Automation in the Warehouse: Increasing Picking Efficiency
Efficient warehouse operations are central to customer satisfaction. Today's consumers, accustomed to quick and reliable deliveries from companies such as Amazon, have little tolerance for late or inaccurate fulfillment of their orders. As Amazon shortens their delivery times, the consumer's expectation rises further.
This places a lot of pressure on other businesses to get their warehouse operations in order. E-commerce, which generates huge numbers of small orders, is difficult to fulfill efficiently. This places yet more strain on warehouse personnel to quickly and efficiently pick, pack, and ship products out to their customers.
To compete in such an environment, automation is employed as much as possible. Warehouse management software is one form of automation that is used in combination with bar codes, barcode readers, and pick to voice or pick to light technology. When fulfilling an order, the warehouse worker, called a picker, picks the items listed on a purchase order from warehouse shelves. Many of these warehouses are huge, and the workers don't have the product locations committed to memory. Manually fulfilling even a single order might require lots of walking and some searching to find and pick all the ordered items.
With pick to voice technology, the warehouse management software verbally directs the picker (through earphones) to each item in the warehouse. The software sequences the items to be picked so that the picker's walking distance is minimized. It also informs the picker of the quantity of each item picked. In addition, the software will avoid simultaneously sending multiple pickers to the same shelf in order to avoid crowded aisles.
Pick to light works in a similar way to pick to voice, except that pickers are directed by lights next to the bin containing the desired item. The lights also indicate the desired quantity. Minimizing walking distance and worker congestion are just two of many possible metrics the software might seek to optimize.
Amazon has taken this one step further by using robotic wheeled platforms, less than a foot high, that carry vertical shelves filled with products. These mobile shelves move about on an open floor. When an order arrives, shelves containing the ordered products immediately head toward waiting human pickers who remove the ordered items off the shelves.
In other words, the shelves go to the pickers instead of vice versa. The mobile shelves can move faster than humans without suffering fatigue. They also operate to optimize specific performance metrics. Hundreds of them move about autonomously on the warehouse floor, reacting to multiple orders without ever colliding.
In short, the human workers don't get exhausted and warehouse productivity is enhanced. Warehouse automation technology such as this, is what keeps Amazon at the vanguard of customer fulfillment. For questions, comments, or information about improving your operations with automation technology, contact us.