Five Automation Myth Busters

Before you write off warehouse automation as being too complex or expensive for your operations, here are five good reasons to take a second look.


This approach paid off well for KeHE, one of Intelligrated’s customers in Allentown, PA. Collaborating with Automation Dynamics, Intelligrated implemented a $1.8 million hybrid system of horizontal pick carousels, a pick- and put-to-light carton flow module, and a conveyor system to route product through the various pick and pack zones.

KeHE consolidated two of its northeastern DCs into a new 312,000-square-foot DC in Allentown because the two former facilities were not able to accommodate increasing demand. KeHE’s goal for the new DC was to reduce the number of touches and meet increased order throughput demands. Intelligrated delivered the system, which has helped KeHE achieve a 300-percent increase in productivity.

Koch explains that the thoughtful and intelligent integration of people-picking processes with other technologies can achieve significant success. “But you have to keep in mind that you must consider what a company’s operational goals are, what their future growth looks like, what their SKUs are, and what their business model is before you can define a solution. Remember that any technology misapplied is going to be a bust. We know customers who have gone to the expense to implement ‘new’ technologies only to remove them because the technologies did not achieve their operational goals.”

Some people might think pick-to-light technology is passé. “In response to that, we say that the capability of this technology is a lot broader than what it used to be,” Koch says. “It’s more about the software that drives the processes that determine how products will be picked. It is not uncommon for us to integrate and implement multiple picking technologies to deliver the results our customers are searching for. Pick-to-light is not what it used to be. Order-picking software now allows you to operate different integrated workflows using multi-colored devices. For instance, you can have more than one selector active in an area where their activities are all color-coded. This means there is little training required for new workers and very little chance for error. Or you can have one selector picking multiple orders. So there is a lot of flexibility in picking capabilities.”

So these tried-and-true technologies—when used in their traditional way—may not reach their full potential if they are not applied with the correct processes and aligned with operational goals. Pick-to-light technology is not old school—so bust that myth.

“We see customers who are applying pick-to-light and put-to-light technologies for the benefits these solutions bring to their organizations,” Koch says. “It’s not a question of old school or the latest ‘new’ technology. It is really about choosing a technology or a combination of technologies that will produce the ROI, accuracy and productivity companies require to achieve the goals they set to drive their business models.”

Myth # 5: My perishable products are too sensitive to be handled by automation.

A fresh food environment is critical for grocery retailers. Lot tracking, expiration dates, sustaining quality and accuracy are important concerns in the distribution of perishable items. However, some retailers believe that their perishable items are too sensitive to be handled by an automated system.

Delhaize, a supermarket retailer in Belgium, busted this myth last year when it opened a highly-automated perishable distribution center in Zellik, near Brussels. The company worked with Witron Integrated Logistics, Parkstein, Germany (U.S. headquarters is in Arlington Heights, IL) to develop a solution to meet customer demands and market requirements.

“To optimize our steady growing demand for highly dynamic fresh distribution, we changed the whole supply chain for fresh products,” explains Vincent De Hertogh, manager supply chain strategy at Delhaize. “Our product assortment is expanding as the amount of smaller retail stores increases. These shops don’t want full totes of fresh products, but smaller volumes. So more handling is necessary for a lower value or quantity of goods. Besides a strong increase in road traffic, the environmental awareness and very short expiration dates for ultra fresh products play important roles in determining our fresh logistics in the future.”

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