In today’s fast-paced and often-disrupted supply chain industry, time is an invaluable asset. Now more than ever, customers expect exceptional service, enhanced visibility, and rapid on-time deliveries, all of which have put pressure on manufacturers, retailers, and logistics partners to streamline processes and make order fulfillment more efficient. To meet the growing demand, enterprises have increasingly rolled out warehouse automation to enhance efficiency, moving away from certain manual operations – which can be time-consuming and costly. While automation plays a role from the moment goods arrive at the dock, the order fulfillment process has received a particular focus.
What is Order Fulfillment?
Order fulfillment involves the methods by which facilities process customer orders and ultimately fill these orders in a timely manner. The process, traditionally done manually by a warehouse employee, includes receiving and storing inventory, order processing, item picking and packing, and shipping. It can be a tedious process, and we probably all know what it’s like to order a garment by mail and receive the wrong size or color.
As the supply chain continues to evolve, many companies are taking a closer look at their processes and striving to increase their perfect order fulfillment metrics by finding ways to optimize their fulfillment automation.
How Automation Fits into Order Fulfillment
Companies can choose how extensively to automate their facilities — from minimal automation to so-called dark warehouses that involve little or no human interaction. But it is important to note that implementing automated order fulfillment into a facility, doesn’t necessarily mean that it removes the need for human interaction and supervision. Many automated technologies work their best when complemented by human partners.
Thanks to technological advancements that once seemed like science fiction, fulfillment center operators can implement automation into numerous steps of the order fulfillment process:
- Automated picking – Robotic arms can be used to locate a product within the facility and safely retrieve it, so it can then be packaged and shipped.
- Automated packing – Technology can be used to identify the correct packaging size for an order, build the box, and tape it shut. The only human interaction needed in this case would be to actually fill the packaging with the correct order.
- Automated conveyance – Picking robots and autonomous guided vehicles can transport products throughout the various stages of the fulfillment process – allowing goods to be moved faster and more accurately.
As warehouse managers implement automated technologies into their fulfillment processes, a variety of key benefits can be realized:
- Faster order processing
- Improved order accuracy
- Fewer workplace accidents and injuries
- Reduced operational costs
- Increased worker satisfaction
- Enhanced customer experience
The disruptions of recent years will have ongoing ripple effects, and sweeping changes to workplace culture and employee priorities have made hiring and retention ongoing challenges. The implementation of automated fulfillment technologies will help enterprises lower their Total Cost of Business, improve their warehouse safety metrics, and ultimately set themselves up for a higher likelihood of success in an always-changing economy.
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