Optimize DC Fulfillment - Now and in the Future - With Automation and Software
April 29, 2021
With distribution center (DC) and fulfillment operations struggling to keep afloat amidst the new normal of the order-everything-online tsunami, retail leaders are turning the tides with fresh plans to automate and upgrade traditionally labor-intensive processes and material handling strategies. These investments aren’t merely stop-gap measures to ease the present strain; they’re also a hedge against future accelerated growth rates. Although it’s not clear just how high throughput levels will rise, how small delivery windows will shrink, or whether labor will be attainable or affordable going forward, retailers recognize that without new automation and software investments, it will be more difficult to sustain productivity and grow profits against the competition.
New investments, therefore, are focused on achieving strategic supply chain advantages in critical order fulfillment activities. They include emerging advanced warehouse automation solutions with integrated software offerings, such as:
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)
Offering a more compact storage footprint than traditional racking systems — plus the flexibility to adapt to a variety of product and facility configurations — AS/RS can maximize throughput and improve receiving, order consolidation and picking efficiencies. In high-volume, manual picking operations, goods-to-person (GTP) and goods-to-robot (GTR) shuttle systems bring ordered items to pickers via automation. These solutions eliminate picker travel times and enable fewer labor resources to be more productive; as demands change, they can be easily scaled. When each picking is not needed, full-pallet handling, unit load AS/RS can automatically pull pallets from storage racks and stage them for truck loading.
Robotics for Picking and Transport
Robotic solutions offer a flexible, scalable alternative to monotonous and repetitive manual tasks, freeing available labor resources for more complicated, value-added assignments — such as exception handling and returns processing. As robotic technologies advance (and their costs come down), retailers are increasingly deploying articulated arm and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) across a range of key workflows, processes and applications, such as:
- Sorter induction
- Each, case and pallet picking
- Palletizing and depalletizing
- Case packing and unpacking
- Transportation of materials (pallets, goods and cartons)
Smart Software for End-to-End Orchestration
As DCs become more automated to keep up with demand, software must be enhanced to manage the resulting increase in operational complexities. No longer can a facility function effectively with disconnected automated systems directed by different software platforms; instead, today’s smart warehouse software orchestrates and manages entire operations, end-to-end. With a single, unified platform, warehouse execution systems (WES) can provide managers with the abilities to:
- Utilize operational data for workflow optimization and business insights
- Apply machine learning for intelligent decision-making
- Prioritize and release orders while considering downstream processing to ensure service level agreements (SLAs)
- Optimize AS/RS storage and retrieval
- Maximize labor productivity and utilization
- Integrate advanced automation and robotics into workflows for increased throughput
Begin Your Transition
Are you ready to move forward with creating robust, scalable and supportable technological infrastructures? Read our recent On The Move article to learn more about how Honeywell Intelligrated can help you to leverage AS/RS solutions, cutting-edge robotics and intelligent warehouse automation software that collectively lays a strong foundation for continuous growth.
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