Fast Roaming: What it is and How Industrial Warehouses Can Benefit From It?
How ESL Can Activate Fast Roaming in an Industrial Warehouse?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States, the number of establishments basically classified as a warehouse has increased by more than 2000 new facilities since the year 2008. The growth rate for warehousing is on an upward trend with a CAGR of at least 6-8%.
The number may seem big considering the size and magnitude of typical industrial warehousing facilities, but according to the CBRE this number is actually still insufficient to meet demands. This is especially true with the sudden rise in demand for warehousing facilities starting from 2010 onwards.
This increase in demand is attributed mostly to the tremendous growth of online shopping and eCommerce, spurring the increase in businesses and manufacturers that aim to get a big piece of this marketing pie. With more businesses and manufacturers come the need for industrial warehouses that can meet the supply chain requirements of these businesses.
The trend will continuously grow even more, with online retail sales expected to reach figures of more than $712 billion by the year 2022 according to Forrester Research. This will trigger the need for more industrial warehousing facilities and the need for existing warehouses to be more efficient and more effective.
Warehouse businesses are responding to the call, with many starting to adopt automation technologies to make their processes and workflows much more productive and efficient. The problem however lies on how to make the order picking process much more efficient.
Order picking is a hugely manually-driven process and accounts for up to 50% to 63% of the labor costs incurred by a typical industrial warehouse. Because of this, industrial warehouses have initiated steps to enhance and improve the order picking process.
Such enhancements range from a wide variety of actions and strategies: from implementing new order picking methods and workflows, to making use of new technologies in a bid to replace the manual picking process. However, the nature of the picking process itself would still require manual intervention – unless the warehouse has the capital to invest in a fully automated and fully robotic facility.
One of the strategies employed by many warehouses is with the use of pick carts or picking trolleys. While there are some benefits and advantages of picking trolleys, traditional pick carts are still not sufficient in meeting the stringent demands required on industrial warehouses today.
The following provides an overview of the order picking process, from a manually driven or a trolley driven perspective, and how they can be further enhanced and fast roaming activated with the use of Electronic Shelf Labels (ESL).
Why Traditional Paper-Based Pick-To-List Order Picking Don’t Work
Traditional order picking processes are classified as Person to Goods (PTG) picking, where the warehouse staff roams around the facility and manually pick items based on a pick list printed on paper.
The paper-based pick list is printed out and prepared every morning and distributed to their assigned warehouse staff or order picker for the day. This has been the de-facto method of order picking in many warehouses from around the world.
The process is simple and inexpensive and does not require sophisticated technology. This can be considered sufficient for use on small warehouse operations with low volume. The same could not be said true for industrial warehouses with larger facilities and higher SKU volume. It is labor intensive, prone to error and not efficient.
Many warehouses have implemented the use of pick carts and trolleys as a tool for use by order pickers. But unless these pick trolleys make use of a paper-based pick list during the roaming process, it is still not an effective system for use in industrial warehouses – unless they can be enhanced further.
Why Traditional Pick Carts and Trolleys are Not Effective
The pick cart or trolley is an order fulfillment tool that is assigned to warehouse staff or order pickers. The traditional pick cart system is still a manually-driven process, with order pickers pushing or pulling the cart as they roam around the facility to pick orders based on a printed pick list.
Items are picked and placed on the cart or designated containers on the cart. In some warehouses, the items picked goes directly to a packing container or box on the cart. This process is commonly called a pick-and-pack to cart system. While there are still many improvements with the use of a pick part, the system is still not effective because of the following:
Traditional Pick to Cart Systems are Still Not Accurate
Because traditional pick to cart systems are still manually driven and make use of paper-based pick lists, the system is still not accurate and is still highly prone to errors. This is why many industrial warehouses that still make use of traditional pick to cart systems still experience high return rates due to picking errors.
These picking errors can go as high as 54%, based on survey earlier performed on a group of customers. Picking errors would result in customer returns and the process can be very costly. Estimates show that in the United States alone, the cost of returns due to picking errors can go as high as $550 million in 2020 – unless improvements are put in place.
Traditional Pick to Cart Systems Do Not Necessarily Save on Time
Half of the daily manhours spent by an order picker is wasted in roaming or travelling throughout the warehouse facility to search and pickup items. Pushing a heavy cart while moving through a huge warehouse facility remains inefficient and won’t speed up the time – if the same manual process is used in the actual order picking itself.
Traditional Pick to Cart Systems Are Not Scalable
Picking carts and trolleys and basically not scalable and will not be able to effectively accommodate increase in demand and orders. When the warehouse scale up in terms of order volume, they are only left with the option of stacking more bins on top of the trolleys.
The problem however is that the trolleys get heavy, requiring more warehouse staff to push them effectively. One option is to invest in forklifts. However, forklifts are not only expensive and adds on costs, they are not really that safe and has been documented to have caused as much as 95,000 injuries each year.
While it is more convenient for order pickers to place items on the trolleys or carts instead of physically lugging them around with their bare hands, the process is still manual and will not necessarily result to a faster processing time.
To make the pick-to-cart system much more efficient, significant changes should be made and implemented. This includes upgrading your facility to a Pick-to-Light System and integrate the use of Electronic Shelf Labels (ESL) for further enhancement.
How to Optimize Roaming in Your Industrial Warehouse Through ESL
To improve the order picking process and optimize roaming in your industrial warehouse, there are certain upgrades and enhancements that you need to implement. The following describes some of these enhancements which can give huge benefits from an industrial warehousing perspective.
Upgrade to a Pick to Light System
The first step towards improving your order picking and fulfillment process is to upgrade to and implement a Pick-to-Light system. This system is semi-automated and make use of a paperless process.
In its most general sense, the Pick-to-Light system makes use of LED lights installed on the shelves, racks, bins and pick carts to indicate the location of the item that require picking based on a pick list. The new pick list is initiated through a barcode or RFID scan using a standalone scanner or an Android device, and the indicator lights are then illuminated.
The warehouse staff roams around the warehouse and goes directly to shelves and bins with flashing indicator lights. The indicator lights remain lighting unless the order picker acknowledges that he has picked up the required item by pushing a button or tapping an interactive display as confirmation.
Integrating the Pick-to-Light Order Picking System with the Warehouse Management System
To make the order picking process much more accurate, efficient and prone to errors, it would be best to integrate the order picking system with the Warehouse Management System (WMS). Establishing a WMS would require a network backbone, a centralized database, wireless connectivity and integration to the order picking system (this can be described in detail in our other articles).
A fully integrated WMS system can let the order picking system communicate to a centralized database. This ensures that the pick list is up to date with the latest information, including the available quantities of the items ordered and their respective locations inside the industrial warehouse. Once a new pick list is initiated, the LED indicators on the Pick-To-Light shelves, bins and carts are illuminated and ready for processing.
Use of Electronic Shelf Labels (ESL)
Electronic Shelf Labels or ESL provides a superior improvement over paper-based pick lists and labels. Integrating ESL in a Pick-to-Light Order Picking system will make the process much more efficient, less prone to errors, faster roaming speeds and minimize travel time.
ESLs placed on the shelves and bins provide not only accurate information about the items on the shelves, but they are also wirelessly connected to the WMS and the Pick-to-Light system. Upon initiation of a new pick list, the Pick-To-Light devices are illuminated with the proper information displayed on the ESLs.
ESLs come in many sizes, shape, and form, and can be easily installed in racks and bins, or integrated into a Pick-to-Light cart. Depending on the display types, the ESL not only provides LED indication, but it can also provide vital information about the product such as order quantity, balance, product description, visual references and other important information. The information indicated can be updated in real-time.
Integration of an Inventory Management Software
The order picking system can still be further enhanced with the integration of an Inventory Management System (IMS). This software integrated into the central system can keep track of the inventory levels and other vital information for each item and SKU maintained in the industrial warehouse. The information contained in the IMS can be updated in real time as the order picking process is executed using the Pick-to-Light and ESL system.
The Take Away
The rise in demand for more efficient and more effective warehousing facilities is driven by the need to satiate the demands of a more demanding consumer base. This is both a boon and a bane to the warehouse business, as it can provide more income and revenue for the warehouse business, but can put a treat to its existence if picking errors are made, returns initiated on a regular basis, and customer complaints flood in.
Order picking is a vital part of the warehouse facility and is one that is highly labor-intensive and demanding on resources. There is a need to make this process much more efficient and effective. An effective way to achieve this is with the use of an efficient Pick-to-Light Order Picking system that is integrated with automated software systems and innovative Electronic Shelf Label technologies.
As consumer demands rise on a continuous basis, warehouse operations need to keep up with the times and implement changes and enhancements towards this end.
Contact us today for more information about our ESL solutions.