Engineering & Design Analysis: Pick & Pack Technology

Who: Factor75 is the largest provider of mail-order meal-kits in the U.S (United States)., with operations spread across the Oceania, Central and Western Europe.
The client specializes in fresh, healthy, delicious, and ready-to-eat meals that are delivered weekly to subscribers. 


With a projected annual sales turnover of $500 million, a rapidly growing customer base and an intricate distribution network, Factor75 felt the need to replace its existing manual order fulfillment processing with a more robust automated picking technology to enhance the flow of their fulfillment processes and improve the efficiencies of their courier services.
Prepared Meals

The Challenges

At Factor, no two orders are the same – clients can customize weekly menus from a wide variety of meals options; some of these meals are popular hence fast-moving, the rest are either medium or slow-movers, and a myriad of add-ons. This assortment of ever-growing meal choices coupled with the disparity in SKU movement velocity and a manual pick process, was significantly slowing down the pick process and all the downstream activities.

Secondly, Factor's intricate distribution network arising from its multi-regional market penetration was misaligned from the regular schedule of the courier services, causing a lot of inefficiency in the transportation system.

The Solution

To begin, our experienced engineers performed a comprehensive analysis of the client’s movement data, order profile, current floor layout and picking activities and more.  

Information from the analysis was instrumental in designing pick, pack, and shipping processes, and in determining the type of hardware and software controls needed to achieve the following outcomes:
Balanced Processes

Design a system that harmonizes the rate of the pick and pack processes with the  
varying transit times to reduce the cost of transportation and preserve the freshness of the meals.
computer-screen
An Efficient Pick Process

Replace the manual pick system with an efficient automated system that functions well under refrigerated conditions and fast enough to meet current and future demand. The identified technology was the A-Frame pick-to-tote solution because of its high speeds of up to 3,600 per hour, a near-perfect accuracy level and durability to operate in a cold room.
a-frame
An Ergonomic Work Space

Design an optimal floor layout that supports an easy flow of SKUs and minimizes the amount of worker traveling, bending, and picking. Likewise, a refrigerated room was designed and allocated closer to the shipping dock to minimize the exposure of the meals to the ambient temperature.
packing-box

The Results

The design services included the restructuring of the work floor to allow for the sequential movement of products from the kitchen to the shipping dock. The kitting process was also streamlined to match the overall throughput of the meals with the schedule of the courier services.  
Following a customizable analysis flow chart [EDS PAGE], the results of the design study were summarized into a report that captured crucial engineering information that could be re-used for future projects.  
  
Key Areas of System Design: 
  
Overall control system: Our SIIMSPC-based control system would be designed to control the conveyor PLC, the pack stations PC and to manage separate PCs for each workstation, which comprise of bar code scanners, label printers and pack slip printers.  
  
A-Frame set-up: SI’s pick-to-tote A-Frame was configurated for a throughput of 2,000 units per hour for the 30+ SKU set of unique meals and add-on products. This PTT (Pick to Tote) version of the A-Frame reduces the number of product touchpoints, which is essential when handling perishable products. The totes are conveyed straight to the packing station to be boxed for shipping.  
  
Shipping Carton prep: To expedite the packing process, the box prep area was positioned as close to the freezer area as possible so that the first item that is put in the box would be gel packs.  
  
Packing Stations: The packing station line includes a 3-tiered conveyor. The top tier delivers prepped boxes with frozen gel packs in them. The center tier delivers full order totes from the A-Frames to the packing stations. The bottom tier then delivers the completed boxes orders to end of the packing station line where they can then be gathered and palleted for shipping. 
  
Conveyor Integration: The A-Frame dispenser lines and Packing Station lines are served and joined by a TGW conveyor system. Primary component of this system includes CRUZ belt Conveyor and IntelliROL Motorized Roller Conveyor.  
  
Staffing deployment: Under the proposed automated layout, new roles were assigned to all warehouse associates to handle each of the key areas of design.

Concept illustration of a 3-tiered conveyor used in packing station.

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