Key Automation For Omnichannel Ecommerce Order Fulfillment Solutions

Jennifer Maloney
March 2, 2018

Consumers have rapidly migrated to online order placement of goods for B2C or store pick-up and have become accustomed to having their online goods delivered within a day or two.

Companies are finding that in order to compete, they must invest in automation for omnichannel ecommerce fulfillment solutions.

As a result, companies that provide their own fulfillment and logistics services and third party logistic operations (3PL’s) face the same challenges.  They need to upgrade their offerings and become Omni-channel operations with automated order fulfillment services that support not only full pallet and mixed case pallets orders, but also seamlessly handle ecommerce pick, pack, and ship operations.

The growth in ecommerce fulfillment has created a paradigm shift.  To remain successful, in house Distribution Centers and 3PL’s that handle a company’s outsourced logistics need to be able to process single SKU carton shipments direct to consumers.

Distribution Center Fulfillment requires a highly efficient blend of automation technologies to control picking, packing, and shipping costs. Right now, unemployment is so low that hiring and retaining reliable labor to run distribution operations is much more challenging and costly than investing in automation. There are several key automation technologies that will help Distribution Operations overcome the challenges of omnichannel ecommerce.

Omnichannel Ecommerce Automation Technologies That Streamline and Lower Operational Costs

Cartonization software, coupled with highly efficient picking technology eliminates reliance on an operator guessing the correct carton size during the picking or packing operation. When carton size selection must rely on guesswork, companies waste money shipping boxes that are unnecessarily large, or waste labor repacking an order.

Cartonization software calculates each order’s optimal carton size using the item master to obtain SKU dimensions and weight data. 

Advanced cartonization software selects the smallest available carton size that an order will fit into. In addition to lowering the impact of DIM, cartonization software also makes it possible to eliminate the step of tote-picking and allow workers to pick and pack directly to the right-sized carton or padded bag during the picking process.

Selecting the right order carton size in an ecommerce operation at the start of order release provides the opportunity to use a lean, single touch pick and pack process directly to the shipping carton and eliminates the operator selecting an over-sized carton, reduces void usage, and the cost of shipping air.

Dimensional weight capture is now a required component of manifesting in order to obtain the lowest cost parcel shipment rates. In-line dimensional weight capture technology combines an in-motion scale with a 3-D Camera dimensioner to accurately measure each parcel so actual dimensional weight is used for carrier selection and manifesting.

All the major parcel shippers, including FedEx, UPS, and the USPS rely on dimensional weight, and utilize a formula to calculate billable charges based on a package’s length x width x height (LxWxH) divided by the carrier’s DIM factor. For FedEx and UPS, that DIM factor is approximately 166 and can be negotiated based on a shipment volume.  When it comes to parcel shipping, size matters, because an extra inch impacts shipping costs, especially when the order is an air shipment.

Print-and-Apply Labeling automates the application of the parcel shipping labels, packing slips, UCC Compliance labels, ASN labels, and other order documentation requirements.

Print-and-apply label applicators are low-cost robots that automate the mundane low-value manual work of hand applying shipping labels, packing slip/carton content labels, UCC compliance labels, ASN labels and other order shipment labeling requirements. 

Print-and-apply automation is 500% – 1000% faster than the rate of a manual manifesting workstation. 

The labeling system can integrate to a WMS and/or to a shipping manifest system for multi-carrier rate shopping software, which ensures that the lowest cost carrier is selected. 

Combined Technologies to Maximize Shipping Throughput

Combining an in-line dimensional weight measurement system with an auto print-and-apply labeling system will dramatically increase throughput rate and shipping accuracy across the entire parcel manifesting and shipping operation.

Print-and-apply label applicators are low-cost robots that automate the mundane low-value manual work of hand applying shipping labels, packing slip/carton content labels, UCC compliance labels, ASN labels and other order shipment labeling requirements.

The highest return on investment (ROI) for distribution operations and 3PLs can be achieved by

  • Automating the capture of dimensional weight inline
  • Auto-applying the shipping label
  • Using barcode scanning to verify the carrier tracking number immediately after print-and-apply labeling

Voice picking technology validates picking steps using a combination of voice commands/responses and hands-free two dimensional barcode scanning

Voice-directed picking lowers labor costs by 30-70% and improves order accuracy to 99.99%. Pick by voice is a technology well suited to the demands of omnichannel ecommerce order fulfillment, especially the latest generation multi-modal voice picking systems.

Pick-by-voice technology blends the operator’s voice-directed instructions with hands-free barcode scanning to perform pick and pack with item level validation.

Voice picking verifies item pick location, and SKU and lot capture in a single step. Voice directed picking drives the much faster performance picking process with significantly higher accuracy rates compared to paper, RF terminals, and tablets.

It can be quickly deployed to lower labor costs by 30% or more in e-commerce pick and pack, while achieving order fill accuracy rates of 99.9%.Voice picking is rapidly advancing.

Victory Voice™ − Zero Training Required

The latest speaker- independent voice picking systems, such as Numina’s Victory Voice™ Suite, entirely eliminate the need to train/record each operator’s voice.

Victory Voice is idea for companies that rely on seasonal workers because training time is so minimal that temporary staff is productive in minutes.

The latest generation voice picking systems also support off-the-shelf hardware, including a wide variety of wireless wearable computers as well as Blue Patriot’s low-cost 450 headset/speaker microphone which can be paired with hands-free Honeywell or Zebra 2-D wireless barcode scanners, providing even more hardware options.

Add-On Modules to Support Voice Picking and Maximize Overall Efficiency

Advanced voice-picking solutions like Victory Voice include pre-developed software modules for order release optimization, cartonization, cart build, efficient batch cart picking of 12 or more orders, as well as pick and pass conveyor zone picking processes. 

All split case picking applications should be combined with cartonization logic to support single touch pick to carton applications.

Pack and Ship Automation streamlines and eliminates low-value work tasks that drain profitability in a distribution centers and 3PL operations.

Automated document insertion eliminates the mundane task of printing and inserting the correct documentation, reducing 35 seconds or more of labor from every shipment.

Batch picking single SKU orders with smart pick cart and delivering them to a speed pick workstation station enables pickers to fill 3-4 orders per minute.

Single SKU orders that can ship in a padded bag or small carton should be batch picked to a tote at a workstation designed to process “speed picks” along a powered conveyor line.  With the proper pack design, operators can pack 3-4 orders a minute and place the conveyable carton on to the powered conveyor.

Orders picked directly to the shipping carton are placed on the conveyor from the batch pick cart, transported to the in-line void and semi-automatic taper. One or more operators positioned at the void and taper with an optional auto pack sheet print-fold-inserter can process 10-15 cartons per minute, at least a 500%-600% increase in packing productivity compared to manual pack and manifest stations. 

Consider the advantages distribution operations, including 3PL logistics providers have when they automate their processes. Every parcel shipment is automatically inspected using an in-line scan-weigh dimensioning system!

Adding measurement technologies like dimensional weight capture to “close the pick, pack, and ship loop” automates the validation of the actual order content weight, and ensures the lowest parcel shipment costs. Vision audit systems for image records of carton contents can be added for further verification.

To be profitable and stay competitive in the market, distribution operations and 3PLs need to add the right blend of automation technologies to compete in the e-commerce marketplace.

The investment will provide a rapid ROI and allow the businesses to gain a competitive advantage for retaining existing customers, as well as attracting new high value customers.

The right order fulfillment automation platform contains all the components outlined and provides a lean, voice directed pick, pack, and ship operation that reduces touches, lowers labor costs, and increases profitability.

For more information on Ecommerce distribution automation and Numina Group’s Real-time- Distribution Software, RDS Tier 1 Voice Directed Order Fulfillment and Warehouse Execution and Control System, (WES-WCS), contact an us to speak with an application engineer or discuss how Numina’s technologies can boost productivity at your operations. Visit our website or call 630-343-2600.

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