If you have ever witnessed a conventional high-volume, full-case distribution center then you can appreciate just how hard the job of order selection can be. Without doubt, full-case order picking is one of the most physically demanding jobs in the distribution industry because operators must repetitively lift and stack heavy cases of merchandise throughout the work day. In many distribution centers, it is not unusual for an order selector to pick 15+ tons (i.e. 30,000+ pounds) of product during a normal work shift.
Order picking often accounts for 40 percent to 45 percent of the direct labor force within a distribution center. It is the job of the industrial engineer to balance the trade-offs between maximizing order picking productivity; building high-stability, outbound pallets; and ensuring work place ergonomics and operator safety. To this end, many companies have implemented some form of solution to improve order selection productivity, including: slotting; voice-directed picking; ergonomic pick racks; engineered labor standards; and incentive systems. These solutions have been widely deployed in companies in developed countries over the past 15 years.
Aside from full-blown automated order picking, the price tag of which is out of reach for the majority of companies, the time is ripe for something new to advance labor efficiency for conventional distribution operations. Enter the concept of driverless lift trucks and pallet jacks with the intelligence to travel throughout the pick line and to/from the dock without the need for human intervention. We believe that this technology provides a relatively affordable solution that delivers a strong return on investment for improving the productivity, ergonomics and safety associated with high-volume, full-case picking operations.
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