How Goods-to-Person Automation Addresses Variable Retail Fulfillment Challenges

The future is not guaranteed; if retail warehousing and distribution operations hadn’t figured that out before the pandemic, then they definitely know it now.

But how can omni-channel, pure e-commerce, or direct-to-store replenishment retail facilities mitigate against variable customer demand, continued e-commerce expansion, dynamic inventory churn, picking accuracy challenges, and unprecedented labor shortages? By applying goods-to-person automation that maximizes flexibility, adaptability, and agility.

Equipped with the optimal goods-to-person solution, retail operations handling general merchandise products will be able to easily accommodate a growing, yet wildly unpredictable, retail marketplace across all channels.

Order Fulfillment

Conventional warehousing and fulfillment uses static storage rack or shelving to store inventory. That requires pickers to walk miles per shift, searching for and selecting items to fill orders. This “person-to-goods” method demands a high headcount to match throughput goals.

It’s also error-prone, inefficient, and exhausting. Further, static storage systems can’t maximize inventory density as they require open aisle space for access, leave unused space within the racking, and don’t take full advantage of the building’s cube.

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)

Adding automated goods-to-person solutions — such as shuttle-based automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) that are ideal for handling general merchandise — addresses these issues.

These systems create highly dense, vertical inventory storage throughout multiple, closely spaced levels. Inside, designated locations hold totes, trays, or cases of product.

To store or retrieve items on demand, the robotic shuttles travel independently within the system as directed by integrated control software and the facility’s overarching warehouse management system (WMS) or warehouse execution system (WES) software. When an item is needed, the shuttle closest to it travels to that position, removes the full tote, tray, or case, and travels to a product lift platform.

The shuttle deposits its payload onto the platform, which then lowers it for delivery to a picking workstation. Associates assigned to each workstation are directed by a touchscreen that visually indicates what item to pick and in what quantity from the source tote, and to place it in an outbound container — such as a tote, shipping carton, or envelope.

Goods-to-Person Fulfillment

Because the shuttle system delivers the required items directly to the associate, it creates a “goods-to-person” picking methodology. This effectively eliminates all travel, allowing employees to spend all their time and energy picking, and dramatically increasing throughput rates.

It also presents the source tote at an ergonomic height, reducing the risk of fatigue or injury. Further, because the system only presents items needed to fill an order, pick accuracy rates are extremely high. Workstation-based picking also supports social distancing protocols, as operators remain stationed at their post, several feet apart from each other.

Ideal for handling the challenges retailers face as they fill multi-channel orders for general merchandise is the FASTPICK goods-to-person solution. It pairs picking workstations with a flexible, scalable, shuttle-based ASRS that automatically sorts and sequences picks one order at a time. The system can be augmented with manual picking of items that are too large to be stored in the ASRS, and with robotic picking arms to supplement a limited workforce as needed.

Related Resource

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Vanderlande provides warehouse automation solutions for today’s most dynamic e-commerce, retail and omnichannel customers. Our fully integrated portfolio solves the complex needs of the world’s leading companies by seamlessly integrating innovative systems, configurable software and full life-cycle services. A combination of our hands-on, consultative approach to materials handling and nearly 75-years of automation experience in the most demanding environments ensures your capital investment exceeds expectations in terms of flexibility, efficiency, and scalability.

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