Returning customer and The Numina Group team up to design and implement a new 70,000 square-foot West Coast distribution center. Because of the high level success of the first automated distribution center Numina was hired to design the new pick, pack, and ship order fulfillment processes at a second automation distribution center.
The new ultra-streamlined pick, pack, and ship order fulfillment distribution center is managed by the industry’s most powerful Tier-1 WES-WCS, Real-Time Distribution System™ to balance order distribution across multiple fulfillment processes.
Merger Necessitates Automation Distribution Center
The Original Project that Numina completed for the customer was necessitated by the customer’s acquisition of a medical supply manufacturer/distributor. The client decided to build a new facility which would have to support handling 2,000 SKUs, both ambient temperature and refrigerated, with an existing throughput of 33 million bottles of product per year. The DC would need to distribute products to customers in 50 states, and overseas, through five supply chain channels.
Numina was asked to develop a design for the 100,000 square-foot facility. In essence, consolidate 280,000 square feet of existing finished goods distribution space into a 100,000 square-foot facility.
“One of the biggest challenges was resizing the operation,” said Mark Hejmej, Sales Engineer with The Numina Group. “So we went to work and engineered a highly space-efficient automated design that utilized the entire cube of the 100,000 square feet. We looked at all their existing processes, conducted analytical studies based on the combined order volumes of the companies projected out five years, and made recommendations. We then developed a multi-level pick module design, combined with the right picking technology, to match the order shipment profile and ROI required by their executive team.”
“The plan at the new facility was to consider technology to reduce touches, travel time, and headcount by over 50 percent,” explained Hejmej. “When the automated DC was completed the customer ended up with a staff of 33 distribution workers. Pick labor was reduced by 50 percent, and productivity increased to 222 lines per hour (LPH), up from 110 LPH.
A Model DC for Streamlined Pick, Pack, and Ship
Three years after the implementation of the new Midwest DC, logistics analysis found that significant logistics savings and a better delivery window could be provided through a second automation distribution center located in Nevada. By locating product closer to its large West Coast customer base, the company could get orders to them faster, and lower shipping costs.
Based upon historical data and growth factors, it was determined that the DC would need a footprint of roughly 50,000 square feet. The customer ultimately secured a 70,000 square-foot facility in the western United States.
Due to the high level of success of the original project the customer brought in The Numina Group to evaluate facility design for the new West Coast DC. After facility analysis was completed, The Numina Group was chosen to design the new distribution center’s pick, pack, and ship processes as a mirror order fulfillment process to the DC located in the Midwest, but on a smaller scale. Like its counterpart, this new DC design is based on lean automated pick, pack, and ship order fulfillment processes.
Tier-1 Warehouse Execution and Control System Integrates Pick, Pack, and Ship Processes –
Both DCs use voice directed picking, packing, and shipping processes orchestrated by Numina Group’s Real-time Distribution System, RDS™, a Tier-1warehouse execution and control system (WES-WCS) that includes the order fulfillment automation integrated to SAP WMS. The DC’s WES-WCS extends functionality beyond traditional warehouse control systems. It manages the order fulfillment automation module and balances the work across the DC’s various order fulfillment processes. The sophisticated WES-WCS simultaneously processes the entire mix of order types including split-case orders, Internet, and LTL shipments.
RDS™ contains a modular family of pre-developed application control functions (modules) for pick, pack, and ship automation. As a true Tier-1WES-WCS, it includes voice-directed picking for all the pick processes, conveyor and sorting control, packing, and automatic print-and-apply labeling – fully integrating the control and execution of the order fulfillment processes and material handling control.
“The West Coast’s DC’s automation modules include, order release and work balancing, voice-directed picking, conveyor-based carton zone routing, pack automation with inline weight audit, print and apply labeling, and shipping sortation control,” explains Hejmej. “Integral to the order throughput increase and reduced operational labor requirements is the packing automation module. This includes an order weigh-cube/dimensional audit, literature and pack-sheet print and insertion, and in-line print-and-apply labeling of UPS and LTL shipping labels. Numina’s WES-WCS provides distribution automation software, along with order detail tracking and labor reporting.”
The conveyors used throughout the DC are equipped with 24VDC motor-driven rollers for the material handling and order-transport automated conveyor system. The controls are managed by the RDS™ internal control language called Trak, a versatile multi-function, event-based control engine that performs real-time control, fully integrated with data-driven order fulfillment rules. Real-time control is executed as a real-time task at 250 microsecond execution speeds.
“Compared to other WCS’s, I think RDS™ is more robust and scalable,” explained the customer. “It provides us with labor management, and order tracking and reporting tools that other WCS do not provide. We have found this extremely useful to capture important KPIs (key performance indicators). It also provides us visibility to the order workloads and which zones have the highest picking volume, so we can rebalance the worker activities and not become overburdened during the course of the day. In wave planning, we always like to have an even order flow, but sometimes that does not happen. Having RDS™ gives us that visual on browser-based screens at any PC on our network to check work zones to see how order processing is doing.”
Zone-Routing Supports Voice-Directed Picking – The facility utilizes voice-directed picking to drive the order fulfillment split-case pick, using a two-level pick module with a pick-to-carton order picking process. The voice technology manages the start of the order within the initial pick zone, and integrates voice commands and responses with hands-free barcode scanning to manage the pick and pack validation direct to the shipping carton. Auto-bottom boxes were selected to eliminate operators having to spend time taping the bottom of boxes when starting an order in the pick module.
Prior to order release, SAP determines the optimum carton sizes and the quantity of boxes based upon the cube of each SKU and the number of SKUs to an order. SAP wave releases orders based on shipment priority, destination, customer, and other scenarios to increase efficiency and eliminate human decision making. Zone routing conveyor logic is integrated with the picking process to manage the movement of cartons to the required pick zones.
The order data and SKU item details sent to RDS™ are further used to manage and balance the wave order release and distribute work more evenly across the pick zones. By starting the order at the initial pick, work is more easily distributed across the pick zones to balance picking labor and improve productivity. The fully-integrated RDS Pick Execution™ order fulfillment module provides picking and more efficient order movement and accuracy across the entire picking operation.
In each zone, voice directs the operator to get the correct box size and affix a pre-printed license plate barcode to the lower left hand corner of the box. The operator uses a wireless hands-free scanner to scan the barcode, and is voice-directed to the first pick location. Once the initial operator completes and verifies the picks in their given zone, voice directs the operator to place the carton onto the conveyor, and it is automatically routed to a next pick zone, or zones, based on the order SKU pick requirements,” said Hejmej. “Zone routing enables a more efficient pick environment as the carton only stops at pick locations required to complete the order without any need of operator decisions.”
Nevada’s streamlined voice-directed pick system:
- lightweight industrial wireless RF computer which uses a natural voice engine to direct work activities as audible voice commands
- The picker hears location instructions and identifies the pick location, and performs picking, eyes focused and hands free
- The picker uses a hands-free ring scanner to scan and verify the location, and picks with either reading a check-digit by scanning a location barcode, or scanning the SKU item ID at the product storage location
- The picker is directed to scan or voice-verify correct product lot numbers, or serial numbers for track-and-trace requirements for specific FDA-tracked SKU’s. Following item/location verification, the operator is prompted with a voice command to perform the required item quantity pick, and a voice command is used to confirm the actions taken
- Complete track-and-trace order-fulfillment data is time-stamped and recorded in the RDS™ Oracle database, and the data is sent to SAP.
“We wanted the leanest pick method to minimize touches in our picking processes,” stated the customer. “The voice-directed, pick-to-carton process and zone-routing conveyor has enabled us to achieve this, making our split-case picking very efficient and accurate.”
The RDS™ voice system eliminates the complexity of RF or paper-based picking, doing away with the need to read from pre-printed pick sheets, labels or RF screens, or keying-in picking instructions or quantities. Operators pick with both hands and eyes focused on the work task. They simply listen for the specific work sequence, scan, pick and use voice commands to verify the quantity picked, and validate each pick transaction.
A key advantage compared to traditional voice technologies is that the Nevada DC’s picking process is a speaker-independent, zero-voice-training technology. It requires no operator voice training regardless of accents or languages. Operators are productive in minutes, so even temporary workers can be trained in 10 minutes or less.
Automated and Synchronized Pack-Out Distribution Automation Processes –After picking is completed, the carton is conveyed through the pack line, the barcode is scanned and an alpha numeric message display directs the operator to the carton-pack task requirements, and the required pack sheet documentation is automatically printed and inserted. Once packing is complete, the carton is fed through an in-line taper and conveys to the in-line scale. The weight is captured for verifying picking, and if the carton is over or under the expected weight tolerance it is diverted to the inspection lane where the order is inspected and corrected. “The automated pack and ship area is controlled and managed by RDS™ and allows a single pack line to process 5,000 cartons in an eight-hour shift,” added Hejmej.
Pack lines include automatic in-line document printing and void fill and tapers to allow a single operator to pack 7 or more cartons per minute. Once packed, cartons convey to in-line scan, weigh, and print-and-apply labeling for automatically manifesting UPS and FedEx shipments. They are then conveyed and sorted to a trailer with a powered extendable conveyor to allow fluid-loading direct to the trailers. If a split-case shipment is part of an LTL order, the carton is labeled with the LTL specific label and diverts to an LTL order staging area. The operator picking the full-case LTL shipment requirements is voice-directed to the staging area, and using voice and the hand scanner, marries the carton or cartons required for the LTL shipment to the pallet.
The West Coast DC is on target to ship 9 million SKU’s per year. The DC has exceeded the shipping cost efficiencies needed, and provided the tools to meet the company’s same-day ship policy for specialty and big box retailers in the Western states. “No matter where our customers are in the country, regardless of order size, all orders placed by 5 pm are shipped that same day, and our customers will receive their orders in a one- or two-day shipment window,” explained the customer. “Without the streamlined, automated pick, pack, and ship solution at our DCs, we would never be able to sustain this level of delivery speed.”
“Throughout the build-out of both DCs, The Numina group was a large driver of the systems we have in place,” added the Director of Distribution. “They delivered the full package, a turnkey solution. It has been a big success story – one of the best achievements that I have been part of in my thirty-plus years in the logistics and distribution industry.”
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