Incremental Automated Order Picking System Technologies

Incremental Automated Order Picking System Technologies

When it comes to order picking and fulfillment these days the number one goal is EFFICIENCY! Whether your operation is multichannel, ecommerce, manufacturer, wholesale or retail the business necessity is doing more with less without sacrificing results and reliability.

It is always great to plan an entire green field new facility, processes and procedures, but reality is most of us are limited to incremental improvements. Sometimes incremental can be quite large and other times it’s a work cell or area. Incremental improvements often provide the greatest impact in both performance and Return on Investment and fits within annual budgets.

Utilizing an “incremental automation” approach is often thought of being an oxymoron or a little pregnant. By definition automation is often pounds of steel bolted to the facility floor. True, but there is a class of high performance automated equipment which is built around agility and flexibility. One type of incremental automation is horizontal carousels.By design horizontal carousels are modular devices that allow the actual machines physical characteristics to be easily modified to meet changing inventory, orders and even facilityprofiles and requirements.

What makes horizontal carousels so attractive is their Return on Investment (ROI) performance and ability to be integrated into an existing facility quickly and seamlessly without the high levels of risk and downtime often associated with automated systems.

A horizontal carousel is a series of bins attached to a rail which rotate to the operator presenting the needed item. An integrated pick to light system tells the operator which item and how much to pick. A work station behind the operator is used for batch picking often up to 12 orders simultaneously. The work station’s integrated pick to light system directs the operator to place what quantity of the picked item into which order. The operator works round robin with the carousels which pre-position to eliminate idle wait time. Active items to pick are waiting for the operator eliminating walk and search time.

A pod (three to five carousels integrated with pick to light, software and batch picking work station)of horizontal carousels is capable of increasing manual picking systems performance by up to 500% and throughputs up to 575 lines per hour while providing up to 66% space savings and reducing labor by 2/3.

Depending on an organizations order profile and throughput requirements, horizontal carousels are often used for slow and medium moving items (SKUs). The low labor and high density nature of the system makes it perfect for eliminating long aisles of rack and shelving and have all the items brought to the operator. This turns manual picking systems which often get 25 to 50 lines per hour/operator into a high performance 125 lines to 575+ lines per hour/operator with far higher levels of accuracy.

Advanced software implementation schemes such as slotting and golden zone planning allow the system to provide ergonomic operations and even higher rates of performance. Flexi-Work Stations can also be integrated to allow horizontal carousel systems to be instantly reconfigured to “flood” with labor during peak periods and reduce down to minimal labor to match seasonality demand.

It’s all about working smarter and better within the resources that you currently have. Horizontal carousels are just one example of how an area or zone can provide tremendous benefits and results with an ROI of often less than nine months.