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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.

April 18, 2018

Sorting It Out: Business Metrics Drive Technology Adoption

Adopting Order Fulfillment Technologies that “FIT” Your Business Model


As was expected the MODEX 2018 show included many new and interesting automation technologies. To review SCD’s live from the show video coverage click here – Day 1 & Day 2. However, when adopting new technology, business managers and system designers must be acutely aware of how the company’s SKU and customer order profiles impact on operations. It is therefore, imperative to thoroughly analyze the company’s business metrics, such as:

Holste Says...

In order to better manage capacity and productivity issues, shippers are adopting more interactive technologies, such as blending voice and light directed picking technologies to maximize the efficiency and accuracy of their pickers.

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  • SKU mix and handling requirements
  • customer order profiles
  • full case and split case picking volume
  • lines per order
  • inventory turns
  • shipping and returns policies
  • value added services

All of these will factor into what type of technologies would be most appropriate. However, the company’s business and management philosophy must also be factored into the planning process. For example: companies that dependent on short-range sales forecasting methods may be reluctant to fund projects that do not payback within the planning horizon. Other companies have policies that call for headcount reduction through attrition making justification based on labor savings more challenging.


Of course, there are many other issues that can influence the adoption decision such as:

  • decreasing productivity and increasing per piece handling cost
  • environmental conditions, i.e. freezer/cooler, hazardous materials, etc
  • inconsistent work schedules
  • internal maintenance capabilities
  • training, safety, and ergonomics
  • what the competition may or may not be doing

The above are issues which eventually require the adoption of technology solutions that incorporate a broad range of capabilities. A good example of that is the Dematic integrated multi-shuttle high density storage and picking system which is a platform for several technologies in a relatively small footprint – as we described in our Day 2 show video coverage.


In order to better manage capacity and productivity issues, shippers are adopting more interactive technologies, such as blending voice and light directed picking technologies to maximize the efficiency and accuracy of their pickers. For example: pickers use a voice directed system to batch pick SKUs required to fill customer orders in totes. Then a transportation system, such as conveyors or AGV’s (as highlighted in our above referenced show video presentations), deliver the picked SKUs to order consolidation modules. As the products arrive at the appropriate module, a light directed system indicates which SKUs are to be “put” to each customer order container. As was on display at Modex - more automated versions of this would utilize robots for the picking and putting operations.


Order fulfillment system designs that incorporate the “Goods-to-Person” (GTP) method, allow improved ergonomics since the items to be picked come to the worker (worker stays in one place) while presenting each SKU to be picked at an ergonomic height with less lifting and bending. Automated GTP configurations, that typically utilize high density storage technology like Vertical Lift Modules (VLM), reduce the cube space required for storing product while increasing picking speed and accuracy. A good example of this is the Modula VLM which we described in above references Day 2 show video.


For more info on GTP solutions see – “An In-Depth Look at Goods-to-Person Order Fulfillment Solutions”Part 1 and Part 2


Final Thoughts


As solutions are sought to optimizing system design and performance there may be multi paths. However, there appears to be only one path for achieving the best overall system performance and that clearly involves the adoption of automated technologies.


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