Increasing efficiency by delivering goods to the person rather than having them walk and search for them isn’t new. Henry Ford figured it out a century ago when he created a production line that moved components through the assembly process while workers stayed in one place and completed individual assembly steps. By eliminating walk and search time: the assembly process became more efficient; mass production became feasible; the cost of production decreased dramatically and; automobile sales went up.
As well as this goods-to-person practice works reducing cost and improving productivity and throughput, the concept hasn’t been an area of focus outside the manufacturing community until the last few years. While many organizations have recently adopted goods-to-person practices, they have often only been applied in specific markets or for niche portions of their inventory. The concept can be applied much more broadly, yielding eye-opening results, and can be particularly effective now that the economy is recovering.
Look at an order picker’s time study. When items are brought to the operator, actual picking time can improve by up to two thirds as a result of eliminating the 55% of their time spent searching for stored items. This improvement in efficiency translates into greater order picking throughput and productivity. More items can be picked in less time and order cut off times can be extended – particularly important today when two-day, next-day and same-day deliveries are becoming the norm.
Do Some Homework
A century after Henry Ford proved the concept that operators function at higher levels by bringing the items to them, there are a myriad of technologies, processes and systems designed to do exactly that. How can those technologies, processes, and systems be applied to your operations? The key to finding out is:
- Understanding your business model and its effect on warehousing and order picking
- The nature of your inventory (size, velocity, change, order characteristics, and traits)
- Your facility and labor metrics and variables
- What is the requisite Return on Investment (ROI) required to make principals and shareholders happy?
In terms of your organization, it’s vital to know who you are, what you do, why you do it, and what you will be doing in the future in order to design and implement the best goods-to-person solution. Gathering this information requires diligence and discipline, but keep in mind there are many third-party organizations such as integrators, consultants, and manufacturers who can guide you through the process and provide an external perspective.
Making the Right Choice
With this information at hand, you can create a plan to implement a goods-to-person system. There is a wide selection of systems available and keep in mind – every technology has a sweet spot it excels in but may not be the best overall choice for all applications. Hence, the need for homework.
For example, you likely have multiple zones in your operation, each defined by the type of item to be picked (split case or eaches, full cases and/or pallet loads) and each area’s velocity (how fast inventory moves through the zone) is usually different. For maximum efficiency, each zone typically requires one or more specific technologies integrated with conveyor or carts. A facility will usually require multiple technologies, both automated and manual, to create a perfect goods-to-person flow and balance.
Always balance risk vs. reward on a zone-by-zone basis. The million-dollar question is: which technology will provide you with the best results and the least amount of risk, while hitting the ROI number you need? You need to be the innovator – the Henry Ford of today.