A click of a mouse, a swipe of a finger. That’s all it takes for a consumer to select any product they want, send it to check-out and anticipate a fast delivery. Trying to meet those expectations falls on the manufacturers and retailers, who are looking for solutions to speed up the order fulfillment of rapidly expanding SKU numbers all while managing labor challenges and reducing costs. For food and beverage manufacturers and retailers, the speed of fulfillment also directly impacts the freshness, quality and safety of products reaching the customer.
In this new age of “me-commerce”, where consumers have access to more options and variations than ever before, the efficiency of warehouses and distribution centers is critical for success. That is why many companies are turning to robotic order fulfillment solutions to manage material flow and create a more cost-effective process.
Variety is the Spice of Life
The greater demand in variety from consumers has led to a proliferation of SKUs, with some facilities increasing from a hundred to a couple thousand units. While variety does keep things spicy, it can be difficult for warehouses to keep up with the consumers demands for different sizes, flavors and brands of products. Automation can step in to help optimize facilities struggling with limited space and more complex handling needs of these SKUs. Automated solutions can provide high density storage areas which can better utilize a warehouses current space.
Keeping it ‘Fresh’
When it comes to getting fresh and perishable products, such as fruits and vegetables, to market, time is of the essence. Facilities that handle fresh products have very short lead times and products need to be transported as fast as possible to maintain quality and freshness. Most conventional automated systems run storage and order picking as separate functions, which makes fulfillment too slow to keep up with the need for speed in fresh food logistics. Solutions that integrate product handling and picking into a single system gives the flexibility to ensure fast handling and very short lead times. This type of solution can integrate seamlessly without impeding existing operations so a facility can take care of its entire fresh food inventory.
The Ebb and Flow of Consumer Demand
Equipped with the right automation technology, your warehouse will be able to meet consumer demand head-on while optimizing material flow during seasonal highs and lows as well as unexpected spikes in demand.
For example, Martin’s Famous Pastry Shop, Inc.®, known for its potato rolls and bread,struggled with hand picking orders during seasonal spikes and having sufficient space for the increased volume of goods. To overcome these challenges, they implemented high-density pallet storage and retrieval which improved space utilization, requiring only 50% of the space previously used by its manual process. A robotic material handling system was implemented as well, which has eliminated the inherent safety risks and chances for human error in manual fulfillment.
The “me-commerce” revolution shows no signs of slowing down and warehouses will have to embrace automation as they adapt with the consumer, one click at a time.
For more information on how automation can help your facility overcome the modern challenges of food distribution in the “me-commerce” age, read our whitepaper, “A Fresh Take On Food Distribution.”
Author Kari Miikkulainen