows one operator to replenish inventory from the back while the other operator is simultaneously picking. Carts or conveyor is used to transport the orders from one bay or zone to another.
- Robotic Carousel Systems: These systems use a robotic extractor to retrieve items or totes as they are queued in horizontal carousels. A single robotic extractor can service three horizontal carousel units stacked in a tier, selecting the required items from one unit while the other two position for the next picks. These systems offer very good storage density with throughput rates from 200 to 700 lines per hour/per operator. They are cost effective for handling small, medium and large quantities of slow to medium moving items.
- Shuttle Technology: Shuttle technology is used for the buffering, sequencing and picking of items stored in plastic totes or cartons weighing under 125 pounds. Shuttles travel on rails at each storage level and are equipped with inserter/extractor devices that remove/replace stored items. These systems are expensive; however, they handle large quantities of inventory at throughput rates of 200 to 700 items per hour.
- Vertical Carousels: Vertical carousels are cost-effective, self-contained systems of shelves or carriers that rotate vertically. Stored items are presented to an operator at an ergonomically optimal height. They provide high storage density and are designed for small item order picking of slow to medium moving inventory. Throughput rates range from 100 to 275 lines per hour/per operator.
- Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs): This cost effective system offers excellent space utilization and storage density. Slow and medium moving items or cases are stored in columns of trays in the front and back of the unit, accessed by an automatic inserter/extractor. Sensors analyze the heights of the items stored in each tray. Integrated controls dynamically adjust the trays’ stored positions to minimize wasted space. Throughput rates range from 125 to 375 lines per hour/per operator.
Selecting the Right Order Fulfillment Systems Partner
When selecting the best split-case automated order fulfillment system for your warehousing needs, consult with an experienced systems manufacturer or integrator. They will help you analyze your order and inventory data to determine the best solution with a proper ROI (return on investment). Likewise, always understand where your potential partner’s “true interests” lie when doing final evaluations.
Never fall in love with a technology. Often a little of something is good, but a lot of it works poorly. Apply the best technology to the right classification of inventory. How will you know it’s right? When the ROI matches the business plans’ net need.
The integrator may also suggest upgrading your Warehouse Execution System (WES), Warehouse Management System (WMS) or Warehouse Control System (WCS) software to take full advantage of the cost savings associated with automated systems. Today’s software can help streamline the picking process and improve inventory management, resulting in more cost savings.
By implementing automated order fulfillment systems to handle fast, medium and slow moving inventory, a warehouse or distribution center can achieve significant gains in throughput and order picking accuracy while reducing costs. Those cost reductions can pay for the system quickly, under 18 months in most cases.
SI Systems has been providing world class automated software and material handling systems to order fulfillment, distribution center, warehouse, manufacturing and assembly operations for over 50 years. Systems include WMS (Warehouse Management Systems), WCS (Warehouse Control Systems), and WES (Warehouse Execution Systems) software, order fulfillment dispensing A-Frames, towline in-floor conveyor, slotting and integration services. Visit www.sihs.com for more information and white papers on this subject or email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.