Retail: Inside the multi-channel DC
3. Data driven storage and sortation
Chris Arnold, vice president of operations and solutions development for Intelligrated, says one of the more challenging issues in any facility is inventory control. The inventory of a multi-channel facility is often duplicated and looks like a warehouse within a warehouse, he says. This is particularly evident when the SKUs and order profiles differ greatly from channel to channel. There are still benefits to be reaped in that case, since multi-channel capabilities might enable one channel to act as a clearinghouse for the other.
The focus in this multi-channel facility is on keeping inventory accessible. The facility serves e-commerce customers as well as 3,000 stores, using a relatively small amount of storage space in a very narrow aisle configuration. Cases are picked to pallets with bar code scanning from deep storage. Pallets are then deposited next to the inbound/outbound conveyor where they are manually transferred onto the conveyor. Some case cartons are transportable and some are placed into totes at this time.
From there, some cases are routed directly to shipping, and some are routed to a value-added services area. Multiple-unit cases with units bound for multiple orders are sent to be manually unpacked at induction stations bound for tilt-tray sortation. If, for instance, only 11 of 12 units are needed for various orders, the leftover unit is directed to bin shelving, where future orders are picked against first. If the leftover item is needed for a single-line order, it can be placed into a shippable carton and sent directly to shipping. Or, it can go to induction to join other items in an order on the same outbound conveyor to the sortation buffer.
Crossdocking capabilities also allow incoming product to be directly routed to shipping, value-add, de-trashing and tilt-tray sorter induction, a buffer staging area, or deep storage. “A tremendous amount of decisions are made at the receiving area, which minimizes touches per case, keeps inventory accessible, and minimizes the space needed for deep storage,” says Arnold.
As with deep storage picking, the majority of items routed from receiving simply head straight to sortation induction. Product for e-commerce, retail or wholesale might come from either receiving or deep storage and might pass through any of the value-add or unpacking stations on the way to the tilt-tray sorter, where products from storage and/or receiving are merged.
An “in-process buffer” enables the facility to pick items for orders that are not due to ship until the next day or week. Items are then sequenced, combined with other products in the orders, and released to shipping in a timely manner. Orders are strategically sorted to the optimal chute location and delivered to a manual pack-out station where the operator is presented with the appropriate sized carton. The cartons are then closed and routed to a sliding shoe sortation system for outbound transportation sortation. In the event a finished carton is to be staged for shipment at a later time, it will reside on pallet flow rails until the WCS directs the operator to manually place it back onto the conveyor for merging and shipment.