How to Leverage an A-Frame for High-Speed Order Picking
In many warehouses or distribution centers, order fulfillment accounts for the lion’s share of both labor cost and processing time. From picking inventory, to sorting orders, to packing and shipping those orders, there’s just so much time and labor that goes into getting an order out the door.
Luckily, it’s possible to leverage a number of different automation technologies to streamline the order fulfillment process to save time and reduce or even eliminate labor expenses.
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One potential automated technology that can be leveraged in order picking and dispensing applications is the A-Frame automatic dispenser, which offers extremely high order fulfillment speeds with minimal labor requirements.
Below, we explore the A-Frame dispenser system, outlining the mechanics of how the system works, the different models and styles you can implement in your facility, and the applications it can fulfill so that you can determine whether or not it’s the right solution for your business.
What is an A-Frame automatic dispenser?
An A-Frame automatic dispenser is a warehouse technology specifically designed to buffer and dispense inventory for orders. This makes the A-Frame an automated picking system capable of doing up to 4,200 orders per hour (not lines, but orders). The name comes from the shape of the technology: When viewed from the front, an A-Frame looks like a capital letter “A”.
The A-Frame consists of a series of channels which can exist on one or both sides of the system. Each channel stores a single SKU of inventory. Through the center of the two legs runs either a conveyor. Depending on the model inventory is dispensed onto the conveyor or in totes or shippers. As an order makes its way through the A-Frame center belt, channels will dispense their required inventory as required to build the order. When the order has made its way through the A-Frame, it can either discharge into a tote or shipper or be taken away via conveyor or AMR to its next location.
Most workstation A-Frames can process up to approximately 4,200 orders per hour. This makes the A-Frame one of the fastest order fulfillment technologies available today, perfect for operations with exceptionally high throughput requirements. Because the system effectively eliminates picking labor, the only labor requirements are in the form of replenishment.
Of course, not all inventory is well-suited to an A-Frame system. The items which are most easily dispensed are those that have rigid, hard edges, such as boxes, container and packages. They need to be able to sit on top of each other in the channel without crushing or hooking onto one another. Similarly, their surfaces can’t create too much drag or friction when being dispensed, or else the system will not work correctly.
Generally speaking, inventory should fall within the following dimensions:
- 10.5 in. width
- 12.4 in. depth
- 4.5 in. height
- Under 1 pound
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Types of A-Frame Dispensers
There are three main varieties of A-Frame automatic dispensers that you may want to consider for your operation: Workstation, Portable, and Universal. Further, each of these types may come in either a pick-to-belt or pick-to-tote / pick-to-shipper configuration. The pick-to-tote configuration can be superior, as it typically leads to less order contamination, higher accuracy, fewer item touches, and faster throughputs.
Ultimately, the type of A-Frame that is best suited for your operation will depend on your inventory characteristics, order profiles, velocity, and throughput requirements.
1. Workstation A-Frame
A workstation A-Frame is the so-called “traditional” model which you are likely most familiar with. Channels run down both sides and dispense into the center of the system.
Pros: The workstation A-Frame offers high-speed, low-labor, high-accuracy order picking and dispensing. The only labor required is for replenishment. The system is also relatively easy to reconfigure/swap inventory as necessary. Being vertical, the model saves floor space and takes advantage of unused vertical space.
Cons: Not all packaging is dispensable. Packaging that catches or loops onto one another can cause issues, as can packages with a lot of friction or drag. Fragile items may need to be tested to validate the A-Frame’s effectiveness.
2. Portable A-Frame
The portable A-Frame is a newer, smaller, and pre-assembled A-Frame model. Instead of being double-sided, there is just a single side of channels. It is quite literally portable, allowing for easy deployment and reconfiguration as necessary.
Pros: The portable A-Frame brings all of the benefits outlined for the workstation A-Frame above. Because the portable A-frame is portable, this also means that you can deploy the technology when and where it is necessary (for example, on a seasonal basis) and relocate it during other times of the year as needed. The units come fully pre-assembled and on wheels. They roll up to the existing conveyor and are then linked to the software and ready to go.
Cons: The portable A-Frame has the same negative considerations as the workstation model: Primarily, that not all inventory is well-suited for dispensing.
3. Universal A-Frame
The universal A-Frame is the most unique of all three varieties. The easiest way to describe a universal A-Frame is to imagine taking a workstation A-Frame and laying it on its side. Instead of stacking in vertical channels, inventory is arranged horizontally for dispensing. This allows for automatic dispensing of items that are not traditionally compatible with an A-Frame.
Pros: Like the workstation and portable A-Frame, the universal A-Frame offers high-speed, low-labor, high-accuracy order picking and dispensing. The system is also relatively easy to reconfigure/swap inventory as necessary. Because the system is horizontally instead of vertically oriented, it becomes possible to dispense a wider variety of inventory, including items that are not traditionally dispensable through the other two models.
Cons: The workstation and portable A-Frames make use of vertical space and have relatively small footprints. The universal A-Frame, on the other hand, requires more floor space because of its orientation.
Is an A-Frame right for your operation?
If your order fulfillment operation has high throughput needs and a desire to reduce or eliminate labor costs through automation, then an A-Frame automatic dispenser can be an excellent option to help you meet that goal. Ultimately, however, the type of inventory that you handle will influence whether or not an A-Frame makes sense for your business or if you should consider a different type of technology.
A trusted, unbiased systems integrator can help you understand your automation options—including the A-Frame. Nobody but Conveyco has more A-Frame models and options in the industry. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with a member of the Conveyco Team.