The growth in e-commerce presents big challenges to warehouse operators, says Carver. "The significant growth in the number of SKUs forces expansion of warehouse footprints, of the number of pick faces, and of the number, frequency and diversity of shipments - all of which create major challenges."
Meeting these challenges cannot be done with conventional warehouses of the past, he says. "Companies today have to treat all inventory as a single entity that is pickable for any type of customer or situation. That is a true omni approach."
This may mean more goods-to-man warehouse designs, where devices bring product to the picker, Carver says. This is not a new technology, but it typically has been used in situations like spare-parts warehouses rather than for active picking of customer orders, Carver notes. "But as volumes increase, we can't continue to just throw labor and space at the problem without increasing overhead costs substantially, so a lot of companies are looking at high-density storage facilities that can bring goods to the picker. With these systems, a single operator can pick multiple thousands of SKUs instead of having hundreds of operators."
At conventional, smaller or older facilities, conventional RF-based terminals may be replaced with cellular coverage to streamline operations, with operators using smartphones or tablets to bring information out to the floor, he says. "More and more facilities that had not been candidates for material handling equipment are putting in things like case conveyors and some type of sortation process," Carver says. "Material handling has come down into lower tier companies at a much greater speed than many of us expected, which will really help streamline processes."
"The warehouse can be a throttle or a chokehold on your supply chain," Carver says. "If the warehouse is not running efficiently and not tracking inventory correctly, customer service can't promise that orders will be filled, which means unhappy customers. How the warehouse is operating has a huge impact both up and down stream."
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