As peak season approaches, businesses across many industries are bracing for an onslaught of orders. Order volumes during peak can quadruple for a lot of businesses, and they come with the added pressure of getting delivered in time for the holidays. This period can be a litmus test for the efficiency and resilience of warehouse operations, pushing them to their limits. To navigate these challenging times successfully, it’s crucial to have solid plans and the best tools in place.
Understanding the Challenges of Peak Season
Peak season is a period of increased demand for goods and services during specific times of the year. For many businesses, peak season falls between October and January when consumers are looking for holiday shopping deals and gifts. During this time, warehouse operations experience a dramatic spike in work to be done, leading to many challenges for warehouse operations that aren’t adequately prepared. Some common issues include:
• Limited Warehouse Space: With the influx of orders, warehouse space can quickly reach its capacity, leading to congestion and inefficiency in storage and retrieval processes.
• Inefficient Processes: Inadequate systems and processes can hinder warehouse productivity during peak season. Without proper optimization, tasks such as order picking, packing, and shipping can become time-consuming and prone to errors.
• Workforce Management: Hiring and training temporary workers to handle the increased workload can be a challenge, especially during peak season. This can lead to a shortage of skilled labor and negatively affect warehouse efficiency.
How Automation Affects Traditional Peak Season Strategies
To meet peak season demand, warehouse managers need to implement effective strategies to fulfill more orders and still maintain customer satisfaction. Warehouse managers have a few tried-and-true playbooks they go to in order to get their warehouses ready for the annual push. Here are 3 traditional strategies that are widely used and how automation is impacting them:
1. Hiring and Training Seasonal Workers:
Traditional Approach: Peak season exceeds the capacity of existing warehouse staff. So, businesses turn to hiring additional workers and/or offering overtime shifts to manage the increased workload.
Impact of Automation: Both robotic and process automation reduces the need for a large seasonal workforce. AI-powered warehouse automation software, such as inVia Logic, can significantly enhance warehouse efficiency through intelligent workflow planning. Adding robots to the mix can eliminate the need for hiring temporary workers altogether. Here is how those automation solutions help address peak season labor needs:
- Intelligent warehouse automation software plans and prioritizes tasks based on deadlines and required resources. It balances workload distribution between workers to ensure a constant stream of productivity, and it assigns work based on labor productivity data. Workers are also made more productive through automated task directions that quickly and accurately send them to the right inventory location.
- In the world of warehouse automation, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), such as inVia Picker robots, have emerged as a potent tool, especially during peak seasons. AMRs perform rote tasks traditionally done by humans, such as picking and transporting items within a warehouse. They alleviate strain on workers, automating repetitive tasks and allowing staff to focus on more complex activities, enhancing productivity. Moreover, AMRs decrease order cycle times, working round-the-clock without fatigue
2. Adjusting Picking and Replenishment Workflows
Traditional Approach: During peak season, orders tend to be smaller but more frequent, requiring warehouses to adapt their picking and replenishment strategies accordingly. One solution is zone picking, where workers are assigned specific zones in the warehouse and pick items from that area only. This strategy reduces worker travel time between aisles, improving efficiency and increasing order accuracy. Another strategy is batch picking, where workers manually select items or products for multiple orders simultaneously. This method is used to increase efficiency by reducing the travel time and distance workers need to cover within the warehouse.
Impact of Automation: For businesses struggling to meet high demand during peak season, automating warehouse processes is a proven solution.
- Software automation and intelligent labor productivity tools offer a great place to start to make picking and replenishment more efficient during the peak season. AI, WES software, and the addition of productivity tools such as inVia PickMate can streamline processes and enable smarter use of data. In addition, inVia’s smart algorithms also intelligently group orders and use spatial batching, which assigns orders based on SKU proximity to limit the number of trips people make to the same aisle to retrieve goods.
Image: inVia Pickmate and WES software
- Robotic automation, especially Goods-to-Person (G2P) automation, will further revolutionize picking and replenishment strategies by minimizing travel time, increasing efficiency, and improving accuracy. inVia Robotics uses a patented “Totes-to-Person” approach, where inVia Picker robots navigate the warehouse and autonomously move inventory containers from racks to an inVia PickerWall, a dynamic high-density pick/put wall that inVia’s AMR robots build with each day’s orders. The system decouples dependencies between people and robots, allowing people to work in bursts, while robots operate tirelessly 24/7. This highly efficient system delivers 5x+ increases in picking productivity.
Image: inVia PickerWall
3. Optimizing Inventory and Storage
Traditional Approach: Careful inventory placement and storage optimization ensure that high-demand items are easily accessible, minimizing travel time for workers. A well-designed warehouse layout is key for efficient operations. It should be designed to maximize space utilization and streamline product flow, while minimizing movement distances for workers.
Impact of Automation: One of the greatest values technology gives is having more knowledge that helps us make better decisions. With the right WMS and WES in place, warehouses are able to know with precision what SKUs are being ordered, when, in what quantities, and how long it takes to fulfill each order. Having this data to drive daily fulfillment schedules allows warehouse managers to place A, B, and C movers where they’ll get out the door most quickly. With today’s tools like digital twins, operators can quickly do infinite scenario planning in a virtual environment to test which workflows are most efficient. Then when the physical workflows are put in place, they know it’s going to have an immediate positive impact.
All of this knowledge is only as useful as it is visible. That’s why having customizable, real-time dashboards is key to being able to put this information to work. For example, in inVia Logic, dashboards are included in the automation service subscription, and multiple dashboards can be built to cater to different user views.
Peak season can be stressful for warehouse operations, but with the right strategies and tools in place, it can be organized and managed in a way that’s less overwhelming. By implementing technology solutions that help existing labor work smarter and augmenting them with robots, businesses can get ahead of the pressures and pitfalls or this annual surge in demand. Using intelligent technologies can bring order to chaos and deliver efficiency that helps businesses maximize their ability to increase sales during high season. With the right tools and strategies in place, businesses can not only meet customer demands but also exceed expectations during this busy time of year.