An Interview with Adam Kline, Senior Director, Product Management at Manhattan Associates
ARC Advisory Group, in partnership with DC Velocity magazine, recently completed survey-based research on the changing practices, priorities, and expectations of warehouse executives. I reached out to Adam Kline, Senior Director of Product Management at Manhattan Associates, to obtain his perspective on our research findings.
Clint: The findings from our survey show that warehouse practitioners continue to strive for ongoing efficiency improvements, but also have an increased need for agility and responsiveness in the warehouse, and are in the midst of a rapid migration toward the adoption of warehouse automation to help achieve these goals and others. Our results also identified numerous underlying factors contributing to these rapidly evolving warehouse needs. For example, direct-to-consumer fulfillment and drop-ship are the two channels expected by most to increase extensively over the next three years. Drilling into the details of picking units, 76 percent of respondents expect piece picking to increase over the same time period, 51 percent expect case picking to increase, while only 27 percent expect increases in pallet movements. What are your thoughts on these findings?
Adam: I’m not surprised by the increase in direct-to-consumer fulfillment or piece picking, as e-commerce sales have been consistently growing at about 15 percent per year. It is notable that expected increases in case/carton picking is so widespread. But I think it’s important to recognize that very few companies are 100 percent online. Most companies have large traditional retail or wholesale operations. And while some buildings are dedicated exclusively for retail store fulfillment or wholesale, we are seeing a growing trend of combining these previously separate operations in a single warehouse to leverage facility assets and manage all of the flows from the same location.
Furthermore, we are seeing a lot of combining of the actual process flows within these facilities that fulfill direct-to-consumer in addition to retail replenishment or wholesale. There are a lot of opportunities to gain efficiencies from consolidating these flows from an operational process perspective. As customers see the volumes of piece picking and carton picking increasing, the question we asked ourselves was, how can one person execute both of those at the same time? That’s when we get into the conversation of unified picking and how to set up a single picking run that facilitates the picking of inventory for individual orders as well as bulk picks along the way, and maybe even some other tasks that may be pertinent.
We also see this translate into serious inquiries about and implementation of various automation. That shines a light on the need to be able to orchestrate work across both human labor and automation. That requires a very comprehensive understanding of status, capacity, and productivity of the automation, something we feel is best done by well-defined communication and coordination with the various warehouse control systems that manage the automation at the lowest level. The best approach to get both vendor and equipment agnostic communications and seamless orchestration of the human and machine elements is a warehouse execution system embedded within the WMS.
Clint: What are some of the sources of efficiencies or other benefits from combining of these flows?
Adam: Warehouses can significantly increase productivity through efficiency improvements that free up resources to engage in additional productive tasks. For example, workers on the floor can build a picking cart with some totes for e-commerce or retail pick to tote, open corrugate boxes (LPNs) for discrete orders, and empty cart slots for full case pulls that are distributed to the put-to-store area or a nearby area that needs replenishment. Now you are taking all of these previously disparate flows that were done by different workers, executing at different times, and doing it all on one single cart in one pass. The efficiency is greatly increased because travel time is significantly reduced, and potentially opens up a couple of personnel to do different productive tasks, including more picking.
Clint: Speaking of process flows, we also asked survey respondents about the use of work organization methods such as batching and waving and waveless fulfillment processes. We found that batching/waving is more widespread, but waveless fulfillment is growing more rapidly. And waveless is currently most prevalent in direct-to-consumer (76% of current waveless users) but is also used for DC replenishment (44%) and retail store replenishment (35%). Perhaps most notable is that an additional 24 percent stated that they plan to use waveless for retail store replenishment within the next year. What are your thoughts toward the current usage of waveless and its expected increase?
Adam: The origin of waveless was in direct response to e-commerce demand and a higher velocity of orders with a dynamic profile that was unpredictable. Then fulfillment cycle times became increasingly compressed, and that further warranted the utility of waveless fulfillment. No one was thinking about how waveless systems could be applied to retail store replenishment back in the day because they were not originally built for that purpose. But that said, we started to observe a huge opportunity to improve overall performance by applying waveless techniques to retail store fulfillment a few years ago. The more forward-looking solutions have already started to address these needs and ensure that waveless fulfillment is omnichannel ready.
Clint: In what ways do you see waveless fulfillment techniques providing performance benefits to retail store fulfillment operations?
Adam: The same fundamental merits of waveless, such as higher asset utilization and better order prioritization, apply to retail fulfillment as well. In retail store fulfillment, we look at groups of orders, such as all orders that are going to store A together and all orders that are going to store B together. The waveless system looks at carrier cut-off times, or in this case shipment times, and dynamically reprioritizes the order processing throughout the day ensuring that shipment targets are consistently met while also getting the most out of the resources on the floor. Whether it is people picking orders or the automated resources that support the fulfillment processes, the intent of a waveless model is to keep resources on the floor highly utilized while providing enhanced order prioritization capabilities to meet store deliveries.
Clint: Speaking of automated resources, a full 96 percent of respondents to our survey indicated they expect the value of warehouse automation to increase over the next three years. And like you said, waveless processes support high resource utilization. Do you expect to see an increase in warehouse automation adoption? And do you see ways in which waveless processes improve the utilization of warehouse automation?
Adam: Yes, sites that were predominantly manual are seeing opportunities to adopt automation, and some are doing so with non-traditional approaches such as robotics. These robotics solutions can provide a quick benefit without massive disruptions. But we have seen others installing AS/RS systems or various goods-to-person systems as well. In either case, it is crucial that the systems and processes are cognizant of the automation and can effectively communicate with them.
With respect to waveless processing and the utilization of warehouse automation, the waveless model can be applied to utilize warehouse assets dynamically. For example, a large unit sorter in an omnichannel facility can be used to sort e-commerce orders or can simultaneously be dynamically repurposed to sort items for store replenishment with each chute designated as a store pack location. And this type of dynamic chute re-utilization between e-commerce and retail, and within retail across multiple stores, can be scheduled and modified across the day or the week, as needed.
Clint: Thank you, Adam, for your insights on taking warehouse performance to the next level.