As picking productivity increases, packing and shipping operations need to keep pace. Put walls are a scalable, cost-effective solution to keep ecommerce fulfillment on track.
Post-pick order assembly has become a chokepoint in many ecommerce operations that are focused on increasing throughput by optimizing their picking processes. In some cases, inefficient sorting and packing processes are directly impeding efforts to improve outbound efficiency. Put walls are a cost-effective solution to this challenge for ecommerce fulfillment. Put walls are ideal for growing ecommerce companies, B2B DCs with rising direct-to-consumer volumes, and dark stores and other local fulfillment operations. (See our recent webinar on optimizing local fulfillment using robotic microfulfillment and work execution.)
The Order Assembly Challenge
To improve picking efficiency, many DCs and fulfillment centers will pick by zone using optimized pick processes in each area – i.e., one pick “style” for footwear in one set of aisles, another process for apparel in a different area, and another picking variation for accessories in yet a third zone. For customers that order multiple items (sandals, shirt, bracelet), zone-based picking creates a downstream challenge of merging the items picked in different zones. Manual order assembly processes are slow and inaccurate.
High volume ecommerce fulfillment operations will typically use automated sortation systems to consolidate items picked in different zones (see this example at Oriental Trading Company). But smaller operations can’t justify the costs, and many don’t have the extra space needed to accommodate big, bulky sortation systems. For those facilities, put wall sortation is an efficient, accurate and flexible way to sort and pack products.
What is A Put Wall?
A put wall is similar to a shelf or rack, 5-6 feet tall and 6-10 feet wide, with no front or rear walls, divided into compartments or slots that are sized to accommodate complete orders. Alternatively, the “wall” can hold totes that function as the put locations or slots. The put wall can be mobile or fixed in place.
In practice, a worker on one side of the put wall places items for different orders in individual slots or totes (that’s the “put” in put wall). After all items for a given order are in the designated location, a worker on the backside of the wall removes the items for packing and shipping.
Put Walls For Ecommerce Fulfillment
Order Line Disaggregation: After orders are received, an order management or warehouse management system (WMS) will split up orders into individual order lines for picking in different areas or zones (footwear, apparel, accessories). A work execution system may then take over the picking and order assembly process.
Order Picking: The execution system will direct the picking of items according to the specific picking process in each zone. For example, 10-20 shoes may be picked in a batch to a cart in the footwear area. In the accessories area, if six customers order the same bracelet, all six of those items may be picked to a single tote in a pick-to-tote process. In the apparel area, three different shirts may be picked into the same tote.
Transfer To Put Wall: After the items are picked, they will be transferred to the put wall location, as directed by the work execution system. Totes and boxes could be moved by conveyor and sorted to put wall locations, or products could be moved by cart.
Put To Order Slot: At the put wall, the work execution software will coordinate the process. A worker will be directed where to put each of the items from the carts and/or totes at his station, using a combination of RFID, scan, voice and/or visual indicator (lights, device display/smart glasses). For example, after scanning the tote containing the accessories, the worker may be directed to place each of the six bracelets in six different slots. Likewise, after scanning a shoebox, she may be directed to put the item (sandals) into one of the compartments that already has a bracelet. Finally, she may scan a barcode or read an RFID tag on a shirt, and receive a voice command to place it in the designated slot with the two other items for the order. Each of these puts can be verified visually, by scan, or by speech confirmation.
Order Packing And Shipping: Once all items for an order are in the compartment, a printer on the backside of the put wall would print a packing slip alerting a packout worker to remove the items from the order slot. This worker would then pack and ship the order or package it for shipping at a separate station.
Put Walls Are Scalable And Flexible
A key benefit of put walls for ecommerce fulfillment is that they require little hard infrastructure and space, so they come with a low upfront capital cost. This is a stark contrast to expensive automated sortation systems that are sized to meet peak demand, but stand underutilized outside of peak. The walls themselves can be placed on wheels, and facilities can add more put walls and sortation staff as needed to meet peak volumes.
Put walls are ideal for smaller-scale operations used for hyper-local fulfillment and for B2B DCs that need to adapt their processes to support surges in direct-to-consumer orders. In many cases, put walls are a necessary component of a broader upgrade of ecommerce fulfillment processes. Put walls are a cost-effective strategy for scaling up order assembly processes to keep pace with increases in picking productivity and throughput.