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Cliff Holste

Supply Chain Digest
Material Handling Editor

Logistics News - Sorting It Out

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.

September 20, 2017

Sorting It Out: Customized Order Fulfillment Requirements Drives Adoption of Automation Technology

Automated Processing Solutions Increases Order Processing Speed and Efficiency


Today’s shippers are providing an ever increasing array of individualized customer specific services that require special “off-line” operations including assembly, packaging, customization, and store-ready shipments that disrupt the continuity of orders flowing from picking to shipping. While most of these services are generally considered to be beneficial, they increase operational complexity and order processing cost.

Holste Says...

The order fulfillment process must take into account the changing needs of each customer including individual consumers.

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It is not uncommon for a shipper to be forced to react (often with little or no prior notice) to new never seen before requirements or specifications being imposed by a broad spectrum of high value customers. These customized services usually require setting up a separate standalone manual processing area which, in turn, adds a whole new dimension of operational complexity and cost. Failure to comply can result in an entire shipment being rejected, substantial charge backs and possible loss of business.

Going forward, the order fulfillment process must take into account the changing needs of each customer including individual consumers. While picking order profiles may be similar across a wide range of SKUs, kitting, order assembly, packing and shipping requirements must be accounted for within the system operation while maintaining speed and order accuracy. If some type of personalization, like monogramming, is being offered, that must be flagged and handled as a completely separate (discrete) process in addition to order picking.

What could be considered “new” is that discrete order picking processes are now being supported by highly flexible, adaptable, and agile automated solutions. The axiom that - the more automated a process is, the less flexible it is - has been debunked by intelligent control and software systems that can look ahead and make adjustments in real-time. This rapidly emerging technology has been made possible by relatively cheap computing power with blazingly fast processing speeds.

Final Thoughts

Do to the proliferation of individualized customer specific services, discrete order picking based on a new generation of automation technologies, such as robots and vision-guided AGVs, offers a viable alternative order fulfillment strategy that must be considered.

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