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June 2 , 2010 -


Logistics News: GNC Uses In-House Developed Pick Carts to Turbocharge Piece Picking

After Considering Voice and Pick to Light, Retailer goes with Unique Solution that Produces High Throughput and almost Perfect Accuracy


Cliff Holste, Materials Handling Editor

SCDigest Says:

For regular sized bottles of vitamins and supplements, pickers can achieve 1500 units per hour – with near 100% picking accuracy.

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Piece picking, always a distribution center challenge, is a growing issue for many companies as order profile change, driven in part by increased levels of e-commerce business and the need to pick for individual stores at retail.


GNC (formerly known as General Nutrition Centers) fulfills some 90% of its total volume through piece picking, as its stores rarely order in full case volumes, and it also rapidly builds its ecommerce channels.


Like many other companies, GNC needs to maintain very high levels of piece pick accuracy while achieving equally high levels of productivity – a tough challenge. That has driven many companies to evaluate or adopt such technologies as pick-to-light and voice technology to semi-automate the piece picking process.


According to GNC’s director of distribution Kevin Klocko, the company looked at these and other approaches for its three US distribution centers, but in the end, went with a unique pick cart system it developed in-house that enables very high levels of throughput and accuracy.


Klocko made his remarks and demonstrated the system in a recent videocast on The Supply Chain Television Channel. That broadcast is now available on-demand: Visible Inventory from Manufacturing to Shelf, Featuring The GNC Story.


The carts, in use for a number of years now, are actually in their second generation, according to Klocko, but the basic idea is the same (see images below): the carts use a large display driven by the Warehouse Management System (RedPrairie) that shows both the current pick as well as what picks are ahead to each associate. By using a cart system with the display, operators have “hands free picking” as with voice, pick to light, or wearable approaches.


A strategically placed scanner enables an absolutely smooth flow from the pick faces past the scanner to vaidate the UPC number for the pick and then into the cartons destined for each store or customer. The area for the cartons on the cart contains all the supplies needed to erect or seal a carton (including a roll of pre-printed carton ID labels that are scanned as picking for each new carton begins). After being sealed, a carton is placed on a takeaway conveyor on the right side of each pick aisle. Each aisle has pick faces on one side and a takeaway conveyor on the other.


If the wrong product is scanned for a particular carton, a large red image appears on the operator’s screen, and picking is stopped until the correct item is scanned.


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The electric cabling to power the PC and scanner and the movement of the pick cart in the aisles is supported by overhead runners. The runners provide assisted movement of the carts, enabling associates to move them up and down the aisles at high rates of speed. We’ll just say this much – you don’t want to get in a GNC pickers way!

General View of the GNC Pick Cart


Current and Upcoming Picks are Displayed on Large Flat Screen Monitor


The On-Board Scanner is Placed Just above where this Associate's Right

Hand is, Enabling Smooth Flow from Pick to Carton with Verification


A Back View of the GNC Pick Cart


Runners above each Pick Aisle Provide Assisted Movement

and Allow for Rapid Speeds with Minimal Physical Effort


The result in total is some of the fastest split case picking SCDigest has ever seen.


According to Klocko, average productivity is about 850 pieces per hour per picker, a number that includes many harder to pick items, such as very large plastic bottles of protein drink mix. For regular sized bottles of vitamins and supplements, pickers can achieve 1500 units per hour – with near 100% picking accuracy.


“The runners that the cart rolls on are the main benefit to using very little effort to move the cart thus keeping the majority of energy focused on picking not physical activity,” Klocko added.


To see the pick carts in action at GNC’s Anderson, SC distribution center, see the videocast at the link above.


What do you think of GNC’s split case pick carts? Used something similar – or have a better idea? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.


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