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Retail distribution - Processing orders easily and ergonomically with PICK@EASE
Retail warehouses are being mechanised to an ever increasing degree. Order processing times must be reduced further and further, and productivity, delivery reliability and accuracy must be improved. On top of this, shelf-ready delivery to stores is a must. These factors constantly increase the physical and mental pressure on warehouse staff and, with traditional manual facilities, ergonomics and consequently productivity are put at risk to an ever increasing degree. Together with TNO (Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research), Vanderlande Industries has created a solution with these issues in mind: the PICK@EASE order picking workstation, which guarantees that warehouse order pickers can achieve a constant high order picking performance for a prolonged period of time. This is an ergonomic high-performance system for processing shop orders, says Robert van Ree, Logistics Advisor at Vanderlande Industries.
Vanderlande Industries is dedicated to improving its customers logistical processes and strengthening their competitive position by designing, implementing and servicing intelligent automated material handling systems for warehouses and distribution centres.
Thanks to these material handling solutions retailers can process orders faster, more reliably and with less labour. IT is the key to make this happen. This also applies to the brand-new PICK@EASE order picking workstation that Vanderlande Industries introduced in May. Van Ree explains: PICK@EASE fulfils the need for sustainable high order-picking productivity, an extremely short operator training period of 10 minutes or less and a minimal risk of order picking errors.
Prior to its development, TNO performed a study on behalf of Vanderlande Industries into the basic principles with which an ergonomic order-picking station would have to comply. TNO used the Ergomix for this, a virtual order-picking environment that can be used to investigate to what extent a work environment meets ergonomic requirements, explains Van Ree. As a result of this, we found that high-capacity workstations where product totes and order totes arrive at two levels greatly increase the risk of work-related injuries to the operator. Constant high productivity cannot be maintained for more than an hour with this method, which means that operators have to be switched eight times a day. In Vanderlandes Innovation Centre a model was built in a cockpit set-up, with product totes and order totes at the same level and an intuitive interface based on Put-to-Light and Pick-to-Light displays. This prototype was then assessed by TNO for muscle fatigue, torso bending frequencies and mental burden, amongst other things. The TNO research proved that operators can work with PICK@EASE for four hours without loss of production, and without risk of physical injury, explains Van Ree. Furthermore, productivity is 822 order lines per hour. In a traditional warehouse this number currently lies between 150 and 175 order lines per hour. An employee working on a PICK@EASE workstation replaces an equivalent of 9 people. This means that an organisation is able to improve productivity and efficiency significantly during growth.
This station forms part of an integrated logistics and material handling solution, which enables retailers to organise their distribution process in the most efficient, cost effective way, from Goods Receiving right through to Shipping.
The workstation also has various other (ergonomic) benefits apart from its cockpit design. According to Van Ree, The name of the product line is not PICK@EASE for nothing: you can pick orders at ease without getting tired. Firstly, the height of the base on which the operator stands can be adjusted, he explains. Operators log on to the system, in which their height is stored, and the floor is automatically adjusted to the correct height. People can also stand with their feet partially underneath the system, which means that they will not have to bend over. The system prevents errors, according to the Logistics Advisor. If an article ends up in the wrong tote by mistake, this is automatically noticed by light sensors. The same light curtain is used to guarantee 100% safety. PICK@EASE is capable of presenting a thousand product totes per hour to the order picker. All the statistics are monitored on the supervisor stations.
The workstation is designed specifically for the retail business. When it comes to picking, the slow-moving tail of products requires the most time in distribution centres due to the longer walking distances. The trick is that PICK@EASE ensures a shelf-friendly supply. Product groups are combined on the workstation in the correct order. This means for example that supermarket shelves can be filled in a highly efficient manner and the costs no longer have to be borne by the shops.
Van Ree does not believe that a fully automated order-picking system for the retail business will be introduced within the next three years. Robots with camera recognition technology are not yet capable of automatically picking all types of articles with high productivity. PICK@EASE is the very latest development in the field of order picking, but the system currently still depends on human hands, says Van Ree. Since May Vanderlande Industries has already organised various live demonstrations at its Innovation Centre in Veghel, the Netherlands. In October we will be organising an Experience Day for interested companies, says Van Ree. They will then be able to test drive and experience PICK@EASE for themselves.