Find Out the Right Order Fulfillment Automation Solution

For a growing number of merchant companies, automated systems have become a way to address the issue of increased throughput, order accuracy and returns. In addition to accuracy, often the biggest driver of automation decisions, the ability to achieve higher throughput per headcount, increasing efficiency while keeping down labor costs, is also paramount.

Since picking and packing usually account for more than 50% of labor costs, identify all non-automated ways to streamline the labor involved in those operations.

  • Conduct an objective analysis of operational pain points and costs. Take a methodical approach to defining all opportunities and potential solutions, and involve warehouse staff. Frontline personnel know the issues and can often contribute valuable ideas.
  • Get a thorough understanding of existing productivity and costs by department, unit and line, as well as per order and per package shipped. Be selective and methodical about identifying and assessing areas and applications most likely to yield cost-justifiable benefits.
  • Assess every conceivable area where automation might help will simply result in confusion, paralysis and a lot of wasted time and effort. Focus on assessing just those areas that are most likely to deliver business benefits
  • For each area, estimate the savings in labor reduction, the ability to track inventory through the center, reduction in errors and throughput of customer orders, using an 18-month payback as the guideline. This will provide a solid read on the level of automation that can be cost-justified based on your operation and cost structure.
  • Make sure the solution you’re considering is sufficiently flexible and scalable to accommodate changes like product assortment or increased volume that would affect layout needs or the fulfillment model.

If you’re running out of floor space or know you’ll be there soon, automating your storage and picking process can greatly improve storage capacity and allow room for growth. Systems like a vertical lift module or another goods-to-person system can improve storage capacity by 40%–60% or more. You also need to weigh the cost of investment in your overall facility vs. automation equipment. Typically, the time, effort and cost of retrofitting your building far outweigh the cost of an order fulfillment automation system.

 

3 Strategies to Speed Up Your Order Fulfillment Process

When it comes to speeding up order fulfillment, there are some steps you can take to make a big impact. Start by looking at some of the “quick wins” that don’t require a massive investment, but will make a quick difference, such as classifying your inventory and ensuring that it is stored as logically as possible. The next step is to make sure that you are making the most of the systems you already have in place. Many companies have the pieces in place that are needed to improve their order fulfillment processes, but are unable to get the most from these systems.  Finally, you can also look at making new investments in automation to speed up your order handling times.

 

  1. Classify your inventory to ensure rapid handling: Grouping your inventory from fastest moving to slowest moving helps to ensure that you always have the right stock levels on your most important items. Put the most popular items in a centrally located area of your warehouse to ensure that they can be picked, packed and delivered to the shipping dock in a minimal amount of time. Slower moving items can be stored in a separate area. This more logical arrangement can really cut down on the time it takes to process and fulfill orders.
  2. Integrate systems for more visibility into all aspects of order fulfillment: In order to quickly fulfill an order, you need visibility into several areas––demand forecasting, sales, inventory, and logistics just to name a few. At a minimum, this requires some level of integration between the sales order management system where the order is placed, and the ERP system that maintains financial data, as well as the inventory and logistics systems that that handle the processes for picking, packing and shipping.
  3. Automate processes: After your systems are able to provide more visibility into all aspects of the process, you should also look at how the processes themselves can be sped up. Automation doesn’t necessarily mean investing in robotics or conveyors, it can be as simple as investing in scanners to more easily enter inventory into the system as it arrives in your warehouse, or scanning it out as it leaves. And for smaller businesses, the investment doesn’t have to be huge. There are even applications that can be downloaded to a smart phone or tablet to automate this process inexpensively.