Sustainability and Order Picking and Order Fulfillment

Sustainability and Order Picking and Order Fulfillment

Do lean and green programs and initiatives still hold value today for warehouses and distribution centers trying to compete in the global economy?

Lean and green programs are more than simply concepts.  They direct companies to conduct their operations in an environmentally, economically, and fiscally sound, integrated, continuously improving, efficient, and sustainable manner.  Lean and green initiatives represent a way of creating more value for customers with fewer resources.  It’s about doing more with less.  In doing so, these initiatives provide the foundation for more efficient operations.

Building customer value while optimizing processes and minimizing waste and inefficiencies, along with becoming more competitive in the process, is the business proposition behind lean and green initiatives.  It’s a focus on reducing the cost of doing business by revamping and creating processes that require less human effort, less space, fewer financial resources, less energy, and less time across the whole process.  It also means reducing the influence of variables, such as fluctuating energy costs, seasonal demands, health care insurance costs, and training costs.

An effective way to meet lean and green initiatives and reduce operating costs is through materials handling process improvement.  Two of the biggest cost factors in any business, space and labor, are directly associated with materials handling processes.  Improving these processes can make lean and green initiatives work for companies by offering performance, ergonomics, and productivity for more efficient operations and provide a foundation for sustainable building design.

Space—A Frontier Worth Exploring

There is an intrinsic value associated with space and successful organizations convert space into opportunities.  Space is the physical footprint required to manufacture, distribute and/or manage a product or service.  By minimizing this operational footprint, manufacturers, warehouse and distribution operations, medical supply and service companies and other businesses can significantly reduce operating costs.

Space optimization, or the reclamation of unused space, can be achieved through materials handling process improvement and the installation of high-density storage and materials handling equipment.

Improving processes often translates into balancing zones better, reducing buffer storage, eliminating inventory, and reducing or eliminating human touches by combining applications and areas.  For example, consider consolidation and optimization.  Can multiple facilities or departments carrying spare parts for manufacturing, maintenance, customer service, customer walk-ups, e-commerce, mail order, retail and wholesale facilities be combined?

Consolidating operations, particularly non-value-added operations such as storage, not only reduce inventory but also recovers space for more value-added functions.  In some cases, entire buildings can be removed from operations.  Automated storage and retrieval systems such as horizontal carousels are well suited to recovering space by facilitating the consolidation of order picking operations.  Horizontal carousels can be grouped and stacked and can be connected by conveyor systems for added throughput and efficiency in order picking operations.

Taking advantage of unused overhead space with the installation of automated storage and retrieval systems including: mini-loads, mid-loads, unit loads, shuttle technologies, vertical carousels, and Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs) can reclaim 60% to 85% of the floor space used by traditional rack and shelving systems.

By reducing the amount of space required for operations, companies can construct smaller, more energy-efficient buildings (shrinking the construction footprint by up to 15% in some cases), conserving natural resources and reducing maintenance costs.  In existing buildings, consolidation and overhead space optimization help reduce energy costs which, in turn, reduces an organization’s overall carbon footprint – both key objectives in a green initiatives program.

Managing the Cost of Labor

Labor is often the largest cost consideration of a business and is the most difficult to manage and control.  The cost of labor, and the associated costs of health care and training, comprise a large percentage of the cost of goods sold.  While these costs can’t be eliminated, they can be controlled and often reduced by modifying workflow routines to eliminate bottlenecks and redundant or non-essential operations. Overall throughput improves and the time saved results in less operating cost and improved customer service.

Redundant or non-essential handling can be reduced with automated systems by using techniques in storage and retrieval applications that pick multiple orders simultaneously and also maximize system capacity and the storage of parts in appropriate distribution quantities.  These techniques reduce part handling time and the costs associated with unnecessary handling.

For example, automated storage and retrieval systems provide 100% accessible storage and are designed to deliver stored items at an ergonomically optimized height to eliminate bending, stretching, and reaching.  This design not only improves productivity but also reduces employee stress and injury for improved quality of work life.  Stored items are automatically delivered to the operator, eliminating walk and search time resulting in reduced labor requirements by up to 66%.  Easy-to-use controls and software allow organizations to use batch picking and integrated pick-to-light technology to improve throughput up to 500% in some applications.  The operating controls of these systems are intuitive and require very little training to master – further reducing costs.  Picking accuracy also improves and reduces the costs associated with mis-picks.

Often, more labor doesn’t translate into more efficiency and productivity.  Automated systems and workflow improvements allow workers to be more efficient and let businesses operate with fewer personnel, even when that business begins to grow.

Going Lean and Green by Improving Efficiency

The key to optimizing space and labor efficiency is process improvement.  Space and labor optimization can be used as a framework for the practical implementation of sustainable building design and construction, meeting goals in a green initiatives program, and for a reduction in waste and duplication to meet lean objectives.  Process improvement can eliminate inflexible or unreliable operations that cause manufacturing companies to produce goods before they are required.  By eliminating inefficient layouts, process improvement reduces the wait time between jobs or when retrieving items in a warehouse or distribution operation.

Sustainable design can result in substantial energy savings while reducing overall operating costs and improving efficiency by creating a more ergonomic friendly work environment.

Process improvement can also eliminate overly complex procedures and can reduce the amount of inventory required to meet production needs or to fulfill orders in distribution operations.

In terms of ergonomics, process improvement can reduce worker fatigue and injuries by locating work zones to eliminate bending, stretching, reaching, and climbing while optimizing process throughput.

Materials handling process improvement directed at eliminating areas of waste and inefficiency can go a long way in helping manufacturers, warehouse and distribution operations and medical facilities meet lean and green initiatives while improving quality, service–and the bottom line.

Integrated Systems Design – ISD is a leading consultant, designer, manufacturer, and integrator for order picking, order packaging, order shipping, and manufacturing assembly operations for warehousing, manufacturing, distributing, and retailing organizations in North America.

ISD systems are renowned for their tremendous value, reliability, and ease of maintenance.  Systems are designed using technologies from the leading material handling manufacturers of the world.  Solutions designed by ISD focus on providing space savings, increased productivity, reduced labor, enhanced accuracy, and system flexibility to change as an operation’s activities change over time.  For more information contact ISD at 248-668-8250 or email