Other posts by Myles Harmon

Here are some other posts from Myles Harmon.

Missed MODEX live? Or, Didn’t Make It to the Incremental Approach to Automation Installation, Investment Seminar? Catch It Here.

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At MODEX 2016, viastore presented a free, on-floor educational session exploring “What Level of Automation Makes Sense — An Incremental Approach” to debunk the concept that automating your warehouse means you’ll be exclusively incorporating expensive, complex, high-speed, highly mechanized equipment that runs 24/7, lights out, without any human intervention.

Yet, in reality, there are actually four levels of automation, and very few installations in the U.S. are at that highest level. The majority of facilities have instead invested in a more affordable level of automation to achieve process improvements in a few select areas that were previously not delivering value to their operations. The resulting automation solution yields better throughput and productivity.

If you missed the ‘live’ MODEX, or missed the ‘live’ session, you can view a recording of the presentation and listen to the accompanying audio here. In the seminar, I covered the four levels of warehouse automation, divided into groupings based on increasing degrees of complexity and cost. They include…

Level 1: Conventional picking with process improvements delivered via warehouse management system (WMS), order picking system such as radio-frequency (RF) or voice-directed picking, and/or a labor management system (LMS).

Level 2: Mechanized solutions that automate horizontal movement and reduce non-value added activities (like walking), such as conveyor, pick modules, stretch wrap applicators, label print-and-apply, and layer picking equipment.

Level 3: Semi-automated equipment that improves storage efficiency and further minimizes travel and manual handling with storage carousels, automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), conveyor and sortation, and warehouse control software (WCS) to direct equipment operation in line with the WMS.

Level 4: Fully automated, high-speed (and yes, potentially “lights out”), greenfield installations that include a combination of high-density AS/RS, extensive conveyor and sortation, automated layer picking, case palletizing, WCS and WMS.

During each level of automation, the relating common factors for the ROI for each were discussed. These are covered in the presentation.

In the session, I also explained how to plan each level of automation investment in order to build upon the previous step in a planned, predictable way. For that reason, it’s key to partner with a supplier or systems integrator who can help you develop and map a solution that grows—flexibly and scalably—in lock-step with your operations. That way you can be sure that previous technology investments can be maximized and your existing equipment and processes are properly leveraged.

Want to learn more? Call viastore at 616.977.3950 to chat about which level of automation makes sense for your operation with one of our warehouse planning specialists.

Take an Incremental Approach to Automation Installation, Investment

Warehouse automation. The term calls to mind expensive, complex, high-speed, highly mechanized equipment operating in the dark, with nary a human in sight. Yet—if reading this blog achieves nothing else—let your takeaway be that there are actually four levels of automation (generally speaking), and that only a handful of facilities in the U.S. house installations of that highest level. The rest have invested in a more affordable degree of automation that delivers process improvements in key areas to enhance productivity.

automation scaleAutomating your warehouse breaks down into the following four levels of increasing sophistication and investment: [Read more…]

Steps into Goods-to-Person Order Picking Systems

Picture1In the typical conventional warehouse, only about 40% of each order picker’s time is spent actually picking products to fill orders; the other 60% is taken up with walking to, between and from picks. That means these same associates are only engaged in revenue-generating activity about 40% of the time. That’s one reason more companies are taking a closer look at goods-to-person (also sometimes called goods-to-man) order fulfillment solutions.

As a basic rule-of-thumb, the ideal application for automating your warehouse with a goods-to-person system is one with a high number of SKUs and an increase in demand for just-in-time ordering—such as e-commerce. As with all automation implementations, there is a range of complexity levels associated with different goods-to-person technology installations. These levels, or steps, are built upon scalable warehouse automation technologies, allowing each to be integrated into an operation progressively, as a business—and its order fulfillment needs—grows. [Read more…]

High-Speed Sortation Meets E-Commerce Demands

Sliding shoe sortation

This year, online retail sales in the United States will reach $334 billion, roughly 10% of all domestic retail sales, according to Forrester Research. The analysts there go on to predict that over the next five years, e-commerce will continue to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10%. That translates into online sales of $480 billion by 2020.

That also translates into a lot more and smaller, one- and two-line orders than most retailers have historically handled. Gone are the days of the warehouse that solely replenished brick-and-mortar retail store shelves and rack displays. Omni-channel, or fulfillment of multiple kinds of orders (pallets routed to the retail store, cases to wholesale accounts and small parcel online orders shipped to individuals) from a single warehouse or distribution center (DC), is the new normal for today’s retailers.

[Read more…]