The e-commerce market has continued to grow at a rapid rate and expect grow to more than $400 billion in the next several years, with Forrester Research estimating $414.0 billion in sales in 2018 and eMarketer estimating $491.5 billion in 2018. Daily innovations, new technology, and faster delivery and processing options are just a few of the factors driving growth in the market. Customers are readily adopting the luxuries resulting from these new advancements and are beginning to not only be accustomed to faster service, but they are demanding it. Companies are feeling the stress because of customer demands and have started incorporating new technologies and delivery options.
Currently, Amazon leads the pack and has set the pie high in the sky by implementing free two-day shipping to its 41 million U.S. Prime loyalty program members on all purchases for an annual fee of $99. Meanwhile, Walmart is not far behind with its own program, ShippingPass, which offers consumers free three-day shipping for only $50 per year. As these e-commerce giants continue to push the limits by guaranteeing faster fulfillment times, other companies are looking for ways to keep up and not lose the market that they are already desperately trying to hold on to.
Following in the footsteps of Amazon and Walmart, many companies have begun to reassess switching their manual warehouse and distribution centers over to automated solutions. These companies are quickly discovering benefits as a result of their new automated solutions as well as seeing an impact on their bottom lines that are outweighing their investment costs.
These are just three types of benefits an automation good-to-man system can generate:
1. Unrivalled Efficiency Resulting in Happy Customers
Manufacturers and warehouse distributors can see significant growth in efficiency and productivity when their manual solution is upgraded to become automated. On average, an automated solution can be up to six times more efficient than a manual solution and can be able to handle up to 1,000 totes per hour. Additionally, automation has been known to be quicker and more accurate in terms of order fulfillment, inventory, inventory accuracy and speed of processing orders in any warehouse environment, which is tremendously valuable in an e-commerce fulfillment environment.
The e-commerce world also requires multiple stock keeping units (SKUs) for each individual product or item in order for the products or items be located and pulled quickly. Automated systems are programmed to identify and execute the most effective path to picking an order of products by their SKUs. Figuring out how to do this best and in a timely fashion is necessary and a lucrative asset to those who are able to accomplish it. It empowers manufacturers and distributors to decrease the time the customer places an order to when it is out the door to their hands.
2. Product Traceability
Automated solutions enable manufacturers and distributors to verify the historical data, location, or application of an item or product by means of documented recorded identification. This data can be shared with customers and tracking notifications can be set up to inform them where their item is throughout the entire process. The automated systems can locate the item by its SKUs and automatically assign it to the person that purchased the item. That data can then be shared with the customer to let them know that the order has been processed and then again once the item has been shipped out the doors. Customers can see where the item is coming from and exactly how long it will take for them to have it in their hands. This increased visibility leads to more customer satisfaction and repeat business.
3. More Space Utilization = More Cost Savings
Traditional, manual environments are very different from an e-commerce warehouse or distribution center because a traditional set up would have dictated aisles for workers or forklifts to maneuver through the product, pick what was needed and move on to the next selection. In many cases, this involves racks of goods in the single location in order to maximize space and have all products on-hand in one locale. These ranks or obstacles are not only cumbersome to maneuver around, but they also add to the overall cost of running the warehouse due to an increased cost for more space.
Many automated centers have floor-based storage, which means goods are accessed from above and placed on conveyor sequences as the manufacturer or distributor wants. An automated robot and gantry operate in the area a client requires, making efficient use of the available space. When a particular SKU is necessary for fulfilling an order, a robot gantry retrieves the corresponding tote and deposits it onto the shuttle device. The robot travels along the gantry and transports the tote to a conveyor line that feeds the picking stations. Once picking from a tote is complete, it is conveyed back to its location within the storage area. This is all done in one, fluid motion. By eliminating aisle and racks from the equation, manufactures can see space, cost and energy savings that the e-commerce solution provides. Manufactures and distributors can also take the cost savings and apply it to improving other areas of their solutions to reach even more efficiency.
New, more convenient ways for consumers to shop and purchase items will continue to change and impact the e-commerce market, which will keep automation a vital component to any manufacturer or distributor’s success. Automation and streamlined operations will help to increase their bottom lines by meeting consumers’ demands and expectations. It is important for manufacturers and distributors to find solutions that are able to work with their existing infrastructure or can be the foundation for a new system that best fits their needs and overall goals. It will enable them to stay competitive and even gain more ground against their competitors as well as keep customers happy.
Cimcorp is a global supplier of turnkey automation for intralogistics, using advanced robotics and software technologies. Visit their website here.