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Pre-requisites to be done before implementing an ASRS system

A well organised and automated warehouse enables the company to manage demand and order fulfilment needs efficiently. With the evolving technologies, Automated storage and Retrieval Systems allow warehouses to maintain a required level of inventory of products ranging between large and heavy to exponentially small material to store. Rise of ecommerce sector into the ecosystem has increased the demand for ASRS more than any thing as it has increased the order fulfilment requirements per day and now the manual operation cannot keep up with the today’s demand needs.

Today the organisations are eager to pick a system that addresses their sweet spot. To determine that sweet spot, the objectives to go for ASRS come into the discussion; and that covers the enhanced storage capacity and the picking throughputs that ASRS infuses into a warehouse. It further goes onto defining the inventory that needs to be handled in the warehouse, redundancy in the current operation and other constraints. Once this discussion ends, it counts the cherries coming with the cake. ASRS can introduce several benefits into the warehouse such as controlled access to your valuable inventory, increased accuracy of operation, increased workers’ productivity and the most important their safety.

Now, when ASRS has become the norm, let’s consider the checklist below before starting the process.

Data is the king and Analysis is the queen:

Successful implementation of ASRS requires extensive physical data of all your inventory. The order data includes both historical and required projections. The complete information of the inventory levels, SKU velocity classification is also taken into due consideration before going for an ergonomic design. Specifically, the data must be modelled to predict the required size and throughput capabilities of the system in the future. The optimal tools for efficient operations are dictated by product mix, order rate, minimum order quantities and type of fulfilment process, all of which differ by facility.

System configuration:

It must be decided what type configuration the system will have. First, there are the electrical and software setup of the system to functionally run and keep up with the high demand of the manufacturing process. Second, the physical input and output points of the system must be setup to be in a central location for all storage and retrieval requests.

Operational clarity:

Material to be handled in full pallets, mixed pallets, cases or cartons, kitting operations etc, all have different attributes in their storage and retrieval operations. It is imperative to determine how the new ASRS will impact the entire fulfilment process, including upstream manufacturing processes and downstream shipping operations.

Usage of other materials:

It is important to pre-determine the use of carrier boards, slip sheets, totes, and pallets. Also, it should be noted whether they are captive in the system or will they be induced at some other point in the process.

Facility evaluation:

If your ASRS requires a new building or a building modification, one must have the knowledge of and experience with various regulations influencing the project. This is especially true when considering modifications that are needed to incorporate a new storage system within an existing facility.

Customization:

If your solution is customised, then it should include a combination of products that are most appropriate for your application. All the options must be properly weighed of whether to opt for unit load ASRS crane or Unit load shuttle system. It must be evaluated AGVs will be considered for movement or it will be done in combination of manual and conveyors. Picking operation and technologies selection also has an eminent role in the process.

Software:

A fool-proof existing software or altogether new software integration is required into the system. It will include Software integration with warehouse management (WMS), warehouse control (WCS), warehouse execution (WES) and any enterprise resource management (ERP) systems.

What to skip?

It is important to call out the vulnerabilities of the system that might pop up while implementing ASRS. Light-duty storage systems are particularly unfortified which fails to deliver well-engineered equipment and software. Such system requires a high level of maintenance and experience an entangled web of mechanical, electrical and software problems.

The impact of the same can be shattering to small and medium sized businesses. Interrupted ASRS service extends from bearing the toll of measurable losses such as lost production, shipping revenue, increased costs of repair etc, to intangible losses such as diminished workforce confidence in the company’s operation.

Hence it is advisable to knock it out from the field on time.

Get set Go!                                                                            

If the above check-list is up to the mark and you have dealt with all the vulnerabilities that might crumble down the operation, you can go-ahead with the implementation of ASRS into your system. Hence the basic rule for setting the pre-requisition for businesses looking at using technology and automation, is to identify the functions that need tech intervention, the efficiencies and results it can provide and the level of disruption the transition process is likely to create. Once these three variables are accounted for, a business should not hesitate to embrace technology and automation.

 

 

Dark Warehousing: Spotlight of the day!!

Dark – the new light of the warehouse

Have you ever wondered what goes behind the screens once you place an order on your computer monitor in front of you? Before the order reaches you within a 24- or 48-hour window, what would have been its journey?

Well, if you would notice in the last 14-15 years of its onset, ecommerce industry has been a synonym for ‘explosive growth’ and there has been an exponential rise in terms of the no. of SKUs they handle, delivery times from being anywhere from 10 days to 24 hour delivery. Ecommerce has not only transformed how the businesses work but has forever changed the customer’s behaviour. The ‘want it now’ attitude of the customers is forcing businesses to upgrade their systems and processes to meet these expectations and are assorting to automation by introducing autonomous mobile robots, AGVs, driverless forklifts, palletizing robots, ASRS systems, automatic picking units through MPVs, cobots, mobile robots, sorter robots, tilt-tray sorters, robotic packaging & depackaging units, powerful softwares such as WMS, WES, MES, cloud solutions, a web of IoT solutions that provide visibility into everything inside the four walls of the warehouse, and to perfectly sync all the systems in real-time all the time.

If you could conceptualize one such warehouse, yes, you are right there & welcome to the wonderful world of ‘dark warehousing’!!!

So, what is it?

To define the nomenclature, a dark warehouse is a fully automated warehouse that operates without the use of human labor. Literally put off all the lights and let the warehouse function on its own. There is another definition also to it, which says warehouse that fully automated material handling systems – here the main reference is to the ASRS Systems, high speed sortation systems, mobile robots, and warehouse execution systems.

The ecommerce boom and the need for speed are the primary drivers for the dark warehousing concept as the completely automated systems increase the speed of operations by a manifold, ensure delivery of 100% accurate orders and improve overall safety aspects of the warehouse. One of the other key factors is the need for space, because the rising real estate rentals were directly taking a bite from the profit margin share & automation is the best way to improve space utilization and create additional space within the existing space, examples like dense racking through pallet shuttles or carton shuttles, crane based ASRS systems etc.

How do they work?

In case of dark warehouses, all the functions of warehousing i.e., inbound, storage, picking and outbound are completely automated & all these systems work in perfect sync with one another plus the other ancillary systems such as front end Order Management System, Vendor Management System, Truck Management System, Personnel management system..etc. Like all the inbound orders will be well planned and received through automatic telescopic conveyors which will supply the carton loads from different suppliers/vendors to the robotic palletization units where palletization of the similar SKUs is done. These pallets can be sent for storage through a fleet of driverless forklifts, where they deliver it to the automatic storage and retrieval systems. Once an order comes on these pallets, they will be fetched out of the system, sent for depalletizing robotic units and finally the cartons will be taken by the mobile robots either to the outbound order sequencing area with a carton shuttle ASRS or to the robotic decanting stations, where the items from the cartons will be poured onto the crates, which will again be stored in a carton shuttle ASRS system. Retrieval of these cartons will be done when the items need to be picked, which can be done through stationary robotic bin picking units. The packaging of these cartons/crates can be done through tunnel-based systems on the smart conveyors. After packing the orders will be sorted based on location codes or carrier type or any such criteria through a fleet of sorting robots & the sorted parcels will be loaded on to the trucks for dispatch again by the use of mobile robots. In the entire process if you observe there is a little or no human intervention.

And..

These dark warehouses can function on a 24*7 basis, ensure zero human error, there will not be any shift charges and provide complete visibility of the entire operations and enable data driven decision making. However, these completely automated systems are quite expensive, and require a thoroughly defined automation strategy in place.  As a concept it has emerged in the European countries when some large organizations installed highly automated systems with some regular equipment like conveyors. With the kind of capital investments, it requires, it is still possible for large organizations, hence its adoption rate is not that high. Also, dark warehouses are also not as flexible in operation for picking, packing, and shipping- For handling a variety of SKUs, the systems need to be tuned accordingly, which is not that easy. So, dark warehouses have been more popular for industries where there are a smaller number of SKUs or uniformity of SKUs in terms of its size and shape.

Concluding thoughts:

Despite dark warehousing appears as the panacea to achieve the best KPIs of the industry, it has been quite elusive since a decade. Because in the ever-changing volatile business world, investment in 100% automation seems quite bold and companies have been apprehensive about it; maturity of the technology, staff skills, organized or unorganized nature of the business ..etc might have been a couple of other factors. Whether warehouses become completely dark or not might be a question for the future, but the increased use of automation in warehouses is a booster & is the right way to realize the efficiencies.

 

Factors to be considered before going for Automation

Planning is everything in automation for the solution to last long, sustain the rigour of operations, and achieve the required throughput along with ensuring highest safety standards. Identifying the need for an automation planning or drawbacks of the existing systems is the first step towards automation journey, however, to get the right automation solution, one should be clear about the objectives to be achieved through automation. Because one objective can be achieved through multiple solutions and there is a plethora of technologies available today, so choosing which one to opt for is a daunting task & requires both business understanding as well as process understanding backed by data analysis.

So before going for an automation solution, we at Addverb thought one must check some critical parameters and listed down the below points for your reference;

  1. Being crystal clear about the ‘Automation Objectives’ – As mentioned above, it is the cornerstone for the entire automation journey hence considerable deliberations need to be done with all the stakeholders involved within and outside the team. This includes arriving at the time-bound results and bringing everyone onto the same page.
  2. Maturity of the technology that is being proposed — So, once the objectives are finalized, now it’s time to look for the means through which these objectives can be achieved. Do a thorough market research about the different solutions that are there in the market and weigh the pros and cons of each of them. Either an in house automation expert or a consultant or an end to end automation solution provider like Addverb can be of help.
  3. Process dependencies – What are the systems to which the output of this automation will be going to and what are the input feeding systems to it and any special details to be considered. This step requires to look at a broad picture of the impact of automation on warehouse activities and will help in figuring out areas which need to be upgraded before going for an automation.
  4. Criticality of the solution – What are the performance expectations in terms of TAT, capacities creation, productivity etc at each step of the entire system and develop critical methods to test the same.
  5. Existing infrastructure – How flexible are existing systems, processes, and their capability to integrate and support this automation, sometimes a semi-automated solution might yield better results compared to a fully automated system. Hence compatibility/integration with the existing systems is of paramount importance. — Should not see an automation system as a stand-alone entity
  6. Automation Planning – Knowing where your facility is on the automation path and determining where you would eventually like to be is essential and it will help in determining where and when to start/upgrade automation.
  7. Budgets & ROI expectations – The most thought of & very critically evaluated parameter, not just while considering automation internally among the board members but at every phase of the work from evaluating the automation partner, evaluating the automation technology, while executing the product and even maintaining the automation project after successful execution. Comparison of existing total operational costs with the estimated cost of an automated solution and the benefits that are expecting out of automation & over what duration will help in better decision making. At the beginning, there might not be concrete data & a lot of parameters might change over the time, hence being extremely conservative about it will be a good option.
  8. Readiness of your staff/Human resources readiness – Success of any change to the status quo and how quickly people will imbibe it depends on the readiness of the people for the change and their willingness to embrace it. In case of automation, it is not only the technical skill set that plays important role but also the mental preparedness to accept automation. So, organization wide awareness needs to be ensured & and to handle the automation systems, a careful assessment of current employees’ skills need to be done; in case of shortage plans to upskill or new recruitment has to be made.
  9. Scale up strategy: It is essential to be clear about expanding the automation strategy to other facilities over the long-term or upgrading the current system to its next version. A rough strategy for a minimum of 5 years down the line must be crafted.

So, when the word automation is said, its natural to think of ROI, and cost cutting, but there are some soft aspects which might not be factored into these calculations, but play a critical role in deciding the success of automation & due consideration for them needs to be given.

Batch Picking Vs Wave Picking – What is what?

In the previous blog on ‘Different Types of order picking in warehouse, we discussed briefly various types of order picking in a warehouse; in continuation to that, let’s delve in depth into the most common types of order picking, i.e., batch picking and wave picking, the differences between the two methods and when to use what.

Batch Picking: This is an order picking protocol that calls for the picker to compile a batch of the orders by picking from a single SKU or one SKU at a time. It helps to fulfill the order very fast by picking multiple orders at the same time. Single picker picks a batch of orders, which helps reduce repeated trips to the same location, essentially one location is visited only once by a picker. Let us illustrate this with an example;

Order1: 3 soaps, 5 shampoos, 3 Gels

Order2: 8 Shampoos, 5 Soaps

In case of batch picking, both the orders are combined for picking & when the picker goes to the soaps section, he picks all 8 soaps; and when he visits the shampoo section, he picks all 13 shampoos and then the 3 gels once. After that at the packing station, they will be packed into individual orders. In case of batch picking, many orders will include same SKUs, hence it is apt when your orders have minimal SKUs.

Batch picking is preferred when there is fewer no. of SKUs, typically 4-5 SKUs and each item is small, because this allows the picker to pick many items in his picking cart and bring them to the packing station. As it enables the picker to travel to a pick location only once while fulfilling many orders, it results in reduction of travel time as well as less congestion in the warehouse due to less traffic.

Batch picking is preferable when the warehouse size is smaller, as it helps in fast picking and less travel. In case of large warehouses, it is preferable when the SKU concentration at a location is high. Mostly, in case of batch picking, pickers use picking carts to pick and deliver the picked items to the packing stations unlike wave picking which utilizes conveyors, tilt-tray sorters etc.

Depending on the order volume, picking locations & manpower, warehouses can create one size batches, like all the batches have 50 orders per batch with an average no. of 3 SKUs per order.  Or warehouses can also create multi-size batches, where in the first batch can be of 50 orders with an average of 3 SKUs per order, and the next batch is of 25 orders with an average of 4 SKUs per batch.

Further optimized paths for these SKUs picking can be suggested by WMS or WCS if it is in place, thereby ensuring highest levels of picking efficiency, reduced travel time and labour requirement.

Wave Picking: Grouping of orders into waves is the first step in wave picking, it can be done on a small number of orders like 4 or 5 or on a large number of orders, like hundreds. In wave picking, picker picks one order and one SKU at a time & orders are grouped depending on the inventory characteristics, shipping routes, delivery schedules, shipping carrier, or even the type of packaging. After the picking, all the products will be brought to a staging area where sortation of them into individual orders will happen.

It can be illustrated with an example below;

Let us assume the warehouse got 50 orders to be fulfilled within a shift, out of this 50, let’s say 20 orders consist items from cold storage area, 10 orders are to be shipped to a specific location, and another 20 orders are to be packed in a glass packaging. So, there will be 3 waves to fulfill these 50 orders, and these 3 waves can be scheduled at different times, for different zones. Once the items in a wave are filled, they will be brought down to sorting area & then packed.

Orders for which all the items are picked during the wave can be sent for packing or wait till all the items for the orders get filled and then sent for packing, accordingly, it is called fixed wave picking and dynamic wave picking, respectively.

Batch Vs Wave: Which is the best?

One important distinction between batch picking and wave picking is that batch picking requires just one order picking window per shift. In contrast, wave picking may include multiple waves per shift.

In batch picking, average cubic size of the orders plays an important role in achieving the best picking rate, for some small businesses and warehouses, the pick rate can go as high as 200+ order lines per hour from 60-70 order lines per hour for single order picking. In case of wave picking, logical order flows make it more effective than straight forward or discrete order picking process and for businesses with large SKUs, batch picking creates heavy traffic and damages the picking efficiency, hence waves are recommended.

In batch picking, a picker makes only one trip to a location, greatly reducing the travel time, congestion and accidents in the warehouse. Whereas in wave picking, picking is always under control as waves can be allotted as per the requirement, like different zones, different timings which gives flexibility in terms of planning or coordinating other warehouse activities such as replenishment, packing, dispatch..etc.

So, both the methods are better in their own way and increases the picking productivity & efficiency and choosing which method to go with depends on the nature of the inventory, order profile characteristics, and the KPIs..etc. As wave picking deals with multiple SKUs, and several waves would be performed in a shift, it calls for some kind of automation to yield the best results in terms of sorter, conveyors, WMS..etc.

Micro Fulfilment Center: The Future of Retail

How do you think the consumers will shop in 2030? Today, there is a greater demand for transparency and increased personalization from grocery shopping. This helps consumers to make informed choices to support their dietary needs, values, occasional requirements and health goals. This rapid shift in consumer demand, combined with emerging technologies, will lead to a ‘supermarket of the future’ (Micro Fulfilment) with an immensely improved omni-channel experience and efficient operating model.

Automation is one of the crucial element of the Supermarket of future. It reduces costs and frees up staff so that they can focus on enhancing the shopping experience for the customers. Currently, the brick and mortar business provides customers with an experience of high-quality fresh produce, delicious food with an attractive gastro ambience and not to forget, satiating social interaction. Smart merchandising solutions will make the retail shopping space more attractive to the customers while exponentially eliminating wastage.

Innovation in the future supermarket will come with new opportunities for merchandising and impact on the 4Ps (price, product, place, and promotion). One way to achieve this is by offering an end-to-end eGrocery solutions, using hyper-local automation to lower the cost-to-serve in online fulfilment. Keeping consumers’ demand in focus for omnichannel grocery, a transition from defensive posture on eGrocery towards a profitable solution has become essential to minimise the losses of the currently inefficient eGrocery segment.

The primary challenges of eGrocery segment that the Micro fulfilment centre commits to solve are picking time and last-mile delivery. Conventionally, it takes about 60 minutes for picking an eGrocery order which makes the segment an unprofitable burden for many grocers. The micro-fulfilment centres cut picking time down to about six minutes. These micro-fulfilment centres can be installed in the existing setup of supermarkets, enabling a hyper-local option that eventually reduces the cost of last-mile delivery.

At Addverb, we are keen to contribute in this journey with you as a retailer by providing robotics and automation solutions in these mini-sized fulfilment centres to churn out order baskets for the e-grocery customer using minimal space and manpower. This contributes towards a transparent, visible and seamless fulfilment experience for the retailer as well as the customer. From in-store pick, dark stores, semi-automated fulfilment, micro fulfilment centres to full scale automated warehouses, the rush is on to figure out a way to lower grocery fulfilment cost. As usual, there is no single solution from which the problem can be approached in a correct way. Retailers will have to create flexibility in their solutions that will eventually meet customers’ demand and that too at profit. Some factors such as urban vs suburban, delivery vs pick-up, scheduled vs immediate can help to create this flexibility in the hands of retailers.

These are some of the nuances with which you would want your technology partners to look at the problem statement of micro fulfilment.

When it comes to any automation, ROI is a conversation worth probing. From a grocery perspective, the cost to build a supermarket today involves the cost of the land, building, infrastructure and workforce which contributes to around 60% of the cost of goods sold on year on year basis. On the other hand, it is estimated that the cost of building a micro fulfilment centre would cost less than half of that for the same amount of sales for the retailer. This makes the concept a lot more viable, thereby reducing the cost to serve considerably. Moreover, if planned with the right set of data with your MFC specialist, as a retailer, it is estimated that the inventory turn around will be 3 times more than a typical retail store making the required impact on ROI.

Today consumers are interested in the convenience that online grocery business creates and the market is responding positively towards that by migrating to fast service. Micro fulfilment Center provides retail operators to satiate that consumer requirement and that too efficiently, at a low and profitable cost.

While the pricing of online grocery is always the decision of retailer, the micro fulfilment centre is so cost-efficient that it allows retailers to sell products via an online medium to its customers without any additional fees.

Hence, some advantages of Micro fulfilment centre can be summarized as follows:

  • Reduced last-mile delivery costs: The cost of transporting and hence reduced delivery time due to migration of warehouse closer to the customer, decreasing the overhead costs.
  • Easy Deployment: The deployment time to implement micro fulfilment centres is a lot lesser due to pre-engineered approach for automation, making go-to-market strategy a lot faster.
  • Re-use of existing store footprints: It reduces the need to build new warehouses for your growing online sales channel and instead use the existing supply chain assets.

It is evident that the future of retail is here, and it is for us to embrace it!

 

Role of WMS in boosting supply chain efficiency

The primary function of a warehouse management system (WMS) is to monitor the transfer and storage of goods within a warehouse and to process the associated transactions, including shipping, receiving, picking and put-away. WMS is a database-driven computer program that helps boost warehouse productivity by controlling cutaways and keeping inventory accuracy by documenting warehouse transactions. WMS also helps stock guide and optimize based on real-time details on bin utilization status.

How WMS can enhance supply chain management

A supply chain involves the flow of goods and services, right from the raw materials to production work-in-progress, and until the delivery to the customer. In this chain, warehouse is an integral part that ensures operations to happen effectively from suppliers to the immediate customers. A free-flowing logistics supply chain is nearly impossible without a powerful warehouse management system, as it removes all the irregularities, delayed sourcing, inventory management, and many other factors hindering the chain.

  1. Provide a Centralized platform

A WMS software offers a streamlined platform to track, monitor, and manage all the functions across the supply chain and logistics. Departments such as storage, shipping, and distribution are all connected under one software, thus helping overcome the information gap and friction among vendors. This guarantees a continuous flow of goods, helping the businesses to grow exponentially.

  1. Inbound & Outbound Process Optimization

A resourceful WMS is equipped with tools that can help plan and develop process automation, establish high-performance indicators, and align the ongoing processes to gather real-time information. WMS software can help determine the effective use of labour and space to minimize the wastage of resources in the supply chain. This software helps in location management by identifying the best location to keep certain goods or products in a warehouse, thus bringing optimal workflow in a warehouse.

  1. Cut-down expenses of operation

A well-designed WMS software allows suppliers to plan more frequent cycle counts (either of single or multiple goods), which gives them consistency in business and accelerate shipments in order to meet customer demands. WMS also helps the warehouse to run more smoothly with limited human monitoring and giving directions in the supply chain operations. Overall, this not only increases the volume of delivery but also reduces time and cost.

  1. Accurate Inventory visibility

In a warehouse, keeping track of the exact level of inventory is very crucial. WMS steps in to collect all the relevant data through serial number tagging, barcoding, and RFID tagging of the available stock. Once the data is collected, it is transmitted to the central database for further processing that happens in real-time. The database then helps provide useful reports as per the requirement about the status of goods in the warehouse. This increased identification of goods improves forecasting and smart analytics helps businesses to predict the customer demand for a product, especially during specific times of the year – such as holidays. This helps a warehouse to stock enough goods and ensure meeting customer satisfaction.

  1. Transparent Reporting Tool

One of the major benefits of WMS in supply chain and logistics is its ability to detect issues sooner and respond to them immediately. When one of the suppliers is unable to fulfil orders on time, WMS informs all the related users in the chain, immediately after the information gets updated in the system. This helps business receive enough time to find an alternate vendor, without affecting the customer experience.

Thus overall, a well-equipped warehouse management system has a very positive boost on the supply chain logistics of a business. It improves the consistency of product quality, increases customer satisfaction and leads to a brand name of trusted player in the market. However, a business must keep in mind that WMS is not a quick-fix solution, rather, a long-term tool that will help manage the warehouse inventory based on collected data. A business that is ready to invest in WMS must be certain of its streamlining goals and the upcoming business benefits. Such systems not only require capital investment, but also running costs, and equal enthusiasm and involvement from the warehouse team for its smooth operation.

Machine Learning inside the four walls of your warehouse

Machine Learning (ML) can be defined as the scientific study of algorithms that a computer uses to complete predefined tasks without human intervention. Machine Learning relies on patterns, movements, and inferences of the objects in its provided tasks. While we already see the use of machine learning in our day-to-day activities like face detection, speech recognition, trading algorithms, and online streaming recommendations, etc., this technology can be used in modern-day warehouses to elevate automation and increase productivity as well. Machine learning not only helps in improving the efficiency of a warehouse but also in organizing as bulk work gets diverted to artificial intelligence, warehouse staff can focus their energy on product quality and customer experience. Let’s take a look at how machine learning can revolutionize the modern-day warehouse experience.

Practical applications in the core areas

In warehouse management, machine learning can help alternate traditional planning and optimization tools which rely on certain process modelling or engineering. For instance, consider labour management systems that are based on engineered laboured standards. An Electronic Line Shafting (ELS) based system is explicitly programmed to calculate the expected work completion times for a given task using a pre-defined set of numbers and variables. ELS requires a huge upfront investment and measurements to come up with values used in the model. Machine learning, on the other hand, can help simplify this task by analysing streams of minute operational data, without the need for upfront engineering and numbers. The data can arrive through a number of sources such as mobile devices and automation systems, even WCS.

Receiving a new product in a warehouse can also be simplified with the help of machine learning. Machine learning can help analyse the current location of items in a warehouse, and when new shipments arrive, can match them to the correct location. This reduces the time consumption, reduces mistakes, and increase the efficiency of operations. ML can also help direct manual workers to the shortest route to reach a specific point in the warehouse, thereby saving time. Picking, another task is the highest visibility task in a warehouse, and machine learning can optimize it in a number of ways. As per a report by Adaptalift, order picking forms as much as 55% of operating costs within a warehouse, as compared to shipping and storage, and even has a direct impact on customer satisfaction levels. ML can help reduce the number of steps in the picking process, thus reducing the margin of error and damages. Whilst picking multiple orders, ML can help analyse the orders in the system and arrange the direct path, while simultaneously separating orders.

Inventory management is another aspect of the modern warehouse which needs a careful tendering to achieve efficiencies in supply chain. A lot of time and investment goes into improving the optimization techniques to make this process as smooth as possible. Machine learning can step in at this point and help improve inventory optimization, especially companies with multiple warehouses. ML can take into account multiple independent variables that could cause errors or delays in managing inventory, and provide appropriate suggestions and solutions to manage stock efficiently.

Another important factor that can contribute to making a warehouse more efficient is the use of the Internet of Things inside a warehouse. Implementation of sensors, RFID tags, device-to-device communication, and other forms of connectivity can help manage daily tasks easily. Machine learning can run the data collected by the IoT sensors and can help increase the life of machinery such as conveyor belts, shuttles, navigation-driven mobile robots, and even understand wear-and-tear by AGVs and other smaller delivery bots.

As a final word…

While in a current warehouse, we might see robots working alongside humans, machine learning can help propel the importance of the accuracy of robots and completely eliminate the need for human presence. A future warehouse, powered by machine learning, will be fully-automated, and an error-free space which will complete all its tasks and projects on-time with a one hundred percent accuracy.

Digital Twin in warehouses – advantages, applications & end user impact

The logistics industry has undergone continual advancements in the last decade and eventually created various opportunities for supply chain professionals. Technology opens up new possibilities and hence companies acing technology in the supply chain arena have found innovative ways to embark on a journey to unmatched efficiency and utmost customer satisfaction. But one of the most riveting technology in this space comes in the form of digital twin technology.

Digital Twin technology in the warehouse operates via feeding the data into aa virtual system. Combining this data with the Internet of things (IoT) bridges the physical warehouse with a unique virtual representation that monitors which exactly replicates the actual warehouse operations and further used to simulate the actual setup. It helps to make better decisions in real-time and facilitates clarity of communication among supervisors and managers due to information symmetry. It has resulted in the reduced go-to-market time by using virtual simulation of warehouse operations.

Unraveling the History

As a concept, digital twin became popular in 2002 but it was first used by NASA as a way to operate and repair their systems, located far away roaming in the galaxy. It proved out to be much productive in controlling and mirroring the systems after sending them out of earth’s biosphere. Now, armed with machine learning, artificial intelligence, and IoT data and devices, digital twins have evolved to an entirely new level of potential.

Application: Disrupting the status quo

Digital twins in the warehouse are creating an opportunity for companies to reimagine and re-examine their layouts and operations. When companies design the exact digital model of their physical layouts, it unlocks the way to experiment with multiple permutations & combinations and simulate to come up with different scenarios. It is operationally cost-effective as the results of the new design can be witnessed without risking the actual current operations. For example, Addverb uses this technology to simulate the warehouse layout designs via virtual 3D modeling, while proposing a solution to the customer and the results of the suggested design can be evidenced in the digital format. This allows the customer to do a cost-benefit analysis and throughput testing. This will help in keeping a track of the impact of the new solution on the current level of operation basis a data-driven decision. In the end, this will give companies the tools to create improved physical warehouse layouts while increasing the productivity of the workers. It helps the supervisors and managers to use real-time operational data to make informed decisions to reduce congestion, improve resource planning, and allocate workload.

What does the Industry say?

The project demonstrated so far based on digital twins helped in the development of risk-free approaches for testing in an agile way with a whole suite of technology to back them up. Industry researchers expect the market for the digital twins to grow 38% up to become US $26 billion by 2025.

Giants in the space of Industrial automation such as GE and Siemens are harnessing the possibilities of this technology for product development and management with new insights.

How does it matter?

The conventional modeling of machines and parts do not take into consideration the way in which parts wear out and replaced or how often the owners make modifications to them as per their requirement. With the advent of the digital twins, any changes made with the physical objects will also be reflected in the digital model of the object, changing the entire process drastically, something which was a mere imagination until now.

Instead of expensive and time-consuming experiments, the changes and new proposals can be incorporated in the virtual model and analysis can be done on the efficacy of the solution. Specifically to the warehouse, digital twin facilitates end-to-end traceability of assets, pallets, and packages to ensure operational efficiencies in logistical operations.

Digital twin technology has the potential to transform the logistics industry that can aid decision making while allowing a better perception of the future evolution of the operations. This technology will eventually lead to expedite the implementation of Industry 4.0 across the globe and this reign is in the hands of the logistic professionals to adopt the technology in their own operations.

The rise of automation in 3PL industry

How you sell matters, what is your process matters but how your customers feel when they engage with you matters more. Selling is the most exciting part of a business. But what happens when a customer places an order? It has to reach the right person, at the right place and at the right time. And here come the 3rd party logistics providers in the picture to ease the above task. With the changing supply chain dynamics, the 3PL suppliers have geared up to become the catalyst in the chain to ensure accurate and timely order fulfilment.

To become the real catalyst in the process the industry has set to make moves towards advancing their operations through technical innovations such as automation and advanced software solutions. With the emerging ecommerce sector, 3 PL industry has to undergo several operational shifts in order to meet the ever-surging demand. It is changing the shape of e-commerce product distribution by providing a range of flexible storage and distribution services to its customers.

 

An amalgamation of 3PL and automation

1) Pick-Pack-Ship:

A 3PL company is more than simply a partner in the value chain for a company. It organizes the whole process of order fulfilment and owns it end to it till the last-mile delivery. Vast item selections, omnichannel order fulfilment, same-day shipping options, and advanced order tracking have all become necessities to compete for business. And this is where automation becomes an inevitable choice for 3PL providers. Solutions such as automated picking technologies and automated storage & retrieval system act as a catalyst in the operation.

2) Brains in Motion:

3PL partners use intelligent software to process the entire order fulfilment in cohesion and coordination. Automation fulfils this requirement of 3PLs and boosts the efficiency at every stage, be it picking, kitting or assembly operation.

3) Store-in-the-Hump:

3PL companies facilitate inventory management and handling peak season demands. AI-powered solutions in 3rd party logistics inventory management allow for systematic storage and retrieval of warehouse material, streamlined inventory management, and facilitation of order fulfillment.

4) Space No bar:

With many 3PLs serving different customers, space optimization is essential when housing so many SKU varieties in a single warehouse. Automation in 3PL can augment warehouse height utilization, unlocking higher storage capacity thus delivering more value for the same floor space.

5) Returns are welcomed:

Returns handling accounts for almost 30% of the purchase price in an ecommerce business. The modular features of a robust software solution ensure effortless handling of returns via proper data integration across all systems thus enhancing supply chain & inventory management, with positive ripples spreading to deliver enhanced customer experience and satisfaction.

In recent years, the 3PL industry has expanded at an unprecedented rate with an increase in revenue of 21.6 percent between 2017-2019. This unrelenting growth is attributed to the aspirations of retailers to stay competitive and meet increasing consumer expectations for on-time and accurate deliveries. They are tapping 3PL providers to augment their order fulfilment capabilities. The global 3PL market is projected to reach over $1,100 Billion by 2024 as a wide range of industries turn to these providers to handle various levels of warehousing, order picking, packing, transportation, and shipping operations.

Some of the 3PL players still deter to adopt automation into their system. Unpredictability in ROI is one of the top reasons for keeping this contention. Also, there are uncertainties around the investment option in a rigid automation solution for a customer today that might not even be in the warehouse tomorrow. The new-age automation is breaking all these fallacies and emerging out as the unanimous choice for all the 3rd party logistics providers. Automated warehouses and distribution solutions have become flexible and scalable enough to deal with the dynamics of business in today’s era and ensure smooth material handling to achieve unmatched efficiency in the warehouse.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality, to change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” and technology in building these new models every day for every industry!

Direct to Customer vs Reaching Customer via DCs

Reaching your customer- The 2020 way!

Companies are looking at new ways to reach out to customers that will give them a chance to stay engaged direct to customers. This gives them a unique touchpoint almost akin to grasping the customers’ hand to feel the pulse. What better way than getting a touchpoint to improve the customer experience. Thanks to digital technologies and modern material handling techniques, companies can safely implement strategies that give its end customers a good feel of the order handling process of their suppliers. A good mix of hardware and software working in harmony and interfacing with the business ERP system can ensure efficient order handling processes via Distribution Centers that could benefit all the players in a supply chain – manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and end users.

Evolution of Digital Supply chain Networks

In the modern supply chain networks where strategies are continuously emerging and evolving all players must show willingness and agility to adopt newer techniques and solutions to deliver value not just to themselves but also to its customers. Currently companies that provide smart solutions to overcome the last mile delivery issues will gain in the battlefield of supply chains. Latest trends point to emerging practice of Direct to Customer (D2C) over reaching customer via Distribution Centers (DC2C). One must keep in mind that this strategy is not just about eliminating a middle layer in the supply chain. As opposed to this, it is to gain efficiencies just by adopting automation and technology to eliminate a dispensable layer. Economies of scale is a driver to adopt this strategy and hence large players benefit from this.

A centralised warehouse that caters to one or more of the following needs and that implements techniques and solutions using modern digitization technologies will help companies realize this ambition:

  1. Enough area for storage of a wide variety of products and SKUs.
  2. A good location that provides access to transportation of inbound and outbound deliveries
  3. Reasonable proximity to marketplace
  4. A good potential to adopt digitization technologies to automate the processes and systems with benefit from ROI

Of course, while adopting modern technologies and strategies to drive higher supply chain efficiencies benefit from ROI is a sine qua non while making investment decisions.

Benefits of D2C

Why would a company choose to deliver direct rather than through third-party distributors? The answer lies in gaining direct access to end-users that are its customers. This is especially true for large FMCG players that cry for gaining better insights into its customers’ behavior and use patterns. Companies will benefit by gaining first-hand information and data about their customers thus enabling them to better serve its customers. Data ownership, its use, and security must be respected according to local practices and regulations.

A strategy to deliver direct will demand smart warehousing and logistics solutions that may call for dramatic retooling of operational expertise – from customer service and experience to returns management, direct merchandising, direct delivery, and, of course, warehousing and logistics. Any strategy should result in financial gains as well as an edge over the competition for a business enterprise.

Implementing a D2C model calls for significant changes in the following areas of their warehousing infrastructure – Intralogistics which is the art of managing the flow of materials, products and information within the walls of a warehouse; picking; sorting; storage and retrieval. A well-designed solution combined with the efficient layout in design and technology will result in improved ROI as compared to a force-fitted solution. Hence enough ideation and planning should form an essential part of any strategy to implement digitized and automated supply chain in a Direct to Customer program.

Technology and Solutions portfolio

One of the key elements of successfully adopting this strategy is to leverage the advanced solutions that deliver efficiency, flexibility, scalability, and safety.

Some of the most automated products & solutions that a completely automated warehouse comprises:

  • Mobile robots and driverless forklifts for material movement in a Distribution Centers
  • Picking solutions using pick to light, pick by voice and pick by vision technologies
  • Dense storage of SKUs using Carton shuttle or pallet shuttle shelving systems
  • ASRS solutions using shuttle based and/or crane-based systems
  • Order Sortation using Sorting robots
  • Powerful software systems to manage all the operations like WES, WMS, and WCS

It is precisely in these areas Addverb Technologies, with its domain expertise of both technology and business processes will provide a full bouquet of products and solutions to meet the digitization program of business to modernize their warehouses and supply chains.

Adoption of technology will result in operational improvements of a warehouse, but the key differentiator is in choosing technology wisely, and here Addverb’s portfolio comes with a promise of delivering results beyond compare. By working with solution providers with a deep understanding of technology and business processes companies can realize their grand vision of D2C and gain competitive advantage.