Why Your Manual Put Wall is Stunting Your Ecommerce Growth
Recently, we’ve been focusing on the explosion in e-commerce sales, which are growing at 3x the rate of total retail sales, per Tompkins Supply Chain Consortium. This trend is creating several new challenges for retailers — from order fulfillment to returns processing. One example can be seen by observing a typical online order comprising a: t-shirt, comic book, perfume, and pack of ball point pens. In a large fulfillment center, these items might literally be on opposite ends of the facility.
Batch and wave picking have greatly improved the effectiveness of picking operations by reducing workers’ travel time and increasing throughput. However, once items have been picked, they must then be sorted to individual orders or replenishments.
Enter the put wall system. The put wall system is based on an industrial engineering strategy that deconstructs and reconstructs orders to create a more efficient order fulfillment process. The process includes a quality check step by scanning each item at the put wall. For operational flexibility, each put wall can process single-item or multi-line orders. Put walls can also be mounted on wheels and moved around a DC or moved into position as daily requirements change.
Because of the various sizes and shapes of the products that make up an order, efficiently sorting these items remains the bottleneck. Sorting individual items into orders can be a labor-intensive and manual process that requires too many steps and way too many touches. Current sorting methods tend to be inefficient, expensive, and prone to error. Valuable warehouse space is wasted on conveyors that merely transport these items to the next sort location.
While put walls can scale-up for busy periods by activating standby put walls, they too are limited by each laborer’s abilities. During peak seasons (e.g., back to school, Christmas), when many retailers hire temporary laborers, the problem is further exacerbated as average pick rates — typically 250 to 300 items per hour per person—drop significantly while at the same time picking errors increase.
Making A Good Idea (Put Walls) Better with Robotics
Instead of adding more put walls, conveyors, and laborers to accommodate rising direct-to-consumer order demands, savvy retailers are turning to the latest robotic technology for better solutions. One example is Sure Sort, a smart automation solution based on iBOT delivery technology. This robotic item sorter easily handles complex variables and delivers a wide variety of parcels and single items to their final location in a single pass. What’s more is that it’s highly scalable in both size and throughput, making it a fit for small businesses looking for a cost-effective entry into warehouse automation as well as large fulfillment centers looking to streamline their process.
By reducing the number of touches, transfers, and conveyors required to run existing sorters, Sure Sort provides a better way to sort items more accurately and efficiently. Regardless of size, packaging, orientation of an item, Sure Sort reads every bar code and delivers each item in a single pass at up to 3,600 items per hour.
The way the technology works is that replenishment and wave or batch picked orders are delivered to a Sure Sort induction operator located at an ergonomically designed workstation. Items are placed on a drop conveyor and scanned. A waiting iBOT delivers the item to a designated order bin located on either side of a dense storage aisle.
iBOTs are directed by Sure Sort's host software in conjunction with virtually any warehouse automation management system. Once an order is completed, the bin is cleared and the order tote or shipping container is transported to a packing station in preparation for shipment.
An automated put wall is a big win for e-commerce retailers. Not only can you achieve a 10x-plus increase in performance over traditional put wall sorting, your sorting error rates will drop and you’ll be making better use of your DC footprint.