Upgrading Order Fulfillment Systems Boosts Warehouse Efficiency

Q: Is it possible to speed product flow in response to customer demands and cut inventory processing costs at the same time?

Hartman: Many automated systems installed several years ago were not designed to handle escalating customer requirements, such as higher accuracy, more complex traceable orders with multiple SKUs, and more on-time deliveries. Nor did these designs anticipate the growing need to safeguard workers and consume less energy. And the food industry must now deal with escalating requirements resulting from the Food and Drug Administration’s new Food Safety Modernization Act.

Minor equipment and/or operating software additions and upgrades can help firms with an automated storage and retrieval system achieve measurable improvements in many areas, including throughput speed and costs.

Q: SMBs and mid-size 3PLs are dealing with increasingly stringent demands from their vendors, and many don’t have the internal capabilities to keep up. Are there solutions that act as force equalizers, giving smaller companies world-class product throughput capabilities?

Hartman: Companies have achieved stunning results from projects that converted manual warehouse operations into automated order fulfillment centers. These firms deliver attributes of customer value that yield higher product quality, revenues, and margins, with lower costs.

What if you could access any case at any time to build a customized pallet at the dock ready for shipment? What if the cost of handling every case in your warehouse could be reduced 90 percent? What if enough space were freed up to eliminate the need for outside warehouses? Some firms will not be competitive without automating their warehousing and distribution operations.

If your competitors have an automated order fulfillment system, we recommend vigilant competitive benchmarking. Manufacturing firms must question if their future is based on continued aggressive bidding of three-year contracts or, perhaps, a more thoughtful long-term relationship with 3PLs centered on well-considered infrastructure investments.

Q: Today’s demands stretch many legacy warehouse automation systems beyond their capabilities. Despite the need, some companies are reluctant to undertake a new warehouse automation project because of downtime caused by design complexity and long lead and project completion times required. What options are available to address these concerns?

Hartman: Existing systems made by defunct firms can be brought back to useful life. Through a procedure called “Live Retrofit,” a bypass can be developed to enable ongoing order fulfillment as hardware or software components are repaired, replaced, or upgraded.

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