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12/9/2009 9:50:00 AM Write a Letter to the Editor Write a letter to the Editor

High-Tech Scanners, Software Speed Sorting Times

By Mindy Long, Special to Transport Topics

This story appears in the Dec. 7 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Moving goods from warehouse shelves to trucks for delivery is a labor-intensive process. As a result, warehouse operators are using more high-tech scanners, robotic devices and new software to make the most of workers’ time.

Picking orders can be one of the most time consuming tasks within the warehouse. Kenco Logistics Services, which picks 20,000 orders a day, relies on 42 full-time engineers to develop the most efficient warehouse layout.

The company said it is saving time and effort with Motorola’s wearable scanners. The units strap to users’ arms, and scanners attach to their index fingers.

“It speeds up efficiency and because you’re scanning it, it increases your pick accuracy,” said Kenco President Andy Smith.

Kiva Systems, Woburn, Mass., helps reduce picking time with mobile robotic drive units that bring inventory directly to workers.

“Order pickers normally have to walk from spot to spot, which is time consuming. With these, they can keep picking instead of walking,” said Mike Ogle, vice president of educational and technical services for the Material Handling Industry of America.

Automated palletizing also can increase capacity and decrease labor costs.

“Anytime you are using people to palletize product, you have issues with the cost of that labor,” said Pat O’Connor, palletizing manager for Intelligrated, Mason, Ohio. People also tend to cause a certain amount of product damage that the palletizers, which can pack 100 cases per minute, don’t.

Warehouses strive to make the most out of the labor that is needed. Manhattan Associates’ labor schedule optimization software analyzes and calculates different factors, including the number of workers, performance levels and hourly rates, to pair specific workers with tasks. One client, regional grocer Giant Eagle, saw a 6% to 9% savings in labor costs after using the software, the company said.

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