By Ed Romaine, Contributor
This is the new normal…supply chain disruptions and changing business dynamics impacting all organizations all over the world; COVID-19, social distancing, new sales patterns—hey, even new products. Notice how many companies have quickly moved into the PPE business, with everything from masks to cleansers to respirators. The bottom line is, disruption and change has created a new normal, and with this transformation, organizations have an opportunity to evaluate, modify, grow and become more profitable. But it’s important to do so intelligently.
Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) goods-to-person solutions have been around in distribution centers and warehouses for several decades. The major differences today are the flexibility, speeds, efficiencies and reliability these technologies can provide.
What are the changes regarding “new normal” business demands on AS/RS and order fulfillment?
Social Distancing: spacing people to avoid transmission. AS/RS reduces labor and allows you to design workstations that provide isolation and a contamination-free environment vs. having aisles of workers who are not safely distanced from one another.
Reducing Labor: The efficiencies of AS/RS and automation allows you to reduce the total number of people required to operate your facility. This allows for easier social distancing and the ability to keep the best workers—which increases accuracy and productivity.
Micro-fulfillment Highly Efficient Facilities: Using several regional micro-fulfilment centers also allows organizations to be closer to their customers (reducing shipping time and costs) and mitigates regional health and general worker-availability issues. These centers translate into having an “uber-efficient” automated facility able to pump out orders quickly with minimum labor. Specific models of AS/RS are perfect for high-density storage, 100% inventory accessibility and rapid fulfillment.
Evolving Inventory Profile: You may find your organization offering items and products you might never have imagined carrying and items that were previously top sellers waning in demand. With change comes the need for flexibility. AS/RS systems, which use standard totes, partitions and dividers, are perfect for a rapidly changing world.
Increasing Volume (or is it): People are becoming increasingly accustomed to buying online in record numbers. Most pundits see COVID-19 as the catalyst that has accelerated ecommerce and omnichannel operations are now engrained as part of everyday life vs. “a stop into the store.” The growth will be sustainable and exponential. Implementing AS/RS systems that are flexible and allow for rapid growth and real-time adjustment to change is a must.
No Historic Volume Data: Predicting the new highs, lows and averages isn’t typically clear. AS/RS characteristics, such as rapidly changing system capacity and being able to lease additional equipment or components of the system to meet peak demands, will be vital.
Faster Picking Speeds: The demand to get orders completed faster and out the door to meet cut-off times isn’t negotiable in this new world. Customers look for same-day delivery and will settle for next day, so being able to handle daily waves of orders; filling them and shipping them out based on rigid cut-off times is no longer a “nice to have”—it is a requirement.
Larger Orders: The new normal has increased order sizes. Consumers and businesses are filling larger orders to minimize their delivery risk. This trend may not last in all consumer sectors, but in food and supplies, it’s almost a guarantee that it will. The solution once again is AS/RS, which is flexible and high-density.
Less Training: With the past turnover and employee movement, training has been critical in keeping operations functioning, but with a high cost in time, accuracy and productivity. With social distancing, the ability to implement systems and procedures that are intuitive and simple is now mission-critical. Likewise, because AS/RS systems reduce overall labor, you can use your high-performance employees and help eliminate the need for temps and/or transient help.
NEW BREED OF AS/RS
We’ve outlined all the demands and requirements which have changed in a new normal environment. Virtually all AS/RS systems provide levels of relief with these new criteria, but the new generation of robotic AS/RS technologies supply even greater benefits.
Hybrid AS/RS that integrate autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) as the engine with simple rack and software provide the flexibility, reliability and rapid response required to meet the new normal.
These systems utilize rack and shelving to store standard totes and cases. Totes can be subdivided in up to eight cells/sections. There are several manufacturers of these technologies. The key is understanding your height availability, number of SKU positions and approximate cube requirements, and the throughput required. These systems can range from eight to 36ft-high limitations. The number of totes can range from 100 to over 200,000, translating into 800 to 1,600,000 SKU locations.
Throughput requirements can range all the way up to 550 picks per hour per operator/workstation, with the ability to add as many workstations and AMRs as required to meet hourly and daily requirements. System implementation time can be in as little as four months, and additional AMR robots are available for leasing to meet peak demand. Workstation configuration can be as simple or complex as required, based on additional SKUs, number of zones and value-added services required.
These new hybrid AMR automated storage and retrieval systems provide the horsepower, speed, worker safety and financial return on investment to meet virtually all business cases, pre- and post- pandemic, and the new normal. WMHS
About the Author
Ed Romaine is VP of Marketing and Business Development, at Conveyco Technologies. Conveyco Technologies has been providing world-class performance enhancements for order fulfillment, distribution centers and warehouse operations for 40+ years. Solutions and systems include sortation, voice, augmented vision, pick-to-light, palletizing, AS/RS, automated case handling, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), robotic picking, dispensing, AGVs, WES, WMS and WCS software, plus consulting and integration services. Conveyco.com