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Opinion AMSHA E-asy pickings

In this month’s article in the series from members of the Automated Material Handling Systems Association (AMHSA), Phil Steeds, sales director at TGW Logistics, explains how automation can facilitate order picking for e-retail.

With the growth in e-retail – or e-tail – set to continue at a phenomenal

pace, the challenge to the logistics industry is to deliver cost- effective, fl exible and sustainable supply chain solutions that satisfy the increasing demands of the consumer. I believe that, by automating their warehousing operations, multi-channel retailers will have a fl exible solution in place to meet the changing demands of an evolving market. Traditionally, retailers have

for the multi-channel retailer. E-tail demands a more singles- orientated picking environment and therefore requires a completely different order-picking process.


Some retailers have attempted to negotiate the unpredictable nature of the market by signifi cantly increasing the number of SKUs available online compared to those held in store. However, this approach has a signifi cant impact on the warehouse and internal

“It is possible to manage an effi cient, multi-channel operation from a single site - fi tting out a new or existing warehouse with automated warehousing equipment could provide the answer”

benefi ted from a high degree of predictability when distributing stock to their own retail outlets. There is usually a large quantity of items to be delivered to store, with fi xed destinations and set delivery schedules. This allows for accurate business forecasts and proactive logistical planning. In contrast, there is no ‘one solution fi ts all’ system that can meet the requirements of e-tail. Managing multiple, small and ‘unique’ orders and packing them to meet customers’ high service level expectations creates numerous logistical challenges

50 August 2012 Storage Handling Distribution

logistics solutions. It has the potential to increase the cost-per- pick across the whole operation if the incumbent solution has not been designed with this scenario in mind.

In some cases, retailers sub- contract or relocate their entire e-tail channel – possibly to a 3PL operator. This may force the retailer to hold stock in more than one location, which may increase the cost of the inventory or increase the potential for orders to be lost if stock is designated for a particular business channel. These options need not be

necessary – it is possible to manage an effi cient, multi- channel operation from a single site. Fitting out a new or existing warehouse with automated warehousing equipment could provide the answer.

Most mechanised or automated picking technologies and solutions can be designed and confi gured to fi t within existing warehouse space. Automation can be of great benefi t to a multi- channel operation as the various automated technologies can facilitate the picking, sequencing and dispatching of orders in several load types. This includes pallets, cartons, totes and parcels for e-tail.

The process begins with the storage and handling of stock in different media in automated pallet, carton and tote stores. Automated sequencing buffers and high-speed automated mini-load or shuttle devices then granulate and consolidate orders into multi-channel deliveries ready for onwards distribution. As e-tail advances, the need to satisfy B2B deliveries in addition to B2C deliveries continues to challenge logistical operations. Automated warehousing systems can provide a cost-effective, fl exible and sustainable solution to support multi-channel retailers in managing these challenges going forward. ■

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