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In the recent article by Marcel te Lindert on Dutch platform LogistiekProfs, it is made clear to us that the work in the warehouse will be taken over by robots within not too long. This does not only apply to 'simple' repetitive tasks, but also in our order picking process. As a system integrator, we feel obliged to be able to integrate robots in warehouse processes, so we are working hard to study and test the better solutions. Autonomously driving robots, AGV systems with grabbing arms. They all have their advantages and disadvantages. But more about that another time.
Not so long ago the word 'robot' was still an unknown concept when we sat down with a customer. During the search for the optimal order picking process, we first looked at topics such as lay-out, routing and storage methods. During the last two decades we have seen the rise of online shopping, making everything to be even better and faster. Order profiles changed: much more orders but with less items. And the order picking costs steadily grew.
Improvements had to be found in three areas: walking (or driving) from product to product, picking a product and other matters such as data, information and insight. We give you below three examples, that we often used take the performance of a warehouse to the next level:
1. The Warehouse Management System (WMS)
The first example is a software solution, which provided a crucial advantage: overview. Overview on the stock, the flow of goods, the activities itself and even the KPIs. The logistics manager was finally able to manage the operation as a Big Brother from his office and even part of his job was taken over. After all, the WMS now calculated the best walking routes, depending on the orders and the items to be picked.
Would you like to explore the possibilities of a WMS for your warehouse? Then come to the ICT & Logistics in Utrecht (NL) in November, where Xtend (our software brand) will be present at the IMCC stand.
2. Picking Tools
Closely related with the previous example is the application of all kinds of picking tools to make picking more efficient and reduce walking time. Barcode scanners, pick carts, LED indicators, validation tools, ergonomic workstations; they offer a more pleasant working environment for the operator, the work is almost error-free and meanwhile the output increases considerably. Other great aids were Put-2-Light, Drop-2-Light and Voice applications. Read here 5 good reasons why you should start using voice technology.
3. The most simple ‘goods-to-man’ system
The last example has to do with the so-called 'blank sheet'. It is not so often that a customer shares a completely free challenge; a warehouse that can be designed completely from scratch. These are, of course, very nice challenges, but most warehouses have to be developed from an existing situation. For example, many warehouses with a wide and/or deep product range in which piece picking occurs are equipped with shelving systems. Those who wanted to utilized the space in the best possible way, are working in 2 or 3 tiers. Before an ASRS or robots should be considered, we could investigate whether the operators can continue to work at just one level. With the combined use of conveyors, elevators, picking tools and smart sorters, a warehouse can achieve unprecedented levels of performance. For example, we recently helped automotive specialist Wijlhuizen solve their distribution bottlenecks.
Robots, drones, Artificial Intelligence; they will help making our warehouses even better. But for now, we are the ones that have to come up with a smart solution...
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