Sortation helps speed growth
Oriental Trading Company (OTC), one of the nation’s largest direct-to-consumer retailers and distributors of party supplies, needed high throughput in a compact system footprint to keep up with the exploding growth of orders and SKUs. So it was appropriate when the company built a new 750,000-square-foot distribution center in LaVista, Neb., that it used a new picking methodology that it refers to as “explode and assemble.”
One key component of the system is a tilt tray sorter (Beumer Group, beumergroup.com). The system feeds 600 packout stations and was configured to support an increase in OTC’s product offerings—to up to 50,000 SKUs—and improve productivity and order accuracy. In 2011, the DC picked and packed 79 million units, productivity increased by 45%, and order accuracy improved from 99.25% to 99.93%.
“The explode and assemble process enables our system to explode customer order items into large unit waves, and then reassemble these orders into packout locations utilizing a high-speed unit sorter,” said Deon Wagner, vice president of fulfillment center operations.
The double-density, split-tray design doubles the sorter system capacity and was designed to use the DC’s available space with optimal efficiency. And, the chute width at the packout stations was optimized to enable more stations in the same footprint, compared to industry standards.
Order processing works like this: To “explode” the orders, four picking and packing subwaves are created from the original wave coming; picking tasks are assigned to an induction location on the sorter, and orders are assigned to a chute leading to the packout locations.
For the “assemble” part of the orders, items for a single order are sent to a packout location. After an order is packed into a shipping container, it is scanned again. When the carton is 100% complete, it is sorted to an automated tape-sealing machine and the shipping sorter. Exceptions are conveyed to an exception handling station.
According to Wagner, the sorter has enabled OTC to sort more than 400,000 units during its peak day at an accuracy rate of 99.8%. Since the sorter can sort more than 43,000 units per hour, OTC is able to leverage wave size to increase pick density and reduce visits to pick locations to once per wave.