In today's fast-moving economy, commerce order fulfillment is mission-critical for businesses like grocery stores, electronics distributors, automakers, clothing retailers, medical product suppliers, and other manufacturers of all kinds. While their industry segments may vary, these corporations have one thing in common. They need to get their products to market—and in the hands of their customers—faster than ever before if they wish to remain competitive in a global marketplace. Doing so involves honing their supply chain, distribution, and order fulfillment approach to accelerate business growth and ensure high customer satisfaction.
Order Fulfillment Complexities
In the effort to meet worldwide customer demands, warehouses around the globe stock billions of items awaiting purchase. When a customer order arrives, a distributor must gather the right products, pack them securely, and ship them to the correct address. While accomplishing these steps for a single order is a relatively straightforward process, managing hundreds or thousands of orders compounds the magnitude of the challenge. The complexity of handling so many customer requests introduces the potential for errors at each step in the material handling process. For these reasons, legacy paper-based approaches used as order picking solutions cannot accommodate the pace of today's business.
In contrast, modern order fulfillment systems use trusted systems infrastructure to connect devices, data, and staff seamlessly. The Intel® Connected Logistics Platform (Intel® CLP), including Intel® Connected Logistics Platform (Intel® CLP) Light-Guided Inventory Management technologies, offers a launchpad for optimized warehouse management systems.
What Is a Light-Guided System?
Light guided systems make the order fulfillment process faster, easier, and more accurate. These warehouse systems, along with smart logistics and a smart supply chain, revolutionize the way companies meet their customers' needs.
Light-guidance in a logistics environment taps Internet of Things devices, software, and cloud services to simplify the time-consuming task of fulfilling orders. This combination of technologies speeds the order picking and put-away process by directing warehouse employees using lighted displays, thereby ensuring the right products reach the right customers. In addition, light-guided systems reduce the possibility of an inadvertent pick or put-away error. The key to it all involves an integrated, connected logistics system that gathers and manages order details digitally.
Light-guided systems make the order fulfillment process faster, easier, and more accurate.
Light-Guidance and the Intel® Connected Logistics Platform (Intel® CLP)
Intel® Connected Logistics Platform (Intel® CLP) is a pre-certified track-and-trace solution designed to help companies of all sizes ease warehouse management in the supply chain. In warehousing scenarios, Intel® Connected Logistics Platform (Intel® CLP) Light-Guided Inventory Management technologies combine elements including smart tags, a proprietary Wireless Sensor Network, Intel® technology-based smart gateways, and an optional smartphone application. Intel CLP Light-Guided Inventory Management technologies offer the ingredients to help connect devices with warehouse data wherever they may reside, from edge to cloud. Intel CLP offers synergy with other Intel® technology-based logistics products for shipment tracking, RFID in-warehouse asset tracking, and robotics.
How Does Pick or Put-to-Light Work?
With light-guided approaches, each customer order number generates a unique bar code that adheres to a reusable bin, shipping box, or cart. Once scanned, the bar code triggers the pick-to-light system to direct that receptacle, often on a conveyor belt or a storage location, to employees who add the needed inventory to fulfill an order.
The process can also work in reverse. Warehouse inventories need re-stocking periodically. Put-to-light systems help employees gather incoming inventory and ensure its storage in an optimal place for future picking.
On the warehouse floor, employees are guided in their picking task by a series of alphanumeric displays and illuminated buttons mounted on warehouse shelving or similarly accessible locations. The lighted readouts identify each item requested by a customer, along with the needed size or quantity. Once that inventory is gathered and placed in the bin, the employee usually pushes a lighted button to acknowledge that pick is complete.
Smaller-scale warehouse operations solutions sometimes use mobile carts with a pick-to-light display on them, allowing a single person to fill an order correctly. However, in massive warehouses, this approach proves impractical. Instead, large warehouses create “work zones” or “sectors”. In the simplest terms, work zones represent defined areas that house a small portion of the overall facility's inventory. Because one employee manages each zone, he or she minimizes walking distance when fulfilling an order.
In cases where a customer order involves inventory residing in multiple zones, the pick-to-light system begins the fulfillment process with one picker. Once the ordered products in the first zone are placed into the receptacle, that same bin moves on to the next teammate to add additional products from their assigned area. Much like an assembly line in a factory, the picking process continues until the entire customer order combines into a single bin.
From there, that receptacle usually travels on a different conveyor to other warehouse employees for packing and shipping. The empty bin or cart is then ready for a new bar code, which initiates another pick-to-light process.
Benefits of Light Guidance in Operations
With light-guided systems, organizations of all sizes see immediate value. Key benefits include:
- Increase throughput times: Light guidance provides warehouse staff with a far more efficient approach for a fast-moving job. Warehouses implementing light-guided systems have increased their capacity substantially.
- Reduce errors: By simplifying the order fulfillment process, light guidance reduces the picking errors by a dramatic margin. Correct orders create greater customer satisfaction. Also, accurate picking leads to fewer product returns and lower costs for return shipping and re-stocking of inventory.
- Paperless picking: Old paper-based picking approaches required warehouse employees to walk long distances with a physical checklist to complete a single order. Today, zoned light-guided systems reduce the range any employee must walk during the order fulfillment process. Doing so saves valuable time and reduces staff fatigue.
- Rapid ROI: Since the fully scalable light-guided system helps fill customer orders faster, more orders process daily. Plus, with the zone system, companies can fit more inventory within their warehouse and reduce costs.
- Ease of use: A significant benefit of pick and put-to-light is its simplicity. Within an hour, new employees can readily understand the light-guided system, read its lighted displays, and interact with it to gather a customer order. While inventory in different zones may vary, the process does not. Therefore, any employee can take over a different zone seamlessly. In turn, this makes warehouse management easier too.
- Scalability and high density: Whether a warehouse needs to fulfill a hundred orders—or several thousand— light-guided systems have the capability of scaling to the demand placed on it. Today's investment in light-guided systems offers long-term benefits as a company grows in size, capacity, and product diversity.
- Systems integration: Because light-guided systems can connect seamlessly with a warehouse management system (WMS) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform, warehouse managers have the capability for real-time reporting. A simplified dashboard can offer the ability to track inventory, view any order's status, understand employee picking rates, and much more.
If your company has not yet explored the opportunities light-guidance offers, now is the time to jumpstart the process with the proven Intel CLP technologies as the foundation.