In our first post examining how several online retailers implemented enhancements to their existing automation to further improve their e-commerce operations, we looked at an organization that utilized smart software in addition to their existing automation to further address their growth and productivity challenges.
In this post, we’ll look at how two organizations attacked the issues of SKU proliferation and WMS augmentation utilizing easy to implement mobile apps to supercharge their operations related to picking processes, assignment management and management capabilities.
Addressing SKU Growth in a New Automated DC
A long-time leader in direct-to-consumer retail, with an 80-year history of outstanding service, selection and value, a growing number of new products, and thriving catalog and web channels, was facing increased competition from thousands of new competitors that are seeking a piece of its market at any cost. In addition, as more of the company’s business moved to the web, customers were ordering more out-of-season products, which increased the number of active products they were selling at any time, increasing overall fulfillment costs.
The company wanted to support SKU proliferation with a pick zone that could hold up to 50,000 SKUs, while driving pick density in their picking processes to minimize travel distances and pick times. To meet the demands, the company built a highly-automated fulfillment center that incorporated a new warehouse control system, more than four miles of conveyor, and high-speed sortation systems. Despite the automation, however, there was still a need in some cases for workers to pick items by hand. To improve the efficiency and accuracy of the hands-on processes, they collaborated with Lucas and the warehouse automation system provider to build a solution supporting configurable picking processes including:
- Cart-based batch picking multi-modal mobile applications, in which associates utilize scanning and voice to optimize piece-pick productivity and accuracy
- Case-break process users which distribute full cartons of product to totes in a pick module using a combination of voice and scanning
- Management tools to provide real-time productivity and performance data to managers through a web-based application
- Messaging capabilities allowing workers and managers to address exceptions in real time, to further improve operations and manage rush orders.
Unlike other picking technologies, including pick-to-light, the operations team recognized that multi-modal mobile applications combining voice and scanning would provide the productivity they needed, the flexibility to support multiple processes (not just generic piece picking), and the best possible picking accuracy to avoid rework and potential shipping errors. As a result of the automation and work execution software, productivity skyrocketed, throughput increased to more than 325,000 units per day, picking errors were reduced more than 60 percent, and order accuracy improved to greater than 99.9 percent. Worker turnover was also reduced, and training of new associates improved.
Optimizing Fulfillment by Supplementing the WMS
A long-time leader in women’s apparel and lingerie and multi-channel retailer built a new fulfillment center to support their direct-to-consumer channel. The new facility included advanced automation (conveyors and sorters both for inbound and outbound) and a new WMS.
Shortly after opening the new facility, operations managers began assessing new technologies to achieve additional improvements in picking efficiency and accuracy. Although their new WMS could support voice picking, the voice add-on offered by their WMS vendor did not support their advanced process needs. They turned to Lucas Systems for a warehouse optimization solution that supported configurable user workflows, in addition to assignment management and real-time reporting tools that supplemented the WMS.
The unique AI-based optimization solution they implemented from Lucas, embodied in Jennifer™, the brains, voice and orchestration engine of the solution, included multi-modal voice-directed applications and a management console. Its unique optimization features included:
- Rule-based batch-picking directing users to pick orders to carts in static shelving areas.
- Pick to tote in-flow rack areas, where Jennifer directed pickers to pick product to tote on conveyor.
- Bulk picking voice-direction which allowed users to have their heads up and hands free as they pick in the bulk area.
- Returns picking through a retail-friendly returns picking app, allowing users to pick from undamaged returned products in multi-SKU locations.
- Assignment management using a management console, which allowed managers to merge and split assignments to deal with fluctuations in real time.
With the Lucas solution in place, picking accuracy and productivity increased throughout the DC, and the time and expense associated with returns handling were slashed.
E-Commerce sales were $870 billion in the U.S. in 2021, a 14.2% increase over 2020 and a 50.5% increase over 2019. Couple this with the information that 65% of consumers expect to use digital shopping channels more in the future (Wunderman Thompson), and that U.S. e-commerce sales are expected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2024 (Statista), and e-commerce retailers are faced with even more evidence that they need to scale up…and fast. But no matter where they are in maturity level or scale, there are solutions utilizing mobile applications that can be a vital part of their automation strategy, and can help them optimize productivity and processes, in many cases within 90 days.
About Lucas Systems, Inc.
Lucas Systems helps companies transform their distribution center operations and continuously adapt to changing market dynamics. We dramatically increase worker productivity, operational agility, and customer satisfaction.
Our solutions are built on 24-plus years of deep process expertise and smart software using AI and voice technologies. Our solutions feature Jennifer™, the brain, voice, and orchestration engine that drives performance improvement gains. Make the smartest moves at the lowest cost with Jennifer™. For more information, visit www.lucasware.com.