Large multinational organizations face a growing number of warehousing challenges on both a global and local scale.
While improving efficiency across the board might be the most common goal, regional hurdles, from lowering shipping costs to better resource utilization, environmental compliance, labor regulations, and beyond can also be key business drivers. Fortunately, the solution to these and other improvement initiatives doesn’t have to require extensive process overhaul, added resources, or multiple complex software applications.
Managing the Extended Supply Chain
Nearly all warehousing and distribution functions are generally the responsibility of one or more of the following software systems:
- Warehouse Management System (WMS), which supports upper-level business management requirements, including vendor management, and transportation management for one or more warehouses;
- Warehouse Control System (WCS), which coordinates the interaction between disparate islands of automation found throughout a warehouse or distribution center, ensuring that those systems support operations in the most efficient manner; and
- Warehouse Execution System (WES), which optimizes processes and resources, including personnel. Some operations might not utilize material-handling equipment, but still have inventory, order selection, and workload balancing to manage. Controlling and optimizing these and other functions is the role of a WES.
Some leading warehouse automation solution providers offer a WCS solution that incorporates WES functionality. These hybrid systems allow implementers to achieve levels of improvement, and cost-savings, well beyond what either a WCS or WES can provide independently. Any established warehouse will likely have a capable WMS in place. The key is to leverage powerful yet versatile WES/WCS capabilities that will work within the WMS parameters to address an ever-widening variety of improvement issues.
USANA Health Sciences
USANA Health Sciences is one of the world’s largest multi-level marketing companies. It develops, manufactures and distributes dietary supplements and personal care products. To support its growing market, the company maintains strategically placed warehousing and distribution centers across several continents. Individually and collectively, these centers strive to keep pace with demand, and their responsiveness hinges on an efficient and well-orchestrated supply chain.
As demand increased, USANA was feeling the effects of less-than-efficient warehousing and distribution processes. At a high level, USANA sought to improve responsiveness and profitability by maximizing order fulfillment speed and accuracy. In addition, individual locations around the globe identified their own unique critical targets: North America prioritized sustainability; Australia needed improved shipping, and Canada needed to more efficiently leverage its resources.
Salt Lake City is home to USANA world headquarters. With a global surge in demand, the company needed to implement a new WES/WCS system to improve warehousing and distribution efficiency.
The WES begins planning orders via a cartonization function to optimize the size and quantity of cartons used, while a wave planner screen groups orders for more efficient picking. To streamline order fulfillment, pick lines were installed with pick-to-light systems. A WCS was needed to manage the real-time activities of material-handling equipment, including automated label printing (print and apply), conveyor routing, and inline scales for order verification. In this instance, WCS implementation delivered a number of operational improvements:
- 300-percent order capacity improvement with half the number of workers;
- 99-percent order accuracy rate achieved with pick-to-light, barcode technology and quality checks;
- 5,000-7,000 orders processed each day, with capability to ship 21,000 daily orders;
- Cartonization, wave planning, and a small-orders line optimized operation while lowering costs; and
- With more efficient picking (and no added labor) a 24/7 operation was reduced to two eight-hour (five-day) shifts.
Additionally, the system delivered results well beyond the warehouse. Because the conveyor system was not designed to accommodate small packaging, orders were being repacked manually or shipped in overly large containers. A WCS/WMS-based process was developed to separate small orders, allowing a line to be dedicated to such. Smaller orders shipped in right-size packaging lowered shipping costs measurably. Similarly, an estimated 2.2 metric tons of cardboard was saved in the first six months alone. This delivered significant shipping and material cost savings, while providing a big step toward achieving the company’s corporate sustainability goals.
Following success in the U.S., it was decided to incorporate a WCS/WES solution within the company’s Canadian distribution facility. USANA Canada’s 13 warehouse associates were on average processing 1,800 orders daily. Because the same staff was cross-trained in receiving, put-away and replenishment, it was important to boost fulfillment without detracting from inventory control duties.
“Our reasons for moving to a WES/WCS were driven by a need to increase picking, packing and shipping performance and improve inventory control,” explained Gina Bresciani, director of operations. “The new WES/WCS implementation had been generating great results in the United States, and we were anxious to see what the software could do for us.”
As a part of the upgrade, a pick-to-light system was installed, replacing the former paper pick operation. Quick to learn and easy to use, the system is fast, accurate, and cost-effective. The light-directed system guides staff to stock locations where the quantities needed to fill orders are numerically displayed. The new WES/WCS system delivered new levels of reliability, automation and efficiency, while putting real-time visibility and control at USANA’s fingertips. Soon after the implementation, USANA Canada witnessed dramatic improvements. From ease of picking, packing and shipping to improved inventory visibility, the new WES/WCS delivered immediate productivity gains, including measurable improvements in speed and accuracy, 30-percent improvement in average daily orders, 2-percent inventory accuracy improvement, and more efficient staff utilization.
Success in North America led to a decision to add WCS capabilities to USANA’s Australian distribution facility. “We were picking off paper invoices,” explained Hayden Walker, an operations manager with USANA Australia. “Each pick was scanned, checked through a quality station, and shipped by scanning the label produced at the quality station. Needless to say, it was a repetitive and manually intensive process.”
Distribution improvement goals for USANA Australia included improved material handling flow & throughput, improved order fulfillment process accuracy, increased productivity, ability to support future growth and expansion, and shipping integration with ConnectShip|iShip.
Again, a pick-to-light system was recommended to streamline picking. This unique combination of real-time inventory with automated picking technologies delivered new levels of reliability, efficiency, real-time visibility and control.
Unique to Australia was the need to integrate WES/WCS capabilities with the ConnectShip|iShip Pantechnik shipping component. ConnectShip, Inc. and iShip, Inc. are two wholly owned, independent subsidiaries of UPS that provide multi-carrier shipping solutions. This would be the first deployment of the Pantechnik solution for ConnectShip| iShip. Despite the challenges of implementing a system from all sides of the globe, the integration was a success.
- Measurably increased picking speed & accuracy;
- Pick information now automatically transmitted to host system, eliminating potential data-entry errors;
- Inventory and order status updated in real-time;
- A successful first week of production, with all orders shipped on time and with minimal impact to customers; and
- A shipping solution delivering new levels of efficiency.
“The experience from initial contact to present has been fantastic,” said Walker. “The system is extremely easy to use, and we are improving all areas of the operation. I have no doubt that as time goes on, we are going to continue to provide the same responsive service our customers have come to expect without added headcount; even as the workload increases.”
Warehousing and distribution challenges come in all types and sizes. The versatility of a WES/WCS addresses a wide variety of material handling, inventory, order management, fulfillment, and shipping issues. By implementing a single common WES/WCS, USANA was able to achieve its collective and individual improvement goals, from improved efficiency in the U.S. and Canada to new levels of shipping speed and accuracy in Australia. With a versatile WES/WCS solution in place, USANA is positioned to leverage shipping more efficiently, accelerate productivity, optimize material handling, maximize resources and meet any upcoming challenges on all levels.
As they continue to evolve, robots will play an increasingly larger role throughout nearly all phases of warehousing and distribution. This versatile mechanical workforce is already paying dividends to companies that recognize the value of leveraging robots alongside people, and not necessarily in place of them. In goods-to-person fulfillment, for example, the automated system retrieves a bin from a specific coordinate, and brings that product to a station for manual picking.
What about intelligent robots? “Cobots” are designed allow each type of worker, human or machine, to focus on what they do best. Similarly, intelligent, self-directed autonomous mobile robots are handling goods-to-person duties, pallet moving, and basic order processing.
As supply chain fulfillment and material handling systems evolve, WES/WCS solutions must keep pace and, in fact, anticipate advancements and trends. Forward-thinking WES/WCS and material handling companies are investing in research and development to meet the changing demands of warehousing and distribution.
Jerry List is vice president of QC Software.