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Cliff Holste

Supply Chain Digest
Material Handling Editor

Logistics News

Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

March 2, 2016

Logistics News : Product Sequencing Technology Enables DCs to Build Customer Specific Pallet Loads

Sophisticated Software Key to Mixed SKU, Aisle Specific, Store Ready Palletizing


For several decades shippers have been providing pallet loads, which consist of a few layers of two or three different products, referred to as rainbow pallets. More recently, a few of the big box retailers require promotional pallets for end-of-aisle sales displays. Rather than layers of product, the shipper now must build columns of product. By stacking product in columns customers can more easily select the product they want. Building these column stacked pallet load configurations is usually done manually and separate from the normal order picking palletizing cycle requiring additional handling, staging and shipping coordination.

Holste Says...

Retailers are now requesting mixed SKU pallet loads that are arranged by aisle and product putaway location within the aisle.

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However, retailers, who are always looking for ways to optimize their in-store labor requirements, are now requesting mixed SKU pallet loads that are arranged by aisle and product putaway location within the aisle. This sophisticated pallet building capability is well beyond the pale for most DCs. Manually building such a pallet, while keeping it stable enough to transport, is a complex and time consuming trial and error challenge analogues to the famous Rubik’s Cube 3-D puzzle.

Clearly the bar for meeting customer specific order fulfillment requirements has been raised. The good news is that material handling technology (equipment, controls, and software) is now fast enough and cost effective enough to enable DCs to build customer specific pallet loads quickly, safely and efficiently.

One such solution is in some ways like a huge dispensing machine that has mini-load storage retrieval capability including an output that can deliver products to robotic palletizers in the proper sequence for building a stable load while attempting to satisfy the customer’s aisle specific requirements. Open-source software enables a robot controller to “teach itself” the movements required for a palletizing task. Multiple robotic functions operate with dual and triple arm technology using an actuator based system that can perform six to eight different functions at the same time. While these solutions take advantage of well established hardware, they are driven by sophisticated software programs based on complex algorithms.

In operations where manual labor is used to palletize, in addition to sequencing the cases, 3-D graphic displays show the worker where to place each case throughout the building operation - eliminating the tedious trial and error guess work.

In addition to building customer specific pallet loads, automatic product sequencing systems can deliver a mix of products in route-order delivery sequence to fluid-load trailers.


Final Thoughts

The store specific palletizing challenge for shippers is similar to that faced by the automotive industry decades ago - giving customers the options they want and doing it efficiently. And so it will be for order fulfillment centers where manual processes like picking cases and stacking them on pallets will ultimately be replaced with fully automated processes.

The next best opportunity to learn more about automated system technologies and how they can best be applied can be found at MODEX 2016 April 4 – 7, 2016 in Atlanta, GA. Check-it-out at: www.modexshow.com


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