Mixed Picking Methods Boost Efficiency

IN THESE LEAN ECONOMIC TIMES, nothing gets distribution execs more excited than the prospect of saving big bucks in the warehouse. This was the impetus for beauty products distributor Coty Inc. to automate order picking in its Sanford, NC, distribution center. According to Mark Newberry, Coty’s vice president of logistics, the New York City-based company relied on paper pick tickets until it recently implemented a pick-to-light system from Kingway Material Handling Co., based in Acworth, GA.

“We were basically completely manual before, with the utilization of pick tickets and paper,” says Newberry. “This implementation has taken all of that away and has automated nearly every task. The only thing we use paper for today is in the case-pick mezzanines, and that’s a pick-to-label process.”

Newberry adds that installing the PTL system has increased productivity 30% to 70%. Additionally, as a result of automating the Sanford facility, Coty was able to close two other distribution centers. One of these was a third-party facility, and Coty owned the other, based in Canada. All of the business that these facilities handled was taken over by the Sanford warehouse. “We saved a considerable amount of money by closing those two facilities and bringing [their business] here to this location,” Newberry says.

Newberry outlines a number of lessons he has learned in the course of implementing Coty’s PTL system and previous projects he has tackled. First, in his view, distribution managers need to coordinate warehouse and fulfillment facility functions with other critical areas of the company. “I think that sometimes distribution folks don’t spend enough time up front working with their sales and marketing organization to understand where the business is going,” he says. “They should drag them through the arduous process of building a plan ‘X’ number of years at the level of detail that will allow you to put a design together that either won’t be overrun with demand, or just as bad, sits idle 30% of the time.”

Second, he says, distribution managers must spend time evaluating the velocity of items in a DC, gauging a DC’s flexibility during demand peaks and valleys. Coty has four pick-to-light lines that contain the same 325 fastest-moving SKUs. “We have four lines that allow us to run all four of those lines if the volume is there in any particular period and pick the fastest moving SKUs very quickly. If we’re not so busy, we can run two of the lines.”

Third, mixing different picking technologies, rather than using just one, can be the key to an efficient DC, according to Newberry. Coty uses a host of picking technologies. “I think that makes our warehouse much different than many that I’ve been in,” Newberry says. “You can see pick-to-light in one place and an A-frame someplace else, but rarely do you see an A-frame, five pick-to-light lines, two carousels, two three-story case-pick mezzanines, and a very nice sorter. You typically don’t see all of that in one place.”