We’re often asked by clients to identify ways to accelerate throughput and eliminate the bottlenecks in a manual pack and ship order fulfillment operation. The initiative can include all three components of Ecommerce Order Fulfillment – pick, pack, and ship at the 3PL’s or client’s warehouse.
The pack and ship area, however, is the low-hanging fruit prime for process improvements and automation technologies. The last 100 feet – the pack and ship area – is many times the bottleneck, throttling output, due to multiple touches and excessive manual handling.
Pack automation conveyor lines can scale from a single line to 10 or more lines and support 15 to 100 parcels per minute at 3 to 4 times the productivity of a manual pack area. Replace outdated processes with lean, efficient automation technologies to gain a rapid ROI and boost order fulfillment throughput rates.
What’s driving growth and initiatives to automate? It’s the unrelenting shift to online sales, where order profiles are shipments of on average 1-3 each. This is also evident in last November’s online sales accounting for nearly 18% year-over-year growth, according to Adobe Analytics. This boost in ecommerce is creating a new paradigm and opportunity for 3PLs and distributors to add technologies that can both lower labor costs while increasing throughput in current or new operations.
If your current parcel pack and ship area operation is relying on manual labor, especially temporary labor during peak season you’re going to find it increasingly hard to meet the 2018 expected growth in ecommerce shipments. Labor is becoming a scarce commodity, expensive to recruit and keep. Warehouse wages are rising 12-15%. When pack and ship relies on manual labor, it is a major profit drain.
A 2,000 to 3,000 carton per day operation requires a minimum of 4-5 operators to manually pack and manifest orders, and restricts peak throughput to 250-300 orders per hour. Think of each operator’s repetitive low value work tasks:
- Re-packing and scanning each item in the order shipment
- Adding void fill
- Hand scanning and keyboard data entry
- Manually weighing each parcel
- Printing and placing the packing sheet into the carton
- Hand taping each package
- Or worse: Folding and placing the pack sheet in a plastic pouch, then applying it to the outside of the carton
- Printing and hand applying the carrier shipping label to the outside of the carton
This process is way too slow, expensive and error prone to support any mid to high volume ecommerce order fulfillment operation! Regardless of the DC’s volume, automation will lower labor costs. Automation replaces manual touches throughout the pack and ship operation and eliminates errors and the bottleneck of obsolete manual packing and manifesting operations. Integrating perfect processes and automation technologies turns pack and ship into a continuous order shipping machine.
Summary of benefits in-line pack automation provides B to C and B to B order fulfillment:
- One to two operators perform the work of 6-8 people at a void fill carton seal station, processing 700 cartons per hour B to B or B to C shipments.
- Reduces over 50 seconds of labor from every order.
- Handle a wide variety of shipment sizes from poly bags, flats, cartons ranging in size from .25” H to 30” high.
- Reduces errors, increase revenues, and streamlines packing, shipping, and manifesting; with a rapid ROI in under 15 months for a 2,000 to 3,000 parcel a day distribution operation.
- Rapid ROI in under 15 months for a 2,000 to 3,000 parcel a day distribution operation.
Key elements of ecommerce order fulfillment include timely delivery and positive customer experience. A consumer’s major “touch experience” following order delivery is the right documentation. A pack line that centralizes the documentation, void fill, and sealing instead of relying on an army of individuals to do these tasks manually allows 1-2 operators to perform the equivalent work of 10 to 12 operators.
Expect reduction in manual labor combined with significant throughput increases to reduce cost per shipment by up to $1.00 when changing your process to printing and presenting the pack sheet at the taper sealer. You can fully automate by auto printing and inserting the pack sheet, promotional information, etc. on the conveyor line prior to the in-line void fill and taper/sealer to achieve even better results.
After sealing, the cartons convey to an automated scan-weigh-dimensioner system with a print and apply label applicator. This automates the shipping manifesting process and auto applies the carrier shipping label application in a single fully-automated step. There are a few choices of labeling technologies:
- Auto Application of a 4” x 6” (or smaller) shipping label
- Auto Application of a combination 4” x 6” removable pack slip and ship label
- Auto application of a combination 8” x 11” full pack sheet and shipping label
If the requirements for every ecommerce order fulfillment shipment include a full packing sheet, with the company logo, product description, customer policies, a return label, and sales promotional coupons then a laser printed full pack sheet inserted into or placed on the outside of the carton is the best technology choice. If a 3PL or any distribution operation wants the ability to convey customer appreciation and help retain and promote future sales, automated documentation technology is a critical component.
An automated pack line can consist of as little as 20 feet of powered conveyor. A pack and ship conveyor is a critical operation component because it integrates the pack and ship flow and blends the automation technologies into an integrated solution. The conveyor of choice in packing is 24 VDC motor driven roller, MDR equipment. It provides a low energy, low noise and operator safe ergonomic work area.
MDR conveyor provides the ability to transport small cartons from 7” x 5” to the largest variety of carton sizes using zero touch transport and accumulation zones. It is ideally suited to pack and ship lines for integrating void fill, carton tapers, scales, print and apply labeling with packed, labeled and ready to ship cartons transported and sorted directly to the specific carrier pallet build or trailer loading destinations.
Numina Group’s family of automated packing solutions includes all of the above automation and labeling technologies.
Scan-Weigh-Dimensioning Consider the advantages a 3PL or distribution center has when every parcel shipment is automatically inspected using an in-line scan-weigh dimensioning system. DIM freight charges are now calculated by all the major parcel shippers: FedEx, UPS and USPS. Billable charges are based on a package’s Length X Width X Height divided by the carrier DIM factor (around 166) to determine a parcel’s shipping cost. The in-line DIM measurement system “closes the pick, pack and ship loop” using actual weight and size to validate the order content and ensure the lowest parcel shipment costs. Further validation can be incorporated by adding a vision audit camera for inspection.
One-Step-Plus performs the full pack sheet print and placement under the removable shipping label. It auto applies the full 8.5” x 11” packing sheet with a removable label printed and securely placed under the label and to the top of the carton. If the case/order is, for example, an Amazon shipment, an additional 4 x 6 delivery label, a side applicator is included to auto apply the required retailer/e-tailer compliant label.
One-Step Plus has been widely used in medical device and pharmaceutical distribution applications that can’t open cases at the receiving operation. Hospital and medical centers require the order documentation to be on the outside of the parcel shipment
Automated Print Fold Insert – PFI prints, folds, and inserts the pack sheet into the carton. The PFI can also be used to insert documents at the start of an automated conveyor picking line into a carton or tote. Both One Step Plus and PFI technologies were developed to eliminate the labor spent printing, folding, inserting or applying packing sheets to parcel shipping applications.
The systems are ergonomically designed and supplied with the software controls and commissioning services as a single source solution. The systems both utilize the fastest high resolution printing technology to on demand print either a single sided or duplex sheet with the capabilities of printing graphics, customer logos, and terms and conditions at a rate of 13 CPM per unit. In higher volume operations, two or more parallel lines can double or triple the case per minute throughput. Each labeling line includes validation scanners to perform 100% label/documentation accuracy at 5 to 10 times the capabilities of manual operations.
Regardless of the warehouse, efulfillment is becoming a growing component of the operation. If 3PLs and Distribution Center’s need to minimize labor, they need automated labeling and manifesting technology that can run unattended during daily shipping spikes or peak 24/7 “Cyber Month” periods. Pack and ship automation can reduce over 50 seconds of labor from every order shipment by automating the order document shipping label so case and cartons can be processed and conveyed in a continuous operation and cartons and cases transported and sorted directly to the carrier delivery trailer.
Call to get additional facts on automating your pick, pack, ship and manifesting processes and plan to visit us at Modex 2018 booth B3519 to see the One-Step Plus and PFI in action. Plan to attend the Numina Group Educational Seminar: Automation to Boost Productivity in the Final 100’ of Distribution at Modex on Tuesday, April 10th 11:15-12:00 in Theater D.
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