Picking involves much more than grabbing an item off a static storage rack or shelf. In the typical manual distribution center, an operator has to physically locate the number of items required, picks the items, confirms the pick and then delivers the items for packing.
Because distribution centers are packed with shelves, racks, pallets, cases and pieces, order fulfilment is frequently acknowledged as, labour-intensive and the cost of order picking is estimated to be as much as 55% of the total warehouse operating expense.
Investing in automated storage and retrieval systems—such as vertical carousels, vertical lift modules (VLMs) and the Vertical Buffer module (VBM) — optimises manual picking processes, which leads to increased profits. That’s because, by implementing automation, multiple areas of a manufacturing or distribution facility will benefit from savings in inventory accessibility, floor space, time, improved ergonomics and better accuracy.
To justify your cost for low risk picking automation, consider five key areas of potential profit in your current warehousing and order fulfilment operations:
- How much labour does your picking operation require?
- What is the value of additional floor space?
- Are picking operations fast enough to meet customer demand?
- What is the cost of an absent, or injured, worker?
- How much does a picking mistake cost?
Implementing an automated solution brings the stored items directly to an operator. The “goods to person” method eliminates time spent walking from one pick location to another within a warehouse. These automated solutions are equipped with indicator lights that illuminate the item’s location and pick quantity required. This cuts the time spent searching for a specific stock keeping unit (SKU). The result is more time to spend picking. Furthermore, because the automated solution interfaces with both inventory management and order management software, the picks are sequenced so the machine’s movement is optimised to match the required picks. This means all items can be picked in one rotation, or cycle, of the machine’s storage bins or trays, further maximising pick time.
These functions can optimise an existing labour force, increasing productivity from 200% to 600%. Because an automated solution enables just one worker to handle the picking assignments of multiple operators, as many as two-thirds of a facility’s workforce can be reassigned to other, non-picking tasks—without a loss of throughput. With increased resources through the consolidation of multiple picking, there is now the ability to accommodate more SKUs to inventory.
Automation also eliminates human error as automated storage systems incorporates advanced picking and real time inventory tracking technologies—such as light-directed indicators that pinpoint the precise SKU location and quantity to be picked—picking accuracy increases up to 99.9%.