How 3PLs Can Leverage Order Picking Technology and Robotics Automation

Blog
August, 2019

Many e-commerce retailers are tapping third-party logistics (3PL) providers to shoulder the burden of order fulfillment in the face of increasing consumer expectations for on-time and accurate deliveries. To attract and secure these retail contracts, 3PLs must quickly adapt and become more automated.

3PL providers in the fulfillment sector face many of the same market challenges as their retail customers — and the growing shortage of available labor is at the top of this list. In the past, 3PLs have simply scaled up their workforce to meet service contracts. But to meet e-commerce requirements, they’ll need new strategies that aren’t as dependent on adding labor. As a result, many are accelerating their transitions to automation and digital technologies. 

Let’s look at a few of the ways they’re addressing this challenge through automated warehouse solutions that drive productivity and accuracy improvements in their existing workforce.

Robotics

Robotic technologies play an ever-expanding role in automating complex e-commerce fulfillment tasks. And with the trend toward longer term retail contracts, many 3PLs are making necessary investments to boost their operational effectiveness. From picking robots and the unloading of shipping containers to robotic palletizing and depalletizing systems, these high-performance solutions deliver optimum productivity and accuracy rates. 

Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMR) have improved significantly and experienced wider adoption in recent years. AGVs reduce the labor requirements related to storage, retrieval and other associated picking-related tasks. AMRs automate goods-to-operator picking, particularly in remote areas of a facility. Both offer measurable efficiency improvements and reduced labor costs.

Voice-directed picking 

Voice-picking solutions are ideal for those 3PLs starting the transition to automation. Voice enables hands-free, eyes-up picking workflows for productivity increases up to 35 percent with 99.9 percent accuracy rates. Voice-directed picking also accelerates training and new employee onboarding while improving overall workplace safety.

Pick-to-light solutions

Used in both picking and putting applications, pick-to-light technologies combine robust pick-face hardware and intuitive order picking software to help 3PLs effectively manage each and open-case picking. Today’s solutions deliver productivity rates from 300 to 800 lines per hour. These flexible pick- and put-to-light systems can be retrofitted into existing 3PL operations, and require minimal order filler training to achieve improved efficiencies in high-velocity, high-SKU, high-density fulfillment environments.

Put wall order consolidation

Put wall systems have become indispensable in pure-play e-retail operations. They provide the ability to consolidate orders from various upstream picking processes for fast, accurate order fulfillment. In the face of never-ending SKU proliferation and varying order profiles, put wall systems add much-needed scalability to 3PL fulfillment processes. The latest put wall technology allows end users to configure the size of put wall cubbies and associated light instructions to better adapt to changing order and product profiles.

Mobile pick walls

Mobile pick walls add picking flexibility and go-anywhere mobility to order fulfillment operations. Ideal for addressing low-velocity items and managing distant break-pack picking areas, these solutions utilize advanced pick-to-light components to improve accuracy and achieve pick rates exceeding 300 lines per hour.

Labor management software (LMS)

LMS provides incentive-based tracking, coaching and analytics to help 3PL operators maximize employee performance and effectively staff for every fulfillment scenario. Modern labor management systems deliver the on-demand intelligence to measure, manage and plan DC labor allocations to increase productivity, efficiency and overall facility performance. Executive dashboards give operators access to insightful reporting and performance analytics to drive continuous productivity improvements and labor cost reductions.

Read our white paper to learn more about how 3PLs are making the transition to automation technologies.

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