Strategy

A Fexible Solution for e-Commerce Businesses

by Francis Meier, Head of Region APAC, Swisslog

With the dynamic growth of online commerce, distance sellers are rethinking their approach. More and more players on the market are choosing to hand over all their packaging operations to specialised contract logistics providers. Nowadays, startups don’t even consider setting up their own warehouse and picking operations.

The expectations mail-order businesses place on their fulfillment service providers are anything but low. Providers are expected to deliver premium services, respond flexibly to volume fluctuations, and process packages on the least expensive terms. Under these conditions, it is highly unlikely that trust can be built, even with longer-term co-operation agreements. In the dynamic e-commerce environment, newcomers are not the only ones finding it hard to predict market development in the years ahead.

Contract logistics providers can meet the required quality standard and short response times by stepping up training and qualification efforts and establishing flexible working hours. Even so, the only way to meet the low logistics costs the online retailers expect is through consistent automation of intralogistics processes.

Avoid step costs

From an economic point of view, any investments logistics providers make would have to deliver a very quick return on investment (ROI). Another option would be to adjust investments based on volume, which means keeping initial investments low and avoiding step costs. However, that still leaves another future challenge unresolved: intralogistics processes need to be automated as much as possible with a minimum of entrenched standards.

To boost employee productivity and drive substantial cost reductions, packaging companies are already using a variety of “goods-to- person” systems. These need a high degree of standardisation, and yet still lack flexibility and scalability, something that Swisslog took into account with the CarryPick warehouse and picking system. Even though highly automated, this goods-to- person system delivers the desired flexibility and thus adapts quickly and cost-efficiently to future e-commerce business.

Unlike the traditional warehouse with fixed racks, the modular CarryPick goods-to- person system completely organises the picking warehouse using mobile racks. Low-profile robot vehicles drive underneath the mobile racks and deliver them to workstations, where the requested items are picked and placed in the shipping boxes provided.

Floor space savings of 30 per cent or higher

To maximise the picking rate per mobile rack, the workstation picker is able to process a larger number of orders in parallel, assisted by laser pointers that illuminate the appropriate picking compartment on the mobile rack. The workstations themselves are equipped with put-to- light technology – small lights let the picking employees know which order a picked item belongs to.

Compared to traditional systems, the productivity of the employees at the workstation is considerably higher. At the same time, picking errors are virtually non-existent and floor space savings of 30 per cent and higher are made possible..

Low initial investment – maximum flexibility

The main benefit of the CarryPick system lies in its flexibility. If the product range changes, the rack structure can be modified accordingly. Only the chassis of the mobile racks are sized according to Euro-pallet standards. If the quantities to be processed change, the Swisslog system can be flexibly extended. The initial equipment needed includes a basic number of mobile racks, at least one workstation, and a small number of automated guide vehicles (AGVs). As shipping volumes increase or the product range grows, the CarryPick system can be extended with additional components such as racks, carriers or workstations.

There is no need to make major up-front investments in systems whose full performance capacity will not be needed until later.

CarryPick is easily integrated into legacy structures that normally would not have the space to support automation. The compact storage system consisting of a workstation and mobile racks can be installed in buildings with a ceiling height under three meters.

CarryPick is a part of the Swisslog Click & Pick solution portfolio for e-commerce businesses. Click & Pick is a modular concept that can be flexibly adapted to changing customer needs and business models in omni-channel retailing. Depending on the solution concept, companies can fulfill orders up to five times faster than with manual rack systems.

CarryPick support sustainability

At Swisslog, sustainability is a top priority. CarryPick saves energy. Workplace regulations mandate that only the relatively small workstation areas be provided with heat and light. Any unmanned warehouse areas housing the mobile racks therefore do not need heat, lighting,

or ventilation. Furthermore, CarryPick is a model of ergonomic workplace design. Employees in the warehouse concentrate mainly on their core abilities: see, touch, and pick. Pushing heavy picking carts over long distances becomes a thing of the past, leading to a significant reduction of illness-related absences, perhaps even extending employees working life.

In CarryPick, the result is a forward-looking solution for all contract logistics providers serving the e-commerce industry. Picking warehouse performance is appreciably increased, and all at minimal expense that is repaid in the timeliest fashion possible.

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