The number of people who shop online and the types of products they shop for continues to grow. While the increased number of sales is good news for manufacturers, the number of small orders presents special challenges to supply chain managers. At a time when supply chain managers are looking for ways to reduce labor costs, improve logistics and increase profits, filling a larger number of small orders seemingly demands more effort and time on the part of the employees. Incorporating plastic bins or totes into the operation is a simple way to meet the challenge of effectively improving supply chain logistics.
Separating Models & SKUs
A major trend in the ecommerce space is the increased number of distribution and fulfillment centers worldwide. With at least half of the employees in a distribution center spending time picking orders, making it easy to find and pick the proper products is essential for reducing lead times. Mixing products with different SKUs has repeatedly proven to take more time when order picking than if you were to separate products into storage bins based on SKUs. That's why warehouses have found using plastic bins so beneficial; Limiting products with identical SKUs to a single bin makes it easy and eliminates any confusion for the order picker. Seconds used to hunt out the correct item may seem insignificant; but considering the number of orders picked by each employee daily, they add up to a serious time loss. When a single SKU is in a specific bin with the SKU visible on the outside, the right item can be identified at a glance and orders get fulfilled rapidly.
Reducing Travel Time
Most distribution centers rely on conveyer systems to transport items to various points throughout the warehouse. The complexity of the conveyer system also determines how much travel time is used to complete the order picking process and prepare multiple orders for shipment. Plastic totes help on conveyor belts and come in a variety of sizes, colors, and labeling options that make it simple to identify types of orders, scan barcodes, and move to the next stop on the conveyer.
Optimizing Vertical Picking Time
Not surprisingly, vertical picking takes more time than horizontal picking, where the items being selected are at floor level. The basic rule for distribution centers that have no other choice than to place some items vertically, is to place high turnover items at floor level and put those that don’t move as quickly higher up. Placing your best selling products in color coded & labeled bins allows the pickers to minimize the time it takes to pick items that are higher up and keep them separate for easy identification.
Some distribution centers have found that setting up “hot spots” with more room between high velocity items results in more efficient use of the pickers’ time. Designating levels of velocity and positioning those together that are the highest level prevents congestion by having the items they pick most frequently confined to a smaller area. This allows for more orders to be filled within a smaller area. The fewer people involved in picking any order; the less time and money it costs to fill it.
The need to reduce inventory also comes into play with regards to those items that are low velocity. Keeping minimal quantities of these items at the farthest distance from the floor will allow you to have what you need to fill your orders without taking up space that is better used for high velocity items.
Combining Small Orders
One of the reasons that plastic totes and bins are useful in warehouses & distribution centers is because they are highly customizable. Totes can be designed to fit the conveyer system as well as to fit the types of orders being placed. Since so many of the orders being placed are smaller, using the appropriate bins on the conveyer system will allow pickers to combine multiple small orders and save time picking and travelling. Depending on the set-up, this may be done by labeling totes, placing bar codes on the exterior, or by implementing separate compartments within the totes.
Finding the Right Supply Chain Solutions for Your Needs
Taking the basic rules for optimizing supply chain efficiency requires a basic understanding of the products being picked and the cube movement velocity of each. Utilizing the proper plastic totes or bins in your warehouse will make it easier to follow these rules and improve your daily supply chain logistics processes.