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VisionDirect sees clearer with SnapFulfil's picking system

In times of supply chain uncertainty and labour shortages, understanding the importance of materials handling at a more granular level is vital, explains SnapFulfil’s MD, Tony Dobson

How businesses pick, protect, store and control products as they select, collate, pack and prepare them for dispatch is crucial. Agile and configuration-based WMS applications help facilitate responsive support options and change management by allowing the flow of data and order of operations to be regularly updated, which generates much more data quality, resources allocation and process flow. 

For starters, demand-triggered replenishment provides proven efficiencies over high level rack-picking where part pallets are required, but to achieve further savings and enable the picking of smaller D2C orders, simultaneous order-picking needs to be considered. However, systems for this must ensure that pick tasks are only added to the picking ‘well’ once the stock has been confirmed as being in place to be picked. 

Efficiencies can also be driven from segregating single-item orders, since they can be picked into a single tote, cage pallet or trolley – and for these, the task of allocating the items to individual orders can be carried out at the pack stage. 

Multiple item orders should be realigned too, because even if these are picked efficiently, it’s vital that the time saved is not then eaten up having to sort through jumbled stock which has been picked by the same picker for multiple orders.  

The solution to this is a segmented pick trolley and it can range from a contact lens distributor which utilises up to 40 individual mini-shoe-box sized totes arranged systematically, to a carpet warehouse that uses cage and stillages with adjustable shelving and compartments. 

A helping hand 

For SnapFulfil clients the pickers’ hand-held device first provides full direction to the picker, in terms of what ‘containers’ are required for the pick. During the pick itself, scanning is required for each SKU to be picked, with each order’s quantity directed into its allotted compartment – and where multiple compartments are in use, each deposit is confirmed by a tote scan to avoid errors. 

Once picked, the trolley or cage moves onto the pre-packing area and is scanned to bring up relevant details and automatically print a carrier label where required. This drastically reduces the time required to match up picked stock with customer orders and also eliminates human mistakes. 

The case for optimising materials handling in this way quickly begins to stack up when you consider combined pick tasks means up to 40 orders can be fulfilled by a single picker in one walk, which is many times more efficient than the same person picking single orders, even if the orders are not grouped logically. 
 
Grouping of orders by volume, weight, number of items and warehouse region further assists with reducing the average distance covered by a picker picking multiple orders – indeed a warehouse picking 10,000 orders per day with an average quantity of four items per order can reduce the distance covered by 80% compared with if the orders were grouped randomly. 

Clear vision

Europe’s leading online contact lenses supplier, VisionDirect, is a long-standing SnapFulfil customer and as they have increasingly relied on their D2C business to make savings, we have collaborated to streamline processes and make them more productive, flexible and fast moving. They now complete 45+ orders in a single run in the shortest distance, without any manual intervention, based on bespoke pre-set algorithms around the picking area.  

Additionally, much better order priority handling has brought significant labour and cost savings. This avoids the last-minute rush as they approach a shipping cut-off – promoting any orders close to a cut to the top of an operative’s pick tasks and so avoiding delay.  

VisonDirect’s average time per pick is 12 minutes each order, but on 45 orders simultaneously that is a quarter of a minute (15 seconds) per pick. Plus, when you factor in some 50 pickers similarly working in nearby aisles and not tripping over each other, you can see how they now process around 10,000 same day orders per day across their three distribution sites. 

Such optimisation of labour has never been more helpful than during these troubled times – when warehouse staff are at a premium and self-isolation is a reality – so having real time data at your fingertips to boost the efficiency of your available workforce is critical. 

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