Making a Difference for the 2019 Holiday Season

By Gary Forger

Is it too early to start thinking about filling orders for 2019 holiday season? Probably not, even if everything went well the last go around.  

In all likelihood, you’ve already spent some time looking at fulfillment processes to identify potential improvements. But what about your material handling equipment? Especially those picking and sorting systems that might have been a limiting factor during your 2018 holiday crunch. Your first thought could well be that it’s already too late to make any upgrades on the equipment side for this year. Not so if you’re looking at Perfect Pick and Sure Sort, says John Sauer, Business Development Manager at OPEX. “In fact, right now you’re in the sweet spot for spec’ing out both Perfect Pick and Sure Sort. This is what I like to call prime time,” he says.

When asked how can that be (given traditional lead times), Sauer says it’s only a matter of 4 to 6 months from initial evaluation until go-live with OPEX equipment. Yes, he says, there is an advantage schedule-wise to manufacturing in the U.S. But that 4 to 6 months also allows ten weeks for setup, install and test of equipment before startup. Suddenly, buying new picking and sorting equipment for 2019 takes on a whole new light, doesn’t it?  As well it should. Labor availability is unlikely to improve anytime soon. There are also the considerations of high order fulfillment accuracy and faster order turn around times. Perfect Pick and Sure Sort address all three factors, which individually (let alone combined) can have a huge impact on your holiday success.

Labor, especially temp labor, is tough to come by already

You know the story of 100 temps on Monday and only 20 still there by Friday. Is that any way to run an e-commerce business? Not in 2019. Or ever, for that matter. Consider the value of automation. A general rule of thumb for manual picking is 60 to 70 lines per hour per person. With Perfect Pick, a conservative figure is 400 single lines per hour per person. Sure Sort’s performance improvement is even more impressive. One person can sort up to 2,400  items an hour (plus two pack out operators) compared to twelve people sorting to put walls, achieving the same throughput. Oh, did anyone mention that $15 an hour is either already here or not that far off in most places. Hmmmm. 

Labor requirements in the primary pick area fell by nearly 40% as picking accuracy soared

Last year, Guitar Center installed two aisles of Perfect Pick in mid-October. Labor requirements in the primary pick area fell by nearly 40% as picking accuracy soared. Quite simply, it is almost impossible to pick the wrong item given Perfect Pick’s process safeguards. Sauer also points out that while we’ve been talking about peak season in this blog, Perfect Pick and Sure Sort can easily scale back to normal throughput. “This isn’t about designing to peak but designing for standard throughput with the ability to handle peaks,” he adds.

Next time around, we’ll take a look at the differences between iBOTs and shuttles. Yes, they are different, and it does make a difference.

Gary Forger is the former editor of Modern Materials Handling magazine and the Material Handling & Logistics U.S. Roadmap to 2030. 

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