Home delivery is all about getting orders to the customer accurately, quickly and, wherever possible, working to timed deliveries. Next day delivery is becoming the norm and order cut-off deadlines are getting later, shortening lead times for order picking. This demands the right stock profile in sufficient quantities to fulfill orders first time and complete.
Dragging orders out over subsequent deliveries will incur additional cost, but it is also important to avoid holding massive quantities of stock that will upset the finance director. So finding the optimum solution for storing and picking is vital for retailers seeking successful home delivery.
There’s an evolutionary path that often sees retailers starting out with manual operations for fulfilling home delivery orders. As volumes grow and business becomes more established, some form of mechanisation is added into the process. Once firmly established and volumes and service levels scale beyond the productive reach of manual processes, it’s time to consider automation.
For example, BITO recently provided a large number of pick stations for a market leading home delivery e-tailer, which is moving towards automation for order picking to reduce walking distances for staff. It uses Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) to pick up a bay of shelving and take it to a pick station where the items are picked.
The future of order picking for home delivery is likely to see some manual aspects being replaced by automated goods to picker systems, as described above. There will also be a demand for low cost automation. This will involve simple technology that is easy to implement and it will enable the redeployment of people tasked with carrying mundane containers on a regular basis to more useful functions.
BITO’s LEO Locative system is a good example of this. This driverless intralogistics transport solution that can take totes between picking stations, is easy to implement, adapt or remove and does not require any permanent fixtures.
At any stage on the e-tailer evolutionary path there will be a need for flexibility and to rapidly scale up operations during periods of peak demand, such as Christmas and Black Friday, which is vital in home delivery. Stepping stone solutions will also help retailers in the transition to automate home delivery picking process. A good example being a combination of ‘middle-ground mechanisation’ and intelligent software that provides a first step on the automation ladder, while at the same time giving scaleablity and agility. This, of course, is vitally important in the fast evolving home delivery sector.
The software creates a dynamic ‘pick and put’ process – a waveless batching system that removes the need for sortation equipment. By considering picking and putting as part of a continuous integrated process, it can create a dynamic batching solution without the need for a picking buffer.
The software can continuously monitor resource utilisation and dynamically adjust work orders and flows to reduce cycle time, labour and unit costs. This helps to minimise the peaks and valleys associated with traditional wave-based fulfilment solutions.
At BITO, we are seeing an increasing trend towards batch picking and efficient consolidation with very ergonomic packaging stations. We have been working in projects with an automation supplier that provides ‘put wall’ picking systems to fulfill home delivery orders. This involves picking several orders at once and taking them to a ‘put wall’, which is a bay of shelving that allows the picker to consolidate the items into containers, such as BITO XL open-fronted containers, in pigeonhole positions for each order.
Once an order is complete the light switches on to inform the packer on the other side of the shelving that it’s ready and waiting. The packer can then pull the container holding the complete order through for it to be packed as one delivery.
The packaging station is a vital element in home delivery because, whether it’s standard packaging or gift-wrapping, the station is the final touch point before the customer receives the order. The packaging has to be protective, efficient and attractive.
Packaging stations might typically require galvanised shelving to provide pigeonholes in which items can be placed for building customer orders. Packing tables will need to be as ergonomic as possible for staff, allowing everything they need to pack efficiently to be directly in front of them. Equipping the tables with further aids such as waste bins, pull-out drawers, a computer shelf and a monitor stand will also help.
The delivery container into which the items are being packed needs to be chosen carefully. Small order, high value item delivery volumes are growing, as is grocery home delivery. They require a special kind of transit packaging delivery unit: one that is durable, light, protective, secure, easy to identify, easy to handle and convenient to transport. All this must come at an economical price across the life of the unit.
When choosing such a container, consider a few key questions: is it available with a folding lid that can be secured with a lead seal? Can a delivery agent carry the container comfortably? How much will the container hold and, importantly, how much space will the empty container save when folded? Also, how quick and easy is it to fold so that the delivery agent can get onto the next job? Finally, will its dimensions allow optimum use of space in racking or shelving while in a warehouse or stockroom?
With all of these issues impacting on the potential success of a home delivery it makes sense to ensure everything works together, so it equally makes sense to look at suppliers that can manufacturer, source and design all parts of the solution including containers, packaging tables, order picking shelving and racking systems.