If you are operating a modern warehouse, you probably have experienced some of the systems that are evolving in order to augment and automate the process of order picking. In most cases, the primary pieces to consider are software packages that tie into your existing enterprise resource planning software (ERP), and allow your workers to be guided through a pick list that has been optimized to take the shortest amount of time possible to fulfill a client order. Of course operating a warehouse that efficiently is the result of a plan and a lot of process work that creates the environment necessary to achieve that type of efficiency. Here is a look at how the different elements can come together for you to create your own set of efficiencies:
The Right Heavy Duty Shelving
As long as your shelving can be located and accessed quickly, you should be able to use it in an automation system. If you have a choice between types of shelving, boltless shelving is often one of the easiest types of industrial shelving to work with. As the name implies, the method of fastening the steel shelving make it easy and quick to assembled, disassemble and reconfigure. Some boltless shelving is designed without sways or cross bracing which allows full accessible from all four sides.
There are a few types of order picking automation. One type uses people that have their pick list routes spoken to them as they are filling the order.
The data comes directly from the invoice or purchase order and gets fed through an automated voice system that requests item after item.
Another type of system requires that the industrial steel shelving units and rows be radio tagged because the pickup is either automated or the people doing the order picking will not be navigating to the actual pickup area.
When you use a system that automates the actual pickup, shelving again becomes important because you need something that will be sturdy and yet able to passively communicate with the incoming forklifts or pallet jacks by radio which means that your shelving should be engineered to be as feature-rich as some of the tools that you use in the warehouse.
Extending Enterprise Resource Planning Applications
If your company has an ERP or enterprise resource planning piece of software driving all of its decision making, the software is probably already saving you money. Just the same, extending an ERP so that you can add automated or sophisticated order picking is something that can cost you some money to get set up. One of the nice things about 21st century ERPs is that there are still a few major software packages in the industry which can be used for free so that you can receive the benefits of putting everyone in your company on the same software system without the same level of risk.
Finding an open source ERP can also free up the budget to allow you to extend it using specialized software for automatic order picking. In most cases, warehouse automation packages are designed to snap into your corporate software, not replace it. Yet whether you purchase an ERP or use an open source ERP to underpin your warehouse management, you will likely find that the more sophisticated your warehouse automation is, the more funds you will want to throw at it in order for it to prove itself and bring better return on investment.
While you go through the process of upgrading your warehouse software and processes, it is a good idea to actually measure each piece of work that you perform so that you can compare what you do today with what you were doing before in order to measure the return on investment.
Choose “Smart” Equipment
The accessories that go with today’s automated order picking software packages normally consist of smartphones or headsets that allow the driver to instantly know where they need to move within the warehouse in order to retrieve the order. The nice thing about having many different models of headsets available in the marketplace is that they allow you to use standard equipment that can be purchased anywhere to enhance your warehouse performance. The smartphones, tablets or mobile units that the headsets should be plugged into can either use radio or a WiFi internet connection in order to receive spoken instructions from the database.
Putting It All Together
Before you get started putting your software, hardware, and processes into place, it is a good idea to validate your requirements. Most of the time, requirements are written with an eye for the here and now. With changes continuing to come to the industry, it will perhaps only be 10 years down the road before automated order picking starts giving users the option of taking the human driver out of the loop. The technology exists today, but is not really capable of doing more than putting people in the position of controlling the factory equipment remotely as if they were driving a drone.
At the same time, if you want to plan for a future that includes that possibility in the warehouse, look at systems from manufacturers that are emphasizing that research in other industries. Caterpillar uses the CAES system to help mining and excavation machines become aware of each other and their environment simultaneously. The net result is a set of machines that can interact with our without humans running them at all times. On the heavy duty warehouse shelving side, there are systems available that help organize as well as store, making your warehouse system more comprehensive from the beginning. Ultimately, finding and using systems that will have the functionality that you need down the road can give you a head start when the technology is available.
Efficient shelving systems and order picking processes are a couple of ways that your company can enhance its performance and safety figures in the here and now, allowing you to save money and line your operations up with future technologies.
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