Firstly, let’s consider some changes to consumer behaviour. In recent years, and particularly given the events of 2020, there has been an explosion in demand for next- and same-day deliveries, as well as for small volume deliveries, in both the B2B and B2C segments. There is also a trend towards ordering more retail – or ‘store’ – items online.
In addition, the weaknesses of deploying extra staff to fulfil orders have been exposed. Such trends are changing traditional operating models and driving the need for automation. However, this route is all too often overlooked due to concerns about high investment.
This ignores the fact that manual solutions actually slow both growth and efficiency down. Indeed, shouldn’t the ability to meet ever-increasing customer demands be the priority?
By switching to automation, omni-channel warehousing companies can facilitate a higher throughput and enhance the overall order fulfilment process. And within this, the scalability of a pocket sorter not only serves lower investment budgets, but also results in a highly sophisticated system.
Flexible order profiles
In an omni-channel operation, there is often a need for separate retail and e-commerce warehouse technology. With a pocket sorter, such as Vanderlande’s AIRTRAX, there is no need to make this distinction. A pocket sorter can replace different technologies, but it can also act as a backbone in combining and interfacing different technologies.
In addition, it doesn’t matter what the order profile looks like if you have a pocket sorter. Items are simply loaded into the pocket, sorted into the correct sequence, and made available for unloading and packing. The only constraint is whether your products fit into the pocket (see also the first blog in our series).
Sortation takes place via a three-stage sorting process, which produces a 100% accurate order sequence. Compare this to a manual process, in which sorting and consolidating are the limiting factors in order fulfilment. The AIRTRAX pocket sorter can seamlessly take over these core processes, greatly simplifying change management.
Our solution improves efficiency by increasing pick batches and also creates other improvements. For example, several batches can be processed in tandem and route planning can be optimised. Smaller (and faster) flexible pick batches can also be implemented near the end of the working day and close to cut-off times (i.e. when a truck is scheduled to depart from the facility).
A pocket sorter can also facilitate returns handling, cross-docking, and so-called “opportunity picks”. By this, I mean picking in advance with knowledge about whether a specific SKU will be ordered. For example, in line with a targeted advertising campaign for a specific product.
Accommodating future growth
These measures reduce order processing times and allow warehousing companies to be more flexible in reacting to order quantities. Controlled independently using its own ‘intelligence’, a pocket sorter can consolidate flows of small and large items.
These principles remain in place, even if a company’s business needs change in the future. One item is used per pocket and all items are sorted together in a sequence, irrespective of whether B2C or B2B orders are being handled.
In addition, if there are separate retail and e-commerce flows, there will be many times in a year where not every system is at full capacity. By combining both material flows into one pocket sorter, automatic peak balancing can provide a year-round optimal performance.
Furthermore – and due to the efficiency gains made by installing an AIRTRAX pocket sorter – it’s also worth thinking about future growth. With its predefined modular building blocks, higher levels of automation can be planned into the layout right from the start.
This also prevents any significant downtime being incurred when the system is extended, while offering high levels of flexibility and scalability. No matter what your order profile looks like tomorrow, the pocket sorter is up to the challenge. The key for us is to create a common vision and continually keep focus on what ‘omni-channel’ means to the market.
The ability to deliver
There is no one-size-fits-all omni-channel solution and individual processes must always be factored in. However, to benefit from sustainable market growth, any decision regarding automation must come with flexibility to match changing order profiles. Regardless of where the order is coming from – or going to – it is essential to ‘close the loop’ in omni-channel environments.
In close cooperation with our customers, we consider all of the options that are relevant to their operations – both now and in the future – through data analysis and scenario planning. If seamless order fulfilment and long-term peace of mind are the objectives, the AIRTRAX pocket system will always deliver in the omni-channel world.