How Supply Chain Software Keeps iHerb’s New DC Running Smoothly

Written By: Ryan Bliss

iHerb’s new material handling system is full of the latest technologies, but the software behind it ensures everything works together.

One of our newest clients, iHerb.com, is a pure-play Internet retailer distributing healthy and organic products to customers in more than 180 countries around the world. To serve the company’s growing number of customers, iHerb decided to invest in a second distribution center to better reach its East Coast customers as well as provide additional support for international orders.

To do this, iHerb chose to open its second fulfillment center in Hebron, Ky, strategically located near a large international shipping hub. But iHerb wasn’t looking to simply improve location, the company also wanted to invest in material handling technology and software that would allow faster order shipping times for its customers.

The final system, pictured below, contains a brand new goods-to-person order picking system called Perfect Pick. The 10 aisles of the Perfect Pick system hold a combined 3 million units which are stored in compartmentalized totes. The totes are then delivered by iBots to 1 of 20 operator stations where product is picked from the delivered tote to the shipping carton.

E-Commerce DC system rendering

In addition to Perfect Pick, iHerb’s new material handling system contains new, low-profile conveyor called ZiPline, designed and manufactured by Bastian Solutions. Each Perfect Pick operator station uses pick to light devices to signal which cartons need product, and pick-to-light devices are located in the high-velocity pick module which houses the fastest-moving SKUs in the system.

Other technologies include:

  • Carton erectors
  • Automated labeling machines for empty shipping carton license plate labels
  • RF guns for picking in cold storage and racking
  • Two shoe sorters
  • Intralox ARB sorters
  • Two rotary screw air compressors
  • Dunnage dispensers and automatic tapers
  • Weight check scale
  • Print and apply labelers for shipping labels with an inline scale for manifesting
  • Custom fabricated Perfect Pick Workstations designed by Bastian Solutions
  • 50+ workstations with touch screen monitors
  • Bulk pallet rack and carton flow

With all the technologies and 35,000 SKUs to manage, iHerb’s Hebron facility relies on Exacta 6.0, a warehouse control system (WCS) and suite of supply chain software. Exacta’s ability to seamlessly interface with iHerb’s host system and the variety of automation technologies keeps the system running smoothly.

Exacta software screen

Exacta software interacts with Perfect Pick operators to show quantity, product, and images for quick recognition.

Oftentimes it’s not the software that gets noticed when a facility invests in an automated system, but without it, many processes and components just wouldn’t work together. So what does Exacta 6.0 provide at iHerb? As you can see below, a lot.

– Exacta Connect

  • Facilitates all incoming and outgoing messaging to iHerb’s host system
  • Real-time response on pick and put confirmations, routing instructions, and weight information
  • Allows updates to orders with real-time reaction in the WCS

– Automated Order Routing integrated with conveyor controls

  • Routing of replenished and empty inventory totes into and out of Perfect Pick, including weight and profile check
  • Automated release of shipping cartons, followed by dimension check verification and automated license plate application
  • Pick zone routing
  • Pack and ship sorter routing
  • Weight check for quality control
  • Weight capture for manifesting completed boxes
  • Automated application of shipping labels
  • Tight integration with other modules at the Perfect Pick workstation for operator picking

– Exacta Touch and Automation Service

  • Interfaces with the Perfect Pick controller to manage and sequence all tasks for the iBots for efficient presentation to the operator
  • Interacts with the operator at the workstations to show quantity, product, and images for quick recognition.
  • Utilizes pick to light which results in fast, accurate picking for the operator

– Exacta Stats

  • Provides daily reporting on throughput and metrics, which allow the client to take full advantage of the system and identify underperforming areas

iHerb’s new facility is full of the latest material handling automation, but without the software, everything wouldn’t work as a system. If you are planning to invest in new technologies, take the time to research the software needed to integrate everything. Not only will you keep things running smoothly, but you’ll also have the benefit of daily reporting and monitoring to ensure your system stays healthy for many years to come.

Learn more about iHerb’s new ecommerce distribution center by watching this short video produced by DC Velocity.

Ryan Bliss is the Operations Manager at Bastian’s software division and has been with the company since 2007.

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2 comments

  1. SPS Chauhan says:

    Its an excellent System Ryan. I was very impressed !!

  2. Doug says:

    Ryan, thanks for sharing how blending the right information technology with material handling equipment can provide an extremely efficient warehouse.

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