The growth of e-commerce – characterised by a large number of orders but a small quantity of items per order – is placing increasing demands on omnichannel distribution operations. With pick windows being squeezed as online ordering deadlines become later in a competitive marketplace, the case for automation to maximise warehouse efficiency becomes ever stronger. Automated handling systems enable retailers to combine economic batch picking of orders with synchronised flows of goods to fulfil individual orders. For KNAPP clients, the two key technologies to achieve unrivalled omnichannel performance are shuttle storage and matrix sortation.
With KNAPP’s OSR Shuttle™ system, shuttles in each level of the automated store retrieve goods for workstations from KNAPP’s Pick-it-Easy range that are tailored to the needs of specific industry sectors. At these ergonomically designed workstations, staff select items from two source totes and distribute them into multiple target totes or cartons, according to directions from KNAPP’s pick-to-light technology. Vision technology or light curtains are used to detect when goods are placed into the wrong tote in order to maximise picking accuracy.
Matrix sortation entails goods on an overhead conveyor system that have been batch-picked in various warehouse zones being sequenced by a sortation process based on a mathematical algorithm. The goods might be garments on hangers or nonhanging goods – such as flat-packed clothing, shoes, accessories, books, DVDs or toys – in bags or ‘pockets’ fitted with RFID tags. In KNAPP’s Pocket Sorter system, pockets are sorted into the precise sequence required by the packing stations. As the automation can transport and sequence hanging garments and other goods together, the Pocket Sorter is ideal for e-commerce applications. KNAPP’s R&D team has been developing the Pocket Sorter solution so that it will, in the future, handle an even wider range of items.
CASE STUDY: ONE-TOUCH OMNICHANNEL FOR REI
The automated warehouse solution that KNAPP supplied to the US outdoor products supplier, Recreational Equipment Inc (REI), at the company’s state-ofthe- art distribution centre in Goodyear, Arizona, has now been operating successfully for 18 months. REI is using KNAPP’s OSR Shuttle™ and Pocket Sorter technologies to ensure one-touch distribution, regardless of sales channel: store replenishment, home delivery or click-and-collect.
Single inventory for all channels For REI’s brand-new distribution centre, KNAPP designed a new order picking station – Pick-it-Easy Multi – that allows goods to be picked into cartons and pockets at the same workstation. Goods are picked from totes retrieved from the OSR Shuttle™ store and placed into cartons (for store orders) or pockets (for e-commerce or click-and-collect orders). This means that the OSR Shuttle™ store – with some 250 shuttles serving 125,000 storage locations – accommodates a single inventory for all sales channels.
At the Pick-it-Easy Multi stations, employees pick store orders from two totes into up to four cartons using a pick-to-light process. Pickers see a photo of the goods on the screen and sensors indicate whether or not items have gone into the correct carton. The software ensures that cartons are filled in an aislefriendly way for each REI store, even though the demands of each store are different. Once full, cartons are automatically ejected and conveyed to a lidding machine and through a print & apply labelling system to dispatch. At the eight Pick-it-Easy Multi stations, picking is wave-based, with up to 10,000 units per hour being touched by just these eight people.
Pockets for e-com
E-commerce orders are picked from the same totes but placed into pockets hanging from the overhead conveyor system alongside the workstation, with one item per pocket. Pockets with single-item orders travel automatically to the packing area, whereas pockets with items from multi-line orders are conveyed into the buffer system for matrix sortation. As each pocket has an RFID tag, the two-level sortation system can organise the pockets into the precise sequence required to deliver all the items from one order together at the packing station. There are 12,000 pockets and the system has a sorting performance of up to 7,500 items per hour.
A key philosophy at REI’s new DC is that processes upstream affect labour requirements downstream. Considerable care was therefore taken in designing the decanting process at goods-in. After scanning of incoming cartons, the workstation monitor shows an image of the goods and the employee performs a blind count that is then verified by the system. Goods are placed into totes and conveyed to the OSR Shuttle™ store. After this decanting process, there is no further scanning required in the DC and yet accuracy rates are excellent.
In the packing area, the system decides whether e-com orders should be bagged or boxed and distributes them among the packing stations. After filling, boxes and bags are automatically closed and labelled. Again, no scanning is required. REI’s DC in Bedford, Pennsylvania, processes similar volumes and needs 50 packing stations, whereas the Goodyear facility has ten, three of which are more manual in nature for use in peak periods. KNAPP’s KiSoft WCS warehouse control software monitors, optimises and controls all the processes in the DC and ensures an even distribution of orders to each workstation. The software allows flexible order planning to absorb peaks in demand and use resources more efficiently.
As well as wanting to create a highly efficient logistics system at its new distribution centre, REI was focused on developing a truly sustainable solution. The location of the DC in the desert city of Goodyear has helped in achieving the company’s goal of implementing a net zero energy concept: the 35,000m² greenfield facility features 26,000m² of solar collectors on its roof. Through this solar energy – along with a comprehensive programme of waste prevention, recycling and water conservation; a building design that made maximum use of daylight; and KNAPP’s energy-efficient systems – REI achieved LEED platinum status for its new warehouse. Commented Rick Bingle, VP Supply Chain for REI, “With our DC in Goodyear, we prove that sustainability and high-tech do not contradict each other, but can harmoniously complement each other.”
KNAPP UK LTD