Handling seasonal peaks requires automation that simplifies the surge in distribution.
Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Two phrases warehouse operators and supervisors never want to hear. As online shopping has progressed over the past 10 years warehouse operations have been asked to keep up. What was once a single Friday with retail store deals has turned into a week and a half on-line feeding frenzy. Websites like Amazon are now offering Black Friday type discounts up to a week in advance, all leading up to Cyber Monday which is expected to top $3 billion in 2016 sales.
How are e-commerce distribution centers expected to keep up with such a high peak in demand while, at the same time, running efficiently and cost effectively the other 50.5 weeks of the year? Maximize automation? Depend on seasonal employees? Forecast orders ahead of time as best as possible? In order to be best prepared for Black Friday and the potential 10:1 volume spike, distribution leadership must begin looking at how their warehouses are set up.
1) Do Not OVER Automate Your Warehouse
One of the biggest mistakes warehouse managers can make when designing for peak season is to over-automate their warehouse. With new technologies like Perfect Pick, AutoStore and Servus shuttle systems, it’s easy to understand why operations would want to limit headcount year round.
E-commerce surge seasons only last a couple weeks out of the year; therefore, it’s unnecessary to design your warehouse to utilize large capital technologies for peak volume. Additionally, the last thing warehouse managers want to see is their shiny new pieces of automation sitting idle for extended periods of time. Automate for average days; simplify for peak.
2) Simplifying Your System for Seasonal Employees
When volume spikes during peak season there is no getting around temporary labor. If the automation in your warehouse can hit peak rates with regular workforce your system is over-designed. Additionally, if you have enough labor to throw at additional warehouse tasks for peak rates, it may be time to take another look at your labor count. Find the sweet spot to ensure appropriate labor for peak season and simplify tasks for temporary employees working less than a month out of the year.
Picking technologies such as Pick to Light, Voice Picking and RF Scanning can be useful tools to simplify operations and reach high throughput. However, lights, voice units, and mobile devices can add up in the price column for large user systems. Additionally, once a product is picked there is still a large labor need for downstream outbound operations. Especially during surge season, packing processes can become intricate and potentially require special handling for value added services along with last minute order drops for same-day shipping.
3) Warehouse Software May Be Your Solution
What is the sweet spot to ensure your warehouse is optimized for average day volume and simplified enough to bring on seasonal employees during peak seasons like Black Friday? Your answer may be finding the right order fulfillment software—such as a WMS, WCS, and WES—to organize order drops, labor allocation, and outbound processing.
Simplified processes driven by data collecting supply chain software can help facilitate outbound operations and make first-time operators system experts. Waving and controlling order release allows for proper balance throughout the warehouse. This is particularly important with e-commerce systems as orders are dropped throughout the day, sometimes with less than two hours allowed for shipping turnaround.
Labor management tools also allow supervisors to have a holistic view of daily operations and monitor operator progress. The dynamic movement of labor to struggling work areas can help ensure maximum utilization of technologies and labor. Lastly, simplifying user interface processes allow immediate utilization of fresh seasonal employees. Coupling affordable RF picking technologies with simplified step-by-step pack stations can make any worker an operations MVP.
These are just a couple considerations to take when working with e-commerce facilities. A sound warehouse design with strong order fulfillment software can help alleviate the stress of Black Friday operations and make the strategy of hitting peak ratios an exciting challenge!
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