3 Ways Robots Can Improve Your Total Order Cycle Time
When it comes to order fulfillment, speed matters. The faster you can pick, process, pack, and ship orders, the more orders you can handle—and the more profitable your operation will be.
Most operations understand this “speed” in terms of total order cycle time: A measurement that takes into account all of the steps and processes that go into processing an order, from the moment that a customer places their order to the moment that order is delivered. The lower your total order cycle time, the more efficient your operation; the higher your total order cycle time, the less efficient your operation.
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It’s little wonder, then, that many operations use total order cycle time to quickly gauge the health of their business, or that they prioritize improving total order cycle time to improve customer experience and expand profits.
Though there are many ways that you can improve your order cycle time—you likely have many options at each step of the fulfillment process—leveraging robotics and automation will likely allow you to have the greatest impact within the shortest amount of time. Below, we explore some of the ways that you can use robotics to improve your total order cycle time.
1. Reducing Travel Time
At its most basic, order fulfillment is an industry built around the process of moving a product from point A (a manufacturer or supplier) to point B (a customer).
But depending on the complexity of your operation, there can be dozens of additional steps in between. Inventory may move from a truck into long-term storage; from long-term storage onto racks; from racks to conveyors; from conveyors to packing stations; from packing stations back onto trucks for last-mile delivery.
Each of these additional touchpoints takes time to complete, and causes your total order cycle time to creep higher. Identifying the least efficient steps of the process, and working to streamline them, can significantly improve your order cycle time. One such step that is prime for optimization is the pick process. Because walking and manually picking orders can account for more than 50% of the time associated with picking, utilizing automation to streamline the process can lead to significant time savings.
Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) can, for example, be used to transport carts from zone to zone, reducing how much time pickers must spend walking to retrieve carts, and some operations may be able to nearly eliminate travel time by implementing various goods-to-person technologies.
2. Increasing Throughput
While reducing travel time associated with picking is one obvious way that robotics can help you improve your total order cycle time, this isn’t the only role that robots can play within your operation. Certain solutions can also be used to augment your existing workflows so that your pickers (and other personnel) can become more efficient.
For example: Many AMRs can be integrated with an operation’s warehouse execution software (WES) and paired with either a pick-to-light or pick-to-voice system, essentially becoming intelligent pick carts supporting pickers as they retrieve components of an order. By automatically guiding the picker to the next item to be picked, and by carrying anywhere from 6-25 orders at one time (depending on the model), the AMR enables the picker to do more, while reducing friction in the pick process.
3. Optimizing Routes
Typically, the decision to incorporate robots (or really any automation technology) into your operation will first be preceded by a thorough analysis of your existing workflows. This analysis will generally be conducted with an aim of understanding how product currently flows through your facility so that you can program efficient routes for the robotic solution(s).
Though not a direct benefit of automation, this initial analysis can sometimes offer key insights that will lead to more intelligent route planning, as product is stored more efficiently. By creating more efficient routes (for both machinery and human personnel) it is possible to substantially reduce total order cycle time.
The Bottom Line
Though implementing any new automation system will take some time, depending on the robotics solution that you choose it is possible to begin realizing ROI within weeks or even days. AMRs, for example, can deploy in a span of just a few weeks without adjustments to your infrastructure, while goods-to-person technologies can deploy within months. A trusted systems integrator can help you choose the right type of AMR or system for your operation and put a plan in place to help you reach your goals.