October 20, 2021 | Austin Santich
Wine and spirits distributors face shifting consumer tastes and buying behaviors, explosive SKU proliferation and increased order complexity. The following five warehouse automation technologies are scalable, agile methods of helping alcohol distributors maintain high-efficiency order fulfillment operations and first-class route delivery services.
1. Optimized Waving
In route stop distribution, grouping stops together into waves increases pick density and improves picking efficiency. The methods used to build and release waves will impact the throughput and efficiency of the system. A wave buffer is an effective tool for managing the sequence and flow of work being released to the dock. Coordinated wave-release across various areas ensure that items from various areas are picked together and loaded into their respective area on the delivery truck, in the correct order for delivery.
Traditional picking to label practices in liquor distribution centers generally entail someone printing a label for each case, reviewing the item locations, and walking down the aisles to pick items to fill the case. By leveraging technologies such as RF picking, pick-to-light, goods-to-person picking, or voice picking, businesses can track operator productivity and update inventory in real time as picks are completed. Overall rate and efficiency are also directly influenced by the number of picking areas.
Material handling equipment is often a limiting factor of overall throughput in a facility. Traditional beverage distribution setups with operators picking directly to a conveyor or to a palletizer can quickly back up, resulting in bottlenecks. Automated sortation to buffer lanes after picking should be used in coordination with controlled release of stops from the buffer. When managed properly, this is a reasonably-priced approach to increasing pick efficiency while maintaining stop integrity when loading.
4. Dashboards and Increased Visibility
With access to real-time system data and visibility across the operation, the warehouse execution system (WES) is well positioned to track and report on key data. Standard reporting and custom dashboards give users the ability to make intelligent, data driven decisions. The constant infeed of data into the WES allows for easy tracking of productivity, lot/date codes, inventory levels, and other relevant information. A smart WES with route stop planning increases customer satisfaction by minimizing lost, cancelled and wrong deliveries. It is important to select a WES provider that has the ability and experience to interface to any WMS or ERP host system.
5. Carton Contents Verification
Photographic verification of carton contents addresses known issues often faced by liquor distribution operations. An integrated camera and scanner system captures images and barcodes of in-motion cartons for item verification. By verifying the inventory of individual items as each case leaves the warehouse, users are able to confirm order accuracy by associating item barcodes in the scan log and confirming UPCs against carton labels. This also adds a level of theft protection and ensures delivery accuracy.
Austin Santich, Senior Manager – System Design for Matthews Automation, has over 15 years of experience in the supply chain industry. Austin comes from a distribution operations background and earned an MBA from the University of Tennessee.