A New Age For Automated Conveyor Systems

Jennifer Maloney
August 6, 2015

A New Age for Automated Conveyor Systems

Over 100 years after Henry Ford introduced the assembly line process to industry, automated conveyor systems are still the leading technology for transport of work or goods from one station to another. Conveyor systems are still a critical technology of mass-production, packaging and distribution of goods.  

Just as the automobile has come a long way since the Model T, modern conveyor systems have dramatically advanced to deliver better energy efficiency; reduce noise and transport a wider range of sizes and weights of goods in manufacturing, order fulfillment, and shipping operations.

Intelligent conveyor system integrate barcode and RFID routing and sorting, in-line scan-weigh-dimensioning systems and automated print-and-apply labeling into a continuous automated order flow material handling systems.

Numina Group designs and provides advanced manufacturing and warehouse automation solutions that incorporates conveyors, sorters and other material handling technologies to streamline the flow of goods in processes for pick pack and ship  and other distribution  and manufacturing applications.

Order picking pulls items ( SKUs) from either forward or reserve stock storage locations. The picking process must be flexible and support a mix of order shipment type such as e-commerce, retailers, and specialty stores found in today’s demand for omnichannel distribution.

Conveyor systems used in these applications go beyond basic transport duties. Traditional drive chain and belts technologies for driving the conveyor are being replaced with more energy-efficient modular 24 Volt DC roller conveyor systems.

Referred to as MDR conveyor, today’s 24 VDC conveyor system performance, flexibility, lower installation costs along with improved operator safety are all factors that are increasing the adaption of this conveyor technology.

Growth of e-commerce sales across all distribution applications is bringing about smaller order profiles consisting of 1 to 3 lines, which is changing order picking and packing processes.

This order profile is many times best suited to picking directly to the shipping carton or to a padded bag or envelope.  

Voice picking technology is ideally suited to this application in combination of MDR conveyor systems that convey lighter weight parcels and smaller boxes.

The ROI of Voice Picking Technology 

MDR conveyor with its inherent no-touch, index accumulation is well suited to conveying and sorting both cartons from 50 LBS to .75 LBS, a wider range than traditional belt driver accumulation conveyor system

Conveyors Unite Pick, Pack and Ship Technologies; Streamlining Order Fulfillment

Today there are more technology choices than ever to store goods and increase picking productivity.

The tried and true shelf units work great for small items and slow moving SKU’s. Carton flow and rack storage continue to be highly cost-effective and well-suited to A and B movers for material storage and primary pick locations in the USA distribution market.

When a DC is designed and profiled correctly with SKUs slotted to match velocity movement; item picking using a blend of shelf, carton flow and pallet pick positions using either or a combination of both pick-to-light and voice-directed picking is highly efficient order fulfillment automation with rapid ROI.

What is Slotting in a Warehouse? Benefits & Tips for Optimization

Combining batch pick carts, fork truck cart picking and pick-to-carton conveyor systems using the velocity movement of items to locate SKUs in the proper work zones further increase the order picking throughput and minimize wastes operator walking time.

When considering order fulfillment improvements for and existing DC or new DC, several automated storage and retrieval (AS/RS) technologies are available to to picking labor and save facility space.

Blending AS/RS technology with traditional storage can reduce a new facility’s footprint and breathe new life in existing manufacturing and distribution operations.

Goods-to-Person (G2P) Options

  • Carousel Systems. Available in either horizontal or vertical configurations, a carousel system is a series of rotating shelves that support either discrete single or batch order picking. When profiled the right size and velocity SKU items, a vertical or horizontal carousel can improve order picking efficiency by 75% and reduce floor space by 65%.

    If moderate to slow-moving SKU’s are taking up too much space,  consider carousels or their big brother a vertical storage unit before contemplating moving to a larger facility.
  • Vertical Storage Units. Essentially an optimized and automated AS/RS that brings material for different levels to the picker in a faster on-demand movement of the SKUs in what is referred to as goods-to-person automation.

    Vertical storage can be designed floor to ceiling to use every available inch of the warehouse building height. Their advantages over carousels include flexibility in heights, mixed shelf with from 6” to 2’ spacing, greater weight loads of over 1,200LBS per shelf, and faster shelf retrieval times.

    Conveyors operate in a spiral to permit continuous flow that speeds up operation, especially in industries like pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and parts that a large amount of small mid velocity SKU’s with rapid retrieval time when performing order picking.
  • Automated Storage and Retrieval System or AR/RS. Computer-based pallet storage and/or what is called mini-loads for tote storage retrieval automates the put-away and pulling of the product to a central pack location. These systems are a space-saving technology that reduce labor costs and eliminate a large amount of manual fork truck usage.

    Each application for AS/RS systems requires a through data analysis to access inventory, SKU storage and shipment cube, item movement history, and other variables for determining the ROI in this very capital intensive investment.

A good conveyor design plan ties the material handling solution together so orders that are picked to carton and picked to totes flow and transport from pick zones and automated storage systems more efficiently.

The results are lower cost per order shipment, faster delivery widows and lower labor costs with an automated conveyor system.

Think of how the combination  integrated barcode scanner order routing, in-line weigh, dimension, vision inspection and auto print-and-apply labeling can replace an army of manual labor and further boost productivity in order fulfillment.

Order shipments are streamlined further with a shipping sorter that delivers carton shipments directly the dock LTL pallet building area or direct to the carrier specific parcel loading trailer.

Integrating Automated Conveyor Systems and Warehouse Control Software, WCS

Integrating automated conveyor systems and other automation technologies with the order management ERP/WMS inventory system requires a flexible and scalable warehouse control software (WCS) platform.

The latest generation WCS solutions are highly suited to managing pick, pack and ship operations. Tier 1 WCS systems include all of the necessary automation modules to manage order release, cartonization software, work load balancing, picking, packing and labor/operation  productivity tracking and reporting.

Order fulfillment automation requires not only superior warehouse control software but an experienced systems integrator such as the Numina Group.

Numina’s Real-Time Distribution System, RDS™, is a versatile warehouse execution and control system, WES-WCS is a modular software system that uses advanced voice-directed picking technology, real-time order balancing, work management, and material handling control functionality to automate order fulfillment operations.

RDS can manage entire omni-channel, e-commerce, medical and manufacturing distribution applications with the unique ability to be tailored to customer-specific automation requirements.

With more than 35 years of experience in warehouse software and designing automated warehouse, systems, conveyor and sorting systems, Numina Group offers solutions to drive higher profitability throughout your manufacturing and distribution operations.

For more information, contact us at 630-343-2600.

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