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Goods-to-person automation is "the act of bringing product to the operators, rather than having then travel out into the [warehouse] aisles," Dickinson says. The setup is far more efficient than traditional setups and avoids mis-picking, he adds.
Goods to person can support the picking of 500 to 600 lines per hour, versus 60 to 100 lines with conventional systems, Dickinson says. It eliminates the need to travel up and down aisles, and lets the picker remain at a workstation and specify picking quantities. "The system allows for true batch pick and much more efficient procedures."
E-commerce is an area that is especially ripe for the application of goods-to-person automation. Typically, it involves a much wider range of products to be fulfilled than traditional retail operations.
Warehouses can utilize the technique to handle seasonal volume peaks, a common problem in retailing. "Automation can rationalize that much more," says Dickinson.
He also describes the benefits of a matrix approach to e-commerce fulfillment. It utilizes multiple methods of handling inventory, including pallets, totes and trays. There's no need for SKU slotting or worrying about an "ABC" configuration of distinguishing among fast and slow movers. "The matrix solution," he says, "is really taking off in the e-commerce world."
Dickinson doesn't believe technology will advance to the point where U.S. warehouses become totally automated, without the need for human workers, in the near future. That has been the model for some facilities in Europe. "We're not going to get away from people," he says, "but we will see more effective uses of those people."
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