Mr. Bastian, why are ever more medium-sized businesses and controllers at major corporations now switching their focus to distribution logistics?
Hartwig Bastian: For one thing, those in charge have previously focused their attention on the efficiency of business areas such as procurement, production, and sales, but companies only bring about modest improvements here, even after huge financial outlay. For another thing, until recently distribution logistics was still associated with the outdated image of industrious employees running back and forth between static shelving in spare part and supply warehouses. However, this view has altered radically in recent years along with ordering habits.
What do you mean by radically altered ordering habits?
Bastian: Until about ten years ago customers ordered an average of around ten articles per order. Although the number of orders has increased with the growth in online trade and the rise in diversified production of things such as automobiles, the number of articles per order has dropped to just two. This means that the picking process – the task of putting together an order made up of articles from the overall product range – is much more complex. In other words, the pickers have to process five times as many orders to pick the same number of articles as before.
So distribution logistics specialists need five times as many employees to achieve the same level of performance?
Bastian: That would be one option, but there is a very high cost factor involved, although even unskilled workers can very quickly learn how to pick orders. Until recently, however, hardly anyone asked themselves how much picking an article actually costs, yet managing directors and controllers now want to know precisely what it costs. Based on such calculations, they opt for manpower costing around 35,000 euros per picker and year, or for efficient order-picking technologies and solutions. They also do both depending on the order volume to be handled.
Order picking significantly influences the efficiency of distribution logistics. However, on what factors does the efficiency of putting together an order primarily depend?
Bastian: Efficient order picking is crucially dependent on picking time per order line. As is generally known, this is made up of the basic time, way time, retrieval time, dead time, and distribution time, and should naturally be kept as short as possible. If we compare the picking time needed per order for static and automated storage systems, the way time offers the greatest potential for saving time. With static shelving the picker runs all over the place and travels long and sometimes unnecessary distances in order to get to the right storage space. Automated storage systems reduce the distance traveled by the picker to a minimum. The time saved means that they are able to pick more orders, which ultimately leads to an overall increase in performance.
What do automated storage systems look like? And how do they work?
Bastian: Let’s take the example of our horizontal carousel. This automated storage system essentially consists of an automated carousel that functions like a horizontal paternoster. The horizontal carousel works in line with the “goods-to-person” principle. This carousel is ideal in any situation where companies want to store and retrieve goods quickly, reliably, and cost-effectively. At the same time, the automated storage system makes optimal use of the available space. The access opening positioned centrally at the front of the unit and the arrangement of several machines into so-called picking stations gives pickers fast access to stored goods on minimal floor space. Accordingly, employees significantly reduce the distance they cover compared to order picking from conventional static shelving. In practice, their way time is cut from around 65 percent to about ten percent.
You connect several horizontal carousels together in the stations? How does connecting them influence the order picking?
Bastian: At present we are even connecting up to six units together in picking stations. The advantage is that all horizontal carousels belonging to one station work simultaneously. This means that warehouse employees are not twiddling their thumbs waiting for goods, but can continually pick them. In addition, linking the horizontal carousels with warehouse management software and various optical display elements makes order picking safer and more efficient and flexible.
Can you give us some specific examples?
Bastian: Particularly in the area of distribution logistics, companies behave like timid deer. Almost all of them work on the subject in private, but hardly anyone shouts about their projects from the rooftops. In terms of actual projects, however, I can mention names such as Arno Werkzeuge, Mister Minit, Metabo, Inflight in Sweden, Leclerc in France, and Etra in Finland.
So what does a real scenario look like?
Bastian: Our customers work through approximately 350 order lines per hour in one picking station with one member of staff. This means that they can process up to 3,000 order lines per hour depending on the number of stations. We used to have three horizontal carousels per station, but now customers have up to six units per station. The high throughput required at busy times has forced companies to employ two or three additional people depending on needs. That’s because many companies have their hands full at certain busy times, but have less to do at other times of the day. That is why we also developed multi-user concepts which integrate several pickers seamlessly at busy times.
Where is the trend heading in terms of order picking?
Bastian: We are moving in exciting new directions here. Besides the static batching of several orders when picking, dynamic batching is now also increasingly beginning to establish itself. As soon as the picker has completed one order, the next order continuously replenishes the batch. A further development that has been in the starting blocks for a short time is our “Fast Parts Delivery” application, which is entering the market with predefined, scalable solutions especially for the Warehouse & Distribution sector.
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