Our goal, here in the CeMAT team, is to help prepare your business for the radical changes automation and smart technologies are bringing to the industrial market. In 2018 - in the wake of Amazon’s decent into Australia - it’s never been more important for warehouses and supply chain systems across the country to keep pace with the rate of exponential change.
Unfortunately though, it isn’t yet the case where Australian led supply chain systems are at the forefront of innovation. In fact, it appears that we’re lagging behind. According to a recent report in the Financial Review, a new wave of warehouses powered by robots will see a huge upswing in 2018 – but Australian supply chains have a lot of work to do to if they want to catch up.
Warehouse designs have been changing dramatically over the last few decades, but we’re now in an age where the price tag of the gadgetry is worth more than the facility itself. New high bay warehouses that are over 30 feet tall are filled with high narrow racking structures and the latest technologies from robotic arms to augmented reality, and it is these operational technologies that are pushing the value of modern logistics centres up so much.
Most Australian warehouses are outdated and aren’t prepared to fulfil orders consisting of hundreds of new products, consisting of both single line and multiline orders:
"The majority of Australian warehouses and supply chain systems are outdated or not properly suited to the rapidly changing Australian retail, transport and infrastructure landscape," states Travis Erridge, co-founder of TM Insight.
Compare that to the US where over 70 percent of all new major warehouses are fully automated, and in Europe, some high bay warehouses are now over 20 years old. So what can Australia do to up its game in 2018? According to Travis the answer is to become more efficient, not buy more land.
So, what can we do as a nation to improve our automation and semi-automation game when it comes to fulfilling our customers orders? This post covers a few starting points for you to improve order fulfilment automation.
1. Look for warehouse processes that can gradually be automated
It’s time we face the elephant in the room: warehouse automation technologies are expensive. Not only are these technologies big investments on their own merit, they take significant amounts of time for management and employees to become accustomed to a new way of operating, and if you’re starting from the very beginning, it will take you time and money to train your staff on the correct use of these technologies and the new procedures they carry with them.
Luckily in a technology era filling up with better and cheaper solutions by the day, it’s possible for you to look at small areas that can be automated bit by bit until you’ve totally overhauled all your manual processes. Take a look at few suggestions below:
Reduce your material handling costs and travel time taken for workers to pick goods by configuring an automated conveyor in your warehouse. Most conveyors allow you to adjust the speed of goods and they save significant time with big or heavy items by totally eliminating the need to stop, unload and load items.
Automate your box cutting and building
When time is of the essence, there couldn’t be a better way to save time than to look into on demand box cutting and building solutions. If you’re currently hiring staff to keep up with demand, then you’re losing a lot of time in lost productivity and added costs when you could totally automate this process.
Many new on demand box cutting and building systems integrate easily with business intelligence systems so the software should know which size boxes to build based on items in the order. There is such variety in this area that you wouldn’t even need a complex set up to automate this process: new machines like the Slimbox are coming to market to address the issue of over-sized shipping boxes.
Inline scales for weighing products
Speed up throughout by eliminating manual weighing of cartons and items before they’re shipped. There are a range of different weighing solutions for warehouses that can help you improve your productivity from bench and floor scales to conveyor scales. An added benefit to revamping your warehouse scales is that many of the new weighing systems are not only more accurate and reliable, but they integrate easily with new and existing process control systems – you could even get a solution that attaches to your conveyor.
2. Consider your picking options
Without trying to sound like a broken record, developing an effective picking process is one of the most critical ingredients that contributes to the efficiency of your business. Efficient picking and packing is so critical to businesses today, but unfortunately, it’s still a process that’s done manually by many businesses across Australia.
A survey conducted in 2016 on Australian retailers revealed that there is a huge gap between consumer expectation and retailer capability. This gap can only be closed by businesses and retailers that “use shipping and fulfilment as a retail weapon”.
If you’re currently picking orders manually, then unfortunately you might not be prepared for the ‘want it now generation’. Software solutions can help you establish routes with the shortest distance and the best picking solutions for your order queue.
Do you have a lot of single item orders? If so, these need to be separated from multiline orders which are generally more complex. To assist with this, Order Management and Warehouse Management Systems can help you keep on top of your picking queue so you don’t have to manually print and sort orders.
As pick and fill processes become even more automated, you’ll begin to find automated picking options are more flexible and more productive. A survey conducted by Zebra found that technology has helped improve the time spent by staff from by 18% in just three years, and this is only set to improve more as technology improves.
3. Classify your inventory to ensure rapid handling
If you read our previous post on how algorithms are shifting the traditional layout of warehouses, then you should be familiar with the idea that computer programs are often faster and more accurate when it comes to handling our inventory. Long gone are they days where manual order processing bogs down the efficiency of an operation, after all, there is no time to wait for paper orders to reach the warehouse when an automated order fulfilment solution can do it in a split second.
The time spent locating inventory is so critical, that the Amazon manages their inventory in an incredibly random way in order to avoid similar inventory items being confused with one another. This intentional randomised inventory placement can only be achieved through a deep understanding of what you’re offering your customers, how these items are different from one another, and how pickers might be able to differentiate these items in the warehouse.
To gain these kinds of insights into your inventory, the first place to start is to classify your items into the fastest moving and slowest moving. This helps you keep on top of stock levels, but also gives you a great head start when it comes to planning what items should be placed in the areas with the least travel distance.
Once you know which items are moving faster than others, you can then break down your popular time into which provide the most value. Understanding which items are fast moving also means you can dedicate the appropriate amount of time counting which stock needs to be regularly counted and reduce the amount of time you spend counting stock that hasn’t moved.
So there are our 3 tips to help you start creating a more efficient order fulfilment process. In our next post, we’ll be looking at which automated order fulfilment solution is for you, so if you’d like to hear about any specific solution or if you recommend any comment below!