Order fulfilment at new level of performance and ergonomics with PICK@EASE high performance ergonomic order picking workstation. Today’s consumers want more choice leading to wider product ranges, lower prices and high availability in the store, whilst retailers cannot afford to maintain high stock inventories at point of sale. Retailers must therefore manage their supply chain to satisfy these demands or risk losing market share to more responsive competitors.

Within the retail supply chain, effective operation in the warehouse/distribution centre plays a crucial role. Stores are placing increasingly tough demands on warehouse logistics: short order lead times, more frequent deliveries of (smaller) orders, high delivery reliability (the right product at the right time) time), store-friendly and shelf-ready delivery of products. In addition, warehouses/distribution centres must reduce costs and must handle multiple retail formats within their facility which makes their operations increasingly complex. Warehousing operations also tend to be labour intensive while it is getting increasingly difficult to find and retain qualified staff.

These challenges provide opportunities to automate the warehouse process by implementing intelligent material handling systems, based on a thorough understanding of the retail supply chain and warehouse processes. In fact, automation is no longer a luxury, but has become a bare necessity.

Order fulfilment is the most labour intensive activity in a warehouse operation. One of the reasons it is difficult to find and retain good staff is that the work can be physically difficult. Order pickers often suffer from fatigue, muscle pain and other work related injuries. Learn more about muscle pain treatment from . To improve operator working conditions, companies are stepping away from the traditional “man-to-goods” order picking process. Today, many companies are implementing a “goods-to-man” process. In this process, products, stored in standard-sized plastic containers, are retrieved from storage racks by automatic cranes (AS/RS systems) and brought to the operator via a conveyor system. The operator picks the required amount of product out of the product container and places it in another standard-sized plastic container, representing a customer order. The operator workstation plays a crucial role in such a system.

Vanderlande Industries offers an automated “goods-to-man” order picking system, designed in accordance with the latest ergonomic studies. In this system, the workstation plays a crucial role. The objective was to design a workstation which measurably improves the order picking performance, decreases risk of work related injury and illness, decreases physical and mental discomfort and improves the quality of work life for the operator. The PICK@EASE workstation has been developed in close co-operation with Dutch research institute TNO (Europe’s largest Institute for technological and strategic research and consultancy with expertise in ergonomics). This system is not only beneficial for the order picker, but also for the employer by delivering a proven high picking performance. A single order picker working with the system can replace up to 9 ‘traditional’ order pickers. The system also improves the performance of the overall warehouse, as it significantly improves picking accuracy, ensuring the customer gets the correct order at the right time.

Real-life user test
Prior to its development, TNO performed a study on behalf of Vanderlande Industries into the basic principles with which an ergonomic order picking workstation would have to comply. It was found that a workstation, where product containers and those representing customer orders arrive at an operator position on two separate levels, greatly increases the risk of work related injuries to the operator especially when picking at very high rates. Constant high productivity cannot be maintained for more than an hour with this method, which means that either productivity drops or operators should be rotated to other tasks, often several times a day. In Vanderlande Industries’ Innovation Centre, a model was built with product containers and customer order containers arriving at the operator position at the same level. The station has an added beneficial feature in an adjustable work platform to suit the variation in operator heights. This prototype was assessed by TNO in a real-life operator test for muscle fatigue, torso bending frequencies and mental burden, amongst other things. This test proved that operators can work with PICK@EASE for an entire shift without loss of production and without risk of physical injury. Furthermore, the test proved that operators can maintain a consistent pick performance of above 800 order lines per hour over this period without any problems. In a traditional warehouse, this number currently lies between 150 and 175 order lines per hour. The German TÜV has validated TNO’s assessment and certified the ergonomics claims and sustainable performance. This workstation would form part of an integrated warehouse logistics and material handling solution, which enables retailers and manufacturers to organise their distribution process in the most efficient, cost effective way, from Goods Receiving right through to Shipping. It will also eliminate many of the strain injuries which frequently blight warehouse operations.

The station is designed specifically for medium and slow moving products. When it comes to picking, these require the most time in manually operated warehouses due to the longer walking distances involved in bringing the product to the picker for processing. The trick is that PICK@EASE ensures a shelf-ready supply. Product groups are combined at the workstation in the correct order. This means that retail display shelves can be filled in a highly efficient manner, which reduces costs for the stores.

As the retail sector is one of Europe’s most important economic engines, the future of warehouse design will increasingly look at automation where operators’ performance and health are taken into account. For today’s multi-channel retailers to balance their customer’s demands and still be able to claim to be enlightened employers, they must consider carefully the tasks they are asking people to carry out. PICK@EASE is a major step in helping to reach that goal.

More information: www.vanderlande.com


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