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Editor’s Pick: The Ultimate Guide to Reduce Warehouse Travel

Note: Today’s post is part of our ‘Editor’s Picks’ series in which we highlight recent posts from our sponsors that provide supply chain insights and advice. Today’s article is from Lucas Systems and highlights ways to reduce warehouse trips.

Labor is the biggest operating cost in most developing countries, and trips to the warehouse often account for half of all working time, especially in order picking. In some DCs, pickers can travel more than 12 miles per shift.

Labor productivity and efficiency are critical for developing countries struggling to hire and retain workers amid tight labor markets and rising wages. Complicating the challenge, the demand for warehouse workers continues to grow as companies build new distribution centers and expand existing facilities to meet the growing volume of direct-to-consumer shipments.

According to US government labor statistics, growth in e-commerce sales drives a 10% annual increase in demand for warehouse labor. By 2025, e-commerce is expected to grow an additional $1.4 trillion and account for 50% of retail growth. At this level, the industry will need 20% more DC workers than it employs today

Additionally, there is an emerging shortage of hourly workers across all industries. Improving productivity is imperative to meeting the workforce challenge in e-commerce. And reducing warehouse trips is the key to improving productivity.

Movements in the picking and replenishment processes are the keystone

In a conventional, non-automated order picking process, travel takes up most of a DC associate’s day. Warehouse workers who follow an RF picking process typically spend more time walking or driving between picking locations than removing products from bins, locations, or rack locations. As the diagram (below) illustrates, hands-free voice technology can significantly reduce the time spent at the picking station, but it does not solve the travel time between pickings.

For years, distribution centers have devoted considerable effort to reducing warehouse trips through software solutions such as niche, conventional automation, and lean process initiatives. These efforts take on new urgency as the growth of e-commerce drives labor demand.

Proven Strategies for Reducing Warehouse Trips

  1. Process Engineering. The most common process-related solution to the travel challenge is to divide order lines by area (based on product speed, type/size, etc.) and optimize picking processes in the different sampling areas. picking items from picking modules with flow rack and conveyors. It is not uncommon for pick module workers to use voice in a bucket brigade process to pick hundreds of lines per hour. Some Lucas customers achieve 1,000 picks per hour in high-density picking operations. Moving from single order picking to batching can significantly reduce trips by increasing picking density (i.e. the number of picks per unit of travel).

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