Monday 5th Dec 2016 - Logistics Manager

Cash in on picking

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There’s a strong case to be made for investing in a new picking system – the business benefits are almost certainly greater that any interest the money might earn in the bank, reports Johanna Parsons.

A bakery producer in Germany called Edna has taken on Witron to design and install a 75,347 sq ft logistics centre in Brehna to be directly connected to its manufacturing facility which produces more than 7,000 food and non-food items for customers throughout Europe.

From May 2012, Witron’s order picking machinery will pick 13,000 cases per day in a -24° C environment. The picking areas will be supplied by an automatic three-aisle tray warehouse with 35,300 storage locations, as well as a mechanised four-aisle pallet high bay warehouse with 9,600 pallet locations.

The system will have a daily output of 800 additional single-SKU pallets which will be buffered in the frozen high bay warehouse after leaving production. Edna will now be able to distribute a much smaller product volume to its customers than has been the case so far.

The system will be capable of picking up to six single-item grid boxes at the same time from the warehouse via automatic conveyors to ergonomic workstations.22977

After picking the customer order, the cartons will be returned to the tray via conveyors. Based on the bakery’s growth strategy Witron’s design allows future expansion space for additional COMs and tray cranes. After full build-out, the system would be capable of shipping up to 32,000 picked cases and 2,000 single-SKU full pallets on a peak day.

Edna chose Witron’s automated picking process because of its efficiency and accuracy, as well as a clear CO2 reduction.

The current economic climate isn’t making investment projects popular in the boardroom, but the time and money saved by automated picking processes represents an opportunity to gain a competitive edge that operators can’t afford to waste.

The critical savings that picking can offer means that if the money doesn’t allow a big project, a small one is a necessity. Savoye’s Martin Elliot says: “People with a little bit of cash in the business may as well use it because let’s face it, they won’t earn interest on it.”

Most suppliers agree that the volume of big-spend installations has decreased because of restrictions on capital investments, but that this has encouraged smaller, scalable projects and upgrades to existing systems.

Craig Rollason of Knapp says: “We saw something of a shift in focus from the larger, more sophisticated solutions to modification and upgrade projects that allowed existing clients to sweat their assets.”

Voice has done well from this trend for caution, with strong sales reported, especially for smaller distribution centres and even sections of warehouses.

Overall uptake of voice is also helped by the flexibility of the product, which can be scaled up without disruption to operations. Anton du Preez of Voiteq, points out: “Voice equipment is focused around the worker rather than the infrastructure of a site.”

This makes installation and modification relatively cheap and simple, which has a major affect on the total cost of ownership.

Vocollect’s Richard Adams reckons that moving to voice can result in productivity gains of ten to 25 per cent and error reductions of around 80 per cent. Voice can deliver ROI in less than 18 months, and often in six to nine months, he says.

One of the main drivers of investment has been the massive rise of e-commerce. With more orders of fewer items coming from online sales, which also demand quicker delivery, the pressure on picking is immense.

“The picking window is becoming less and less, so there is a concern as to what technology will be used,” says Elliot.

Picking to light is often best suited to the high volumes of orders generated online, particularly across smaller stock profiles, but its inflexibility means it is less valuable for storage areas that may need to change.

However it is increasingly used for order assembly as in Knapp’s Pick-It-Easy stations.

Goods-to-man systems are smoothing many multi-channel order picking operations, by speeding up transit times.22978

Mitch Rosenberg of Kiva Systems says: “A pick worker might walk up to five or six miles a day through warehouse shelving to pick orders to a cart. The use of mobile robotics has turned that model on its head.”

The point is taken up by Michelle Campbell, supply chain industry director EMEA at Red Prairie: “Economies of scale can be made where the items are bulk or aggregate picked and then a sorter is used to deliver the orders to the packer rather than individually picking each customer’s order.”

More picking operations are geared towards letting the picker concentrate on assembling the orders, leaving retrieval to machines – for example, the SSI Schaefer equipment at Home Bargains DC in Liverpool, and Knapp’s goods-to-man installation at Hermes Fulfilment’s returns centre in Germany.

Returns processing is also changing as a result of the shift to e-commerce. With about a third of online orders being returned, returns operations have been key investments.
Knapp has seen interest in its OSR shuttle for returns operations, and voice technology works well with such high volumes of small consignments.

A definite growth in voice for more than just picking is also reported. Boots has taken on Voiteq for put-away, and Zetes helped Argos implement voice assisted put-away for the storage areas of its high street stores.

Clipper Logistics took on Voiteq’s VoiceMan middleware and Vocollect wearable voice computers at the warehouse it operates for the London department store Liberty.

Du Preez says Voiteq is also seeing applications of voice technology on materials handling equipment, where having hands and eyes free is an obvious advantage, particularly for safety.

Other innovations are arriving via the apparent cross breeding of picking devices. For example, voice systems are being used in conjunction with screens to display more order information, or scanners to cope with items with long serial numbers that would otherwise prove a problem for verbal communication.

These connected devices are popular not just because of their affect on picking operations, but also because they provide more data inputs, and therefore increased visibility.

Andrew Southgate, managing director of Zetes also says: “Multi-modality means companies can fully use their existing hardware by combining it with new devices and therefore working more flexibly.”

There are also changes in how picking fits into the supply chain. Noel Blake of Vanderlande sees an increasing demand towards cross-docking solutions, especially in the fashion segment. “Recently we also saw examples of fashion companies starting a warehouse in China and pick over there and send directly to stores in Europe.”

But new ideas and new projects must be rational. Headline grabbing ROIs will never be achieved if you’ve chosen the wrong application for your environment. Du Preez warns against reverting to technology for its own sake, and Adams advises: “make voice the starting point… explore its use in every workflow.”

The key to unlocking the full potential of picking is a considered, and reasoned approach. Campbell articulates the consensus: “You need to look at what you are trying to achieve rather than how you currently achieve it.”

With e-commerce putting the spotlight on picking, and with all this change in the air, it seems picking is being honed to new levels.

Rosenberg says: “As the e-commerce playing field continues to get more and more competitive, the careful selection of automation can not only boost productivity, but also turn the DC into a competitive weapon.”


Case study
Shout for your shopping
TJ Morris, which trade s as Home Bargains, a discount retailer with over 300 stores, has adopted voice technology across its existing warehouse space to increase storage density and minimise picking errors.

The distribution centre in Liverpool uses voice technology and deep storage automation, which were implemented by supply chain consultancy Total Logistics and materials handling vendor SSI Schaefer.

Its own in-house IT system is integrated with SSI Schaefer’s warehouse control system. The voice picking solution is supported by SSI Schaefer cranes and an automated storage and retrieval system, which deliver put-away and pick face replenishment.

TJ Morris reckons that using voice picking has given measurable accuracy benefits. Automatic pick face replenishment has led to a reduction in “non-sents” and a marked improvement in on-shelf availability in stores.

There are two picking areas: small case or item picking, which is done via totes; and full case picking, which is undertaken directly from pallets to cages.

This delivers some 600 picks per hour, without the complexity associated with alternatives such as zone picking.

Gavin Parnell, consultant at Total Logistics, said: “The process is not complex for the picker and has not required significant change management or training. The fact that there is no mechanised handling equipment in the picking aisles provides a huge safety and productivity benefit.

“It is fairly common to see this type of technology in FMCG manufacturers, but very unusual in retail. TJ Morris has proved that the benefits are available to retailers, even when receiving products from a wide range of suppliers.”

Case Study
Robots in the freezer

A bakery producer in Germany called Edna has taken on Witron to design and install a 75,347 sq ft logistics centre in Brehna to be directly connected to its manufacturing facility which produces more than 7,000 food and non-food items for customers throughout Europe.

From May 2012, Witron’s order picking machinery will pick 13,000 cases per day in a -24° C environment. The picking areas will be supplied by an automatic three-aisle tray warehouse with 35,300 storage locations, as well as a mechanised four-aisle pallet high bay warehouse with 9,600 pallet locations.

The system will have a daily output of 800 additional single-SKU pallets which will be buffered in the frozen high bay warehouse after leaving production. Edna will now be able to distribute a much smaller product volume to its customers than has been the case so far.

The system will be capable of picking up to six single-item grid boxes at the same time from the warehouse via automatic conveyors to ergonomic workstations.

After picking the customer order, the cartons will be returned to the tray via conveyors. Based on the bakery’s growth strategy Witron’s design allows future expansion space for additional COMs and tray cranes. After full build-out, the system would be capable of shipping up to 32,000 picked cases and 2,000 single-SKU full pallets on a peak day.
Edna chose Witron’s automated picking process because of its efficiency and accuracy, as well as a clear CO2 reduction.

Case study
E-retail only picking
Tesco hired Vanderlande to build its second “Dot Com Only Store” in Greenford, London, based on previous success with a dedicated e-commerce store in Aylesford.

Tesco selected Vanderlande to manage its picking processes, as well as to supply a material handling system for the order consolidation process. The supermarket needed to reduce the impact of the e-commerce operation in certain stores, where orders from the website were previously processed.

The dot.com only store is a “dark store” which has stock laid out exactly as a regular Tesco store, but is closed to customers. At the start of the shift, order details and van schedules are downloaded from the Tesco Host to the Vanderlande control system. Picking staff take orders placed online, and pick the stock from the shelves into plastic customer order crates held on trolleys.

Order information is relayed to the picker via a touch sensitive screen mounted on the trolley.

A picker can work on up to six customer orders simultaneously, spread across van routes, orchestrated by Vanderlande’s Vision software, a single integrated warehouse management system.

Picking staff then load completed orders onto a conveyor, which takes the crates to a consolidation buffer mounted on a platform. This also allows staff to pick part orders which can be consolidated for delivery by the machines.

Three aisles access the high density automated storage and retrieval system.

Each aisle is split into two vertical modules, equipped with six shuttles per aisle, including 18 shuttles in total. Each shuttle can access three levels of shelving.

The customer order crates are spread throughout the HDS consolidation buffer and held until a predefined release time of complete delivery van loads.

Case study
Spotlight on goods-to-man
Hermes Fulfilment has taken a system from Knapp to automate its storage and order picking systems at its returns site in Haldensleben, Germany.

This features the OSR Shuttle solution for rapid automated storage and retrieval combined with goods-to-person picking using pick-by-light technology.

The new returns system is controlled by Knapp’s KiSoft warehouse control software.

Previously, all returns suitable for resale were stored manually in the picking warehouse, with new orders fulfilled using picking carts.

Now, Knapp’s OSR Shuttle accepts about 2,000 containers of mixed returns per hour. To achieve optimal storage density, up to ten different items are stored in each container. The shuttle has some 176,000 storage locations with capacity for about one million items

Totes are then automatically retrieved from the store to supply 30 “Pick-it-Easy” fashion workstations on two levels, where up to 15,000 items per hour are picked during peak periods.
At these ergonomically designed picking stations totes arrive directly in front of the operator.

The operator receives clear, straight-forward information from the central touch screen monitor. All indications and operating elements lie within the optimal field of view, giving the operator an overview of all procedures.

The operator can also display a product photo if required. The put-to-light indicators then light up the tote into which items should be placed.

If necessary, the operator can display a product photo on the screen plainly showing which product should be picked. To check, the product can be scanned again and is relabelled directly at the work station.

Since the picking warehouse for supplier goods is located at the same location, all the preparation of the returned goods for resale had to be synchronised with other warehouse processes.



Case study
Voices sustain at Pallas
Pallas Foods, an Irish foodservice distributor, is using Zetes to install a multi-modal voice automation system in several stages over the next six months at its central warehouse facility in Newcastle West, Co Limerick.

Zetes Ireland will implement the upgrade to the new generation Zetes 3iV multi-modal voice technology system. This will automate the stock management processes so that more than 60 warehouse operators will be “voice enabled” throughout stock put away, inventory management and order-picking procedures in real time.

3iV is being installed with a mixture of WT4090 devices, Motorola dedicated “Voice Only Wearables” and Motorola multi-modal voice and screen based terminals.

It links directly into the Pallas Foods main Microsoft Dynamics enterprise resource planning system without the need for any additional software development. Voice only and voice assisted technology allows warehouse operators to switch between voice and keyboard.

This system combines with hand-held barcode scanners to increase efficiency and speed in stock management. The technology supports intelligent inventory management and triggers a stock re-order when it reaches minimum levels.

Pallas initially considered a system solely based on barcode scanning, but as products frequently arrive without barcodes, the voice system was deemed to be the better choice. Donald Riordan, information manager at Pallas said: “Zetes’ system was technologically superior and not only offered us greater redundancy and resilience, but it was also hardware independent, giving us the freedom to use different devices in the future. Direct integration reduces the potential for data errors to occur because there is no database sitting between our ERP system and the voice terminals, data is exchanged in real time whenever an item of stock is moved.”

Pallas Foods has more than 7,000 products. It makes more than 3,000 daily deliveries to its estimated 6,000 customers and provides a next-day delivery service across Ireland.