Many times complex order fulfillment automation goes beyond just adding voice to a DC, it requires a software platform to manage order release balancing to optimize the entire pick, pack, and ship order fulfillment operation. This is the domain of a top tier Warehouse Control and Execution System, (WCS) that includes software to balance and optimize order release to add further efficiencies to all components in the order fulfillment process. A top tier WCS manages and executes advanced picking strategies in combination with packing and shipping into a unified continuous order fulfillment process.
A top tier WCS manages and balances order picking across each channel, so e-commerce and retail orders can be simultaneously processed within the same DC. It bolts on advanced, best practices automation to control and execute order fulfillment, product tracking, and labor reporting to the existing ERP and WMS Systems. A top tier WCS includes voice picking, inspection, lot and serial number capture, and a full family of material handling automation modules that streamline the entire order fulfillment operation.
E-commerce orders are primarily 1-2 line parcel shipments that require strict observance to dimensional weight. Consequently, tools such as cartonization software are required to perform pick-pack optimization and ensure orders are packed into the smallest available carton size and/or padded bag to control shipping costs. A top tier WCS combining advanced cartonization logic with order release directs the order picking to the optimum carton size. Voice commands then direct the order pick and pack verification direct to the required shipping carton or cartons. This is a critical need for both B to B and e-commerce operations. Single-touch pick-and-pack reduces touches, lowers packaging and shipping costs, and increases order throughput rates.
The majority of omni-channel and e-commerce fulfillment centers track productivity at facilities in a macro manner. According to a 2014 research study sponsored by Kane Is Able, Inc., a leading supplier of 3PL services, distribution operations do not have a good a handle on individual worker productivity. According to the study, 57% of respondents consider “increasing workforce productivity” to be one of their toughest challenges. Considering the fact that labor accounts for 50% to 70% of a fulfillment center’s operating budget, it makes economic sense to use technology that increases labor productivity and simultaneously tracks worker productivity. Again, a top tier WCS, with integrated speaker-independent voice technology eliminates operator training while adding worker accountability. Voice picking time-stamps each operator sequence in the operation to capture individual worker performance, measure worker’s activity based on a work zone standard, and provides the reporting tools to recognize and reward workers who exceed productivity and performance standards.
Picking technology integrated with labor and order SKU pick data tracking enables real-time and historical reporting and analysis. Labor tracking provides supervisors the ability to analyze individual-workers, and provides a better training metric to guide new or underperforming workers. Additionally, data is captured to analyze work zone performance, evaluate SKU slotting, and re-profile underperforming pick zones. Management can use the data to perform labor planning for peak seasons, and Web based screens viewable on tablets or phones provide feedback in real-time to allow a manager to shift labor to other work zones and avoid bottlenecks before they occur!
Enables Perfect Order Fulfillment Practice
100% order accuracy is the ultimate goal of all order fulfillment operations. Equipping a DC with technology to direct pick-and-pack validation in a lean, low touch manner goes a long way to achieving the four principles of perfect order fulfillment practices: 1) complete order-fill accuracy; 2) on-time delivery; 3) damage free; and 4) correct documentation. Omni-channel and e-commerce DC’s with their mix of high-volume case pick, and low count SKU order reap higher profitability and customer satisfaction with technologies that provide all four components of perfect order practices.
Supply Chain and Operation Management Executives are well served to investigate the benefits of the accumulative productivity gains obtained through automated pick, pack, and ship processes. The cumulative effect of a unified, automated omni-channel order fulfillment operation managed with a top tier WCS combined with speaker independent voice boosts productivity much higher than a voice only solution providing 35% to 50% gains, and a rapid ROI in 12 to 18 months at many DC operations.