Why Your E-Com Operation Needs Goods-to-Person Technology

May 25, 2020
vertical buffer module

E-commerce is exploding as consumer preferences shift away from traditional retail. These changes are putting unprecedented demand on warehouse operations as they adapt to new fulfillment models. Goods-to-person technologies can help bridge the gap between old warehouse practices and e-commerce requirements.

Almost 80% of all Americans have shopped online, and 43% make online purchases at least once a week. U.S. consumers spent almost $587 billion online in 2019, and online retail grew by 14.9% year over year.  Online sales were projected to hit $620 billion in 2020, and those numbers were calculated before the Covid 19 pandemic struck in March of 2020.

There is no end in sight to the transition from brick and mortar locations to e-commerce, and warehouse operators need to make sure their business practices are in alignment with this fundamental shift in the way that Americans purchase products.   

Major Warehouse Challenges

In a recent survey of more than 250 top logistics and supply chain managers, they were asked to list their three biggest workforce challenges.  For most warehouse managers, the answers probably aren’t surprising:

  • 62% said that finding and keeping skilled workers was their biggest challenge.The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that warehouse workers quit at a rate of 36% annually, underscoring the problem that turnover is a major problem in warehouses.
  • 57% of respondents listed inadequate workforce productivity as one of their top three problems.
  • 45% said that labor costs were near the top of their list of problems.In fact, 54% of warehouse operators increased their pay in 2019 because of labor scarcity and competition.

In addition to workforce issues, warehouse operators in most of the West have been hit with skyrocketing real estate costs.  In parts of California, warehouse and industrial property costs have increased by double digits every year for the last 5 years. 

“Goods-to-Person” Can Help Solve These Problems

Goods to person warehouse automation technologies can make a huge difference when it comes to labor costs and space utilization. Instead of having workers retrieve goods in the warehouse, AS/RS solutions deliver the goods to workers, and they offer far denser storage than traditional warehouse layouts.  

First, let’s address space utilization.  AS/RS solutions can create highly compressed storage areas for goods whether they are stored as pallets, cases, totes or individual items.  Equipment like vertical lift modules can store goods in a column that extends up to your building’s ceiling, reducing existing rack and shelving storage footprints by up to 85%. 

When it comes to the workforce, AS/RS solutions can reduce your labor requirements by up to 66%, while increasing your pick accuracy to near 100%.  Goods-to-person greatly reduces travel time within the warehouse while also reducing pick times. 

What Types of Goods-To-Person Technologies Should You Consider?

  • Crane-Based Mini-Load AS/RS: With a single, crane-mounted load handling device dedicated to each extremely dense storage aisle, mini-loads handle loads in cases, totes or trays.
  • Robotic Shuttles: Handling cases, totes or trays, this type of goods-to-person automated storage system can deliver increasingly higher throughput based on the number of independently moving robotic shuttles inducted into the system.
  • Vertical Buffer Modules (VBMs): The newest solution available, the Vertical Buffer Module, is a cost effective tote handling system consisting of an enclosed dense shelving system with a movable mast in the center that stores and retrieves totes, delivering them to an ergonomic turntable picking station or automatically delivering them via outbound conveyor.
  • Floor Robots: The system acquired and used by the world’s largest online retailer stores inventory on portable, high-density storage shelving retrieved and transported from storage to picker by a fleet of autonomous, mobile robots.
  • Horizontal Carousels: Consisting of highly dense storage bins mounted on an oval track that rotates horizontally to deliver product storage locations to an operator, for quick order fulfillment.
  • Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs): These enclosed automated storage and retrieval systems consist of two columns of trays with an inserter/extractor in the center delivering trays of stored items to the operator as needed.
  • Vertical Carousels: Comprised of a series of carriers that travel bi-directionally in a vertical loop around a track (similar to a Ferris wheel), vertical carousels deliver stored items safely and quickly to an ergonomically positioned work counter at the operator's command.

Learn More

Contact an automation expert at Raymond West to get more information on goods-to-person options for your warehouse.  Give us a call at 562-944-8067.