Removing Bottlenecks at the Pack Line to Keep Up with Automated Order Picking Upstream

A retail company selling tools and outdoor home goods experienced significant ecommerce growth leading to their first automation investment: a robotic order picking system. After the system was implemented, the Company’s throughput increased to a maximum of 3,000 orders picked per day – this was more than enough to keep up with increased demand from online sales.

They soon realized however that the post-pick area was the facility’s bottleneck, and the five manual packing stations could not keep up with the automated order picking system. The number of orders shipped out per day was lagging what was needed to fulfill orders in a timely manner. Secondly, shipping costs were on the rise and the Company needed a solution that could automatically minimize the size of the shipping boxes to ensure the optimal rates. The Company’s final issue with their process came from the abundance of errors occurring at the pack station; operators were rushing to complete their tasks and sometimes applied the wrong label or added the wrong documentation into the box – leading to the wrong packages being sent to customers. The Company began receiving complaints and the costs of rectifying these errors was steadily increasing.

Automating the Pack Line

The Company along with their Integrator decided that parts of the pack station needed to be automated. Once the robotic order picking system placed the items into a tote, that tote would move along some conveyor to PSI’s Print Feeder that would print and fold the packing slip and insert it into the tote along with the products. From there, an automated carton erector would create a right-sized box and place the box in the tote which then move along the conveyor to an operator at a packing table.

The operator would pack the items, documentation, and void fill into the box and seal it before placing it back onto the conveyor. A PSI Checkweigher would verify the weight of the box lined up with the customer’s order then two shipping labels were automatically applied – one on top and one on the side of the box so the label was always visible once the boxes were on a pallet.

Scalability and Accuracy

Adding automation products to the pack line eliminated the bottleneck and the facility was able to keep up with the throughput of the robotic picking system. Shipping costs were reduced due to the variable-sized box erector and thanks to the weight verification, automated documentation insertion, and label application, customers were receiving their orders correctly. Finally, this partially automated system allowed the Company to scale up operations as needed to handle peak season demands without added hiring or overtime costs.

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