Zone skipping, the practice of trucking goods in bulk to the carrier hub closest to their final destination, was a strategy an Invata client had used with good success to lower per unit shipping costs in the past. But when demand for this client’s products rose, the company found it didn’t have the production capacity it needed to adequately maintain its zone skipping practices and, subsequently, saw a rise in both labor and transportation costs per unit shipped.
Having worked with the team at Invata on a previous warehouse automation project in their fulfillment center, the client engaged Invata Intralogistics to integrate a solution that would get them back on track with their zone skipping strategy.
The expanded zone skipping processing and sortation system that Invata designed and implemented was seamlessly integrated into the existing material handling system as well as the existing WMS and TMS software already in use in the facility.
The resulting zone skipping system expanded the client’s production capacity from 4,000 to 10,000 parcels per hour, while maintaining existing business practices, lowering both labor and shipping costs per unit, and meeting the high standards set in previous implementations.
Parcels processed through the existing zone skipping system required manual transport from the company’s packaging line to the system sorter. Once at the sorter, the parcels need to be manually inducted into the system for processing. This need for a “double touch” per parcel increased the unit labor cost, while also causing delays in the production process.
In addition to that, the client’s zone skipping sortation system had a production limit of 4,000 parcels per hour due to the speed rating of the sortation machine. If production demands rose above that limit, parcels would not be transported via the company’s zone skipping practice, and the cost per shipment would rise dramatically.
The client wanted to increase its zone skipping throughput capacity to 10,000 pieces per hour, while decreasing the number of people involved in parcel handling and induction. Objectives for the new system were established that included:
- Sort all small parcels into the same shipping containers to enable zone skipping and economize on outbound freight.
- Automatically induct all parcels arriving from the packaging line.
- Provide a method for semi-automated ergonomic induction of parcels from other packaging lines.
- Accommodate variable parcel sizes from other packaging lines.
- Eliminate the need to manually scan parcels as required in the exisiting warehouse management system in order to update the parcel’s order status.
- Seamlessly integrate with the TMS in use in their facility. Treat parcels weighing in above a specified limit as exceptions.
Zone Skipping System
The zone skipping system Invata integrated into the client’s fulfillment operation works in the following manner:
Parcels exiting automated carton packing machines are now automatically merged onto an ingenious conveyor system that not only transports the parcels horizontally, but also acts as a vertical elevator/lowerator traveling between floors to move the parcels to the sortation system. The conveyors are capable of very high throughput, and their compact design saves floor space.
On route to the sortation system, the conveyor passes by a semi-automated induction area where variable sized parcels from other production lines can also be added to the parcel conveyor. The parcels then merge onto a high-speed induction/spacing conveyor, which singulates one parcel at a time to the scanning area. Proper gaps are ensured for successful scanning and sorting further downstream on the conveyor.
When parcels move through the scanning tunnel, the shipping information is read by Invata’s FastTrak® Warehouse Control System software. At the same time, the product identification label (UPC) is read by FastTrak as well. If the shipping information matches the expected UPC for that order, the order is allowed to move through the process. If a mis-match occurs, the parcel is routed to an exceptions processing station.
Once matching has been done successfully, Invata’s WCS software automatically updates data tables in the client WMS to change the order status from picked to packed. This eliminates the previous step of manually scanning each parcel to update its order status. Since it may take many seconds for the WMS to confirm this transaction, the conveyor system was extended on route to final induction to allow enough time for the update.
To enhance the sortation capacity of the system, Invata added a second small parcel sorter. With a rating of 6,000 parcel per hour, the narrow belt, 90 degree small parcel sorter brings the system capacity from 4,000 up to 10,00 parcels per hour. When parcels arrive at the sortation induction point, each parcel is weighed to ensure its compliance with zone skipping rules, and the weight is transmitted via FastTrak WCS to the client’s TMS.
After the TMS determines which USPS national distribution center (NDC) is appropriate for each parcel, Invata’s FastTrak controller references the chosen NDC to a sortation lane location map and assigns the parcel the divert that coincides with that NDC. FastTrak also sends a ship confirmation to the WMS in the process.
Results of Zone Skipping Implementation
Invata’s enhancement to client’s zone skipping processing and sortation system enabled this client to continue to utilize its existing material handling assets as well as those of the WMS and TMS software systems it already had in place in its fulfillment facility.
By increasing production capacity from 4,000 to 10,000 parcels per hour, the Invata Zone skipping enhancements also enabled the client to meet the demands associated with peak processing periods.
Due to the increases in unit processing speed, decreases in the manual handling requirements inherent to the old system, and the expansion of parcels eligible for zone skipping savings, the client saw a quick payback to its zone skipping operation, while taking full advantage of its zone skipping strategy.