Key Considerations When Designing Goods-to-Person Systems

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AutoStore shuttles

The ever-increasing need to satisfy customers in the world of order fulfillment is causing the warehouse and distribution industries to consider more efficient and cost-effective solutions to satisfy the need.

This has led many companies to implement, or consider, higher-automation solutions that include goods-to-person technologies.  These technologies input, store, and retrieve products in an automated fashion instead of employees walking or driving to put away and retrieve products manually.

Benefits of typical goods-to-person systems include:

  • Increased storage capacity and storage density
  • Increased throughput
  • Increased picking and order accuracy
  • Improved ergonomics for operators
  • Improved energy consumption
  • Improved product handling and security
  • Scalable solutions
  • And many more

There is a wide variety of goods-to-person technologies currently in the industry, some of which include:

Typically, some of the first considerations that drive companies towards goods-to-person technologies are needs for increased throughput, needs for more space or storage, or more dense storage, order fulfillment cost reduction, or issues finding or retaining employees. There are many more considerations when designing these systems, but some of the key considerations are highlighted below.

Goods-to-Person System Considerations

Perfect Pick robotic shuttles

Throughput

The throughput rates per operator and for entire systems are typically quite a bit higher than traditional manual operations. The storage density, the automated storage and retrieval of cartons or bins, the ergonomic workstations for operators, and the software that optimizes the order fulfillment are all key factors that improve the throughput of goods-to-person technologies.

For example, a traditional manual picking operation with carts or order pickers in a racking or shelving storage solution may offer a throughput of 100 picks per hour per operator. AutoStore typically can achieve 200-250 bin presentations per hour per station, based on the orders and order profiles. The system also allows for batch picking, so the 200-250 bin presentations per hour could ultimately provide product to fulfill 250-300 lines per hour.

Perfect Pick can achieve 350-400 bin presentations per hour per station and offers batching opportunities as well. Goods-to-person systems offer the flexibility to increase throughput by adding cranes, robots, shuttles, and picking stations as needed.

Storage

Goods-to-person technologies offer some of the densest storage in the industry. They are able to provide this because the need for aisles and traffic patterns typically required for operators and forklifts is reduced to only what is needed for crane or shuttle equipment.

Or in the case of the grid-based AutoStore system, there are no aisles; the robots traverse the top of the grid and dig for bins. Goods-to-person systems also offer the flexibility to utilize more vertical space than traditional static rack storage and the flexibility to expand for future storage requirements.

Product Profile

Major factors when designing goods-to-person systems include the profile of the products to be handled. Many technologies have limits on the dimensions of the bins or cartons to be stored, as well as weight limitations. The quantity of products offered is also a determining factor for some goods-to-person systems. Some technologies have access to all storage locations, such as Servus and AutoStore, while others may only have access to what is stored in a specific aisle of the system.

For example, if a company has a large product offering, AutoStore is a great solution because the system has access to every bin at all times. The digging of bins in the grid also naturally slots the faster-moving product towards the top, while the slower-moving products gravitate towards the bottom.

However, Perfect Pick is great for a smaller product offering or a sub-set of products. If slotted properly and order cartons do not have to visit multiple aisles to complete an order, the throughputs of the system can be even higher. The system does allow the flexibility for cartons to visit multiple aisles to fulfill orders while maintaining high throughputs.

Staffing

Many companies face issues with finding and retaining employees, whether it’s due to geographic location, competition in the area, less than ideal working conditions, etc. With throughput, storage, and accuracy improvements, companies are typically able to obtain higher throughputs with the same level of staffing, allowing them to reassign staff to other operations, or obtain the same throughputs with less staff. The reduction in staffing can occur naturally through attrition due to some of the above issues.

Staffing typically accounts for the majority of operational expenses, and therefore a major cost of order fulfillment. Improving staffing efficiencies is a direct impact to the cost of order fulfillment.

Accuracy and Security

Goods-to-person technologies utilize software to control order fulfillment and product inventory, as well as picking confirmation systems to ensure accurate order fulfillment. With automated inventory management, inventory is more accurate than in a manual operation. With automated picking confirmation systems, order fulfillment has improved accuracy as well. The goods-to-person system brings the correct product to the operator and asks for a confirmation of the order that the pick is allocated to, and oftentimes a quantity verification.

The way in which product is stored in goods-to-person systems allows for secure storage of products because authorized personnel, typically maintenance staff, are the only people allowed inside the storage system. These systems are also great for handling sensitive or delicate product, such as glass containers or liquids, due to their design and smooth transitions of bins or cartons.

Business Case

Servus shuttle system

All of the above considerations are key when designing a goods-to-person system, but the ultimate consideration for most is the business case. The technology has to be worth the investment, and this is achieved through a combination of all of the above considerations.

  • Reallocation or reduction in staffing reduces the highest percentage of order fulfillment costs.
  • Increased throughput allows companies to meet their customers’ demands and recognize more business.
  • Improved order accuracy also helps companies provide what their customers request in an accurate, timely manner.
  • Storage improvements can reduce operating space, or avoid expansion or relocation as the business grows.

Typically, goods-to-person systems pay for themselves in two or three years, but every solution is different. To learn more about these technologies, visit the order fulfillment section on our website, or contact one of our engineering experts today.

Nathan is Northeast Regional Manager at Bastian Solutions. He has worked with clients to evaluate their processes and recommend solutions to increase throughputs, productivity, and storage utilization, as well as reduce time and costs. Expertise includes extensive data analysis, slotting analysis, layout design, conveyor system design, various material handling equipment, good-to-person technologies, automated technologies, and developing engineered standards. Nathan attended the University of Missouri – Columbia where he earned his B.S. in Industrial Engineering.

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