The e-commerce industry has thrived over the past decade, reaching an unprecedented peak in 2020. Fuelled by the shift in purchasing patterns of consumers and seasonal demand intensities, the e-commerce industry has learned to adapt, creating innovative solutions to fulfil orders within a specific time period to keep consumers satisfied.
But what exactly does it take to keep up with such unpredictable shifts in demand?
Wallace Tay, Regional Director, Logistic Solutions from SSI Schaefer comments, “While faced with shifting demands from the consumer, the success of e-commerce lies in various degrees of automation. As digital orders rise beyond expectations, it becomes manually impossible for e-retailers to accurately pick and pack each order and fulfil shipments on time without the intervention and accuracy of automation solutions.”
Wallace continues: “To manage such seasonal shifts in demand, combined with the expectation for e-commerce to continue growing upwards within the region and beyond, we’re looking at establishing an integrative, collaborative effort between the labour force and automation, working hand-in-hand to ensure orders are fulfilled in a timely, accurate manner.”
It is important to analyse the multi-faceted nature of challenges faced by the e-commerce industry. Online orders dictated by consumers’ varied purchasing patterns can include many small orders expected to be delivered within a quick timeframe—in warehouses with a high number of stock keeping units (SKU), this increases the labour-intensiveness of the picking process by increasing the travel distance for the picker with each small order.
A semi-automated picking solution would be ideal in such cases, where the items are brought to the operator automatically using a conveyor system. In certain scenarios, this increases the picker’s productivity up to 1,000 picks per hour per station. Since the goods are transported directly to them, travel time is minimised, ensuring optimal productivity. Human performance is a key factor that determines quality, throughput, and delivery times, and SSI Schaefer’s ergonomics@work!® provides a comfortable, sophisticated design to improve the goods-to-person picking experience—the keyword here being ergonomic.
A clear example of this improved productivity is the Get and Pick Station. In Figure 1, we see a picker at a workstation that is design specifically for him—it is tilted at an angle based on his height and frame to protect his back and joints from stretching too far or too high. This setup also eliminates the time wasted on unnecessary movements because the layout is optimised for quick, effective order fulfilment. It is also noteworthy that this workstation comes with a simple user guidance, allowing the operator to focus on picking directly into the order container instead of being distracted by other peripheral tasks.
Figure 1: SSI SCHAEFER’s ergonomics@work!® concept is another unique feature of their Get and Pick Station.
In this set-up, to minimise picking errors, an integrated fault detection solution is in-built to the workstation. If the picker has accidentally over- or under-filled an order, a red light indicates their error before the order is packaged, saving the business time and money in terms of returns due to manual error as well as negative feedback from customers.
Wallace concludes: “Adopting automation technology and integrating it with current manual labour-intensive operations is a progressive journey. To facilitate this long-term goal, SSI Schaefer can help identify and plan appropriate solutions that can be integrated into existing operational structures so that future challenges brought about by spikes in demands can be met head-on.”
This article was originally published in Asia Pacific Food Industry magazine’s April/May 2021 issue. Read the original version here.