Retail Distribution Industry:
Retail distribution operations all have their unique challenges with the need for a flexible infrastructure that can support future growth and market trends. The retail industry consists of several market segments including cosmetics, fashion, footwear, books/stationary, recreation products, home living, entertainment, communications, hardware, and more. All retail industries have a common ground with basic material handling principles that allow the operations to work as efficiently as possible. New trends with consumers have been moving this industry to being more responsive with faster delivery of their product.
Reserve and Forward Pick Location:
For case picking we recommend storing product in multiple locations. The first is the reserve locations. These are full pallet positions, which are used to replenish forward pick locations. For facilities with a large quantity of a small number of SKU’s, you can store more efficiently through the use of pallet flow or drive in racking system for deep lane storage of product with limited aisles being required. The forward pick location is an area where order pickings are opening a pallet and picking a case at a time until replenishment is needed. This allows for faster order fulfillment and pallet building orders.
Narrow and Very Narrow Aisles (VNA):
As a retail operation grows, it is very typical to run out of space in your distribution center. By moving to reach trucks, stock pickers, and/or turret trucks a retail operation can move their aisle size from 12-15’ wide aisles down to 4’ wide aisles. This consolidation of space can increase your product within your same space by 50%. The VNA aisles can be wire guided allowing an operator to focus on the next pick location rather than their vehicles movement. This is an effective strategy to defer expanding or relocating your facility.
Conveyor and Sortation System:
The use of a conveyor for routing orders from each picking location to the shipping sorter saves time, increases throughput, and reduces labor requirements in your operation. These conveyor systems will also allow you to build a large buffer of orders to maximize the orders being completed at once with accumulation conveyor. All of these systems moving to a sortation conveyor to divert product to a shipping lane for pallet building for bulk orders greatly increases the efficiency of this process versus the manual process.
Direct to Consumer (D2C) and E-Commerce Order Fulfillment:
One of the largest changes include moving from supporting nationwide local stores with bulk replenishment of inventory to selling directly to consumers from the distribution center. Direct to consumer order fulfillment has changed the entire way these companies’ systems, labor, and time management work. This creates a need to change their picking process from full/partial pallets and building a shipment ready to restock a single store to needing to pick a limited number of line items with small quantities and ship to the customer. To accomplish this a retail company needs to create a warehouse within a warehouse. By implementing a completely new operation within their existing operation that runs independently, can typically mean that there are some systems modifications needed to change to allow for this warehouse within a warehouse. This includes multiple locations and inventory set up that allows these two operations to work in tandem. We typically will design a D2C operation with a pick module for efficient order picking of a large quantity of orders. These pick modules typically work well with the use of pallet flow or carton flow to allow for an increase in organization of SKU’s to be picked, the ability to separate replenishment and picking activities without interfering with each other and can be tied in with a pick-to-light system for maximum efficiency. Order picking can be accomplished a few ways depending on the type of operation. The company can batch pick multiple orders and have consolidation of orders at the pack stations. Pick and pass operations allows an order picker to stick to a limited zone within the pick module. They pick from their zone and once completed pass the order down to the next order pickers zone. All of these strategies pulled together allow for a fast and efficient process to minimize the cost of each order being fulfilled.
Print and Apply Automation Systems:
Many operations often overlook the advantages of a print and apply system. This system is one of the best areas to see a drastic increase on a return on investment and lowers your labor requirements during the packing and shipping process. A print and apply system has many levels of automation which can be implemented:
Case Erector – This is the use of a machine to form a case from a stack of unfolded cartons. This erects the carton and tapes the carton allowing for a mass set up very quickly with minimum human interface.
Bar Code Applicator – Once a case is erected, this automation will apply a barcode to the side of the erected cartons. This allows for a consistent location for scanning purposes and can remove labor needed to for this process.
Document Insertion – These machines work with your host software and allow you to insert pack slips, literature, shipping manifests, or any other paperwork needs. This can allow you to reduce the time at pack stations and in the order fulfillment process by using a system driven decision making rather than the traditional use manual insertion.
Quality Control Scale – This addition to your shipping module can check an order’s weight to identify if the product in the carton matches the expected shipping weight. By utilizing this system you can increase quality control and identify if there is an issues with the product which was picked.
Automatic Case Sealer – Once on order is completed, you can move it to a line that will automatically tap a carton closed without the use of human interface. These machines can be designed for multiple carton sizes or consistent sized product.
Print and Apply – Once an order is completed and sealed, the carton moves to our print and apply shipping module. This scans the carton and adds a shipping label to the carton. This system will increase your speed and lower your labor requirements of finishing an order. At this point the order is ready to be loaded in a UPS or Fedex truck for shipment.
Flexible Conveyor – A Flexible conveyor system allows completed orders leaving the D2C area on a mobile conveyor which will put the carton in the very back of the shipping truck. These systems can be designed with full accumulation or through the use of gravity conveyor. This reduces travel time and increases the speed at which an operator can load a truck.
With all of this equipment combined, a retail company can see a vast increase in throughput with a very minimal use of labor. In high speed retail operations, you can remove a significant amount of personnel from this segment of the operation which leads to a fast return on investment. Logic Material Handling can design a distribution system allowing you to get the most out of your warehouse. For more information please fill out our contact form for a base level consultation on how we can help you improve your operational efficiencies.