[In first part of the story we wrote about how the automation of warehouse processes at Audiomania started: described the problems we faced before automation, the tasks we set ourselves, and how we (by trial and error) managed to solve the issues of outfitting the storekeeper and creating our own warehouse management system.
Read about the know-how of our system, the logic of warehouse organization, the results of the project, and what benefits our end customers have received from the reorganization].
Logic of warehouse organization
After writing the software and solving the employee outfit problem, it was time to take a look at the warehouse in terms of the logic of its organization. At the moment there are several types of storage containers in the Audiomania warehouse.
First of all – drawers for small items. Then there are trays for larger goods (drawers and trays differ only in size – drawers are smaller, trays are larger). Both drawers and trays we used before – now the principle by which goods fall into these containers has changed. Previously, they were labeled with the names of goods (sometimes separated by a comma), but now the trays and crates have been labeled with bar codes. The use of crates and trays became strictly regulated – each of them can now store only one article. To achieve this, at the same time they had to check the compliance of labels and contents of the containers: discrepancies (some products should not be in a particular container, or something was missing) were identified and eliminated at the same time.
One of our know-how that we applied in the reorganization of the storage of goods in crates was that after labeling the crate, the goods were not re-labeled, but simply "placed" according to the system. Thanks to this we were able to avoid putting labels on the very (small in size) goods we keep in the crates – unlike our system, none of the ready-made warehouse management solutions known to us can work with goods without an individual label. It is worth noting that the use of individual bags for goods (it is used to solve this problem), unprofitable if, for example, we are talking about inexpensive radio components.
We have introduced horizontal and vertical numbering for the sections of the warehouse wall to which the boxes are attached, which makes it faster to find where the box is (the wall with the boxes is currently being completed as needed). The logic of storing the trays in the warehouse is as follows: they are placed on racks and are characterized by a combination of parameters: rack number + number of "place" on the rack (the boxes have conditionally one rack for all).
Wall of the warehouse, set aside for crates
The third type of storage capacity is shelves on racks. Any shelf can hold any number of different goods. In this case, each shelf is one "place" and the location of goods is attached to it. As a result, the assembly process looks like this :
- Employee scans the barcode from the wall and gets a new task on his smartphone.
- The system shows the item’s lot number, name, quantity, and – if necessary – a photo (a photo of the item is very useful in the case of vinyl records – it’s much easier and faster to find the right one by the cover photo than by the artist’s name and album title).
- First the place is scanned, then the item. Location scanning is necessary because often the same article can lie in different locations (including neighboring locations) – it is important to make sure not only that it is the right item, but also that it is taken from the right location. As for scanning the goods, in the case of goods from crates and trays, it is not the goods themselves that are scanned (since they are not provided with individual labels), but the barcode affixed to the crate or tray (since there is always only one article in the crate/tray).
This is what the contents of one of the boxes look like
With this approach, taking the wrong thing or the wrong place is simply not possible. This storage system literally allows warehouse employees not to "look for goods, " but to "assemble the order. Interestingly, the employees began to call this process "assembly" just after the reorganization of the warehouse – before that they used the word "search, " which was quite consistent with reality. After implementing these innovations, the average time to start an order (from the moment of "taking" the request – its receipt on the smartphone of the warehouse employee – to find the first item) is from 30 seconds to 1 minute (the very assembly time varies depending on the size of the goods and the number of items in the order). At the same time, most of this time is spent by the employee to get to the right place.
Once the desired item is found, it (in the case of shipping outside of Moscow, for example) needs to be packaged. To do this (based on the parameters of the delivery of goods), the system generates the necessary set of documents and identification sticker on the box. Warehouse employee packs the goods in the box, glues a sticker with a barcode, scans it, and then the system prompts him where to put the packaged goods. The further shipment of goods to the transportation company is carried out as a usual assembly – only instead of specific goods this time there are boxes with orders. If we have an information exchange with the delivery service, then at the stage of labeling the box we generate and print the barcode of the shipping company. As a result, we optimize not only our internal processes, but also receiving and processing packages from transporters with whom we work – the presence of their barcode on the parcel and information about it in their information system greatly accelerates the delivery of goods.
Large goods are placed on the shelves
The warehouse’s tasks are not limited to picking and shipping. Receiving goods is an equally important part of its work. In order to avoid overlaps, inconsistencies and confusion during picking, we operate a so-called "non-deposit area" where the goods are checked against the supplier’s delivery note, labelled and then distributed to the storage locations. However, a "responsible" employee in the nondeposit area is now required only at the labeling stage (here one must carefully check that the goods correspond to the label attached). The rest of the warehouse workers do the work, in which it is very difficult to make a mistake.
It is important to note that every action of each employee is recorded on video. As a result, we get a lot of tools to form KPIs for warehouse employees, and we can study the bottlenecks of the entire system: track the processes that take up the most time from employees and work on them. For example, if we see that a certain operation takes longer than others, we can give additional training and improve their performance.
The user’s point of view
For your convenience, the Audiomania online store shows not only availability status, but also specific stores where the product is available.
Availability information through the eyes of the user
If we do not currently have the item, but there is information from the supplier about the terms of delivery, the item is assigned the status "Pending" and you can see when it should arrive at the warehouse and in what quantity. Such goods can be paid for in advance.
If the item is not available at the moment, you can clarify when it will be available to us
The entire warehouse optimization project took us three months, and during that time we were able to achieve a significant increase in the speed and quality of operations in the warehouse. In particular :
- Managed to minimize paperwork. Of course, it is impossible to avoid printing out documents, waybills, etc., but automation allows us to significantly reduce the amount of various paperwork. For internal warehouse operations, paper documents are now not required at all.
- Over-sorting and other problems now occur only 0.1% of the time. You can’t make this number absolutely zero because of human factor: nobody is safe from mistakes, but we have very few of them and they are corrected very fast.
- Effective and quick training for new employees. In the past, training a new warehouse worker could take a considerable amount of time, and people did not start working to their full potential immediately. Now, all training takes from half an hour to one hour, after which the employee is fully prepared to perform their tasks efficiently and productively.
- Increasing employee efficiency through a priority system. No more picking and packing orders that won’t be shipped until tomorrow, the result – in parallel with increased efficiency – is a more efficient distribution of employee workload.
- Reducing the time it takes to assemble orders. Orders are now collected 10 times faster at Audiomania than before automation was implemented.
- The record time for order processing is 4 min 59 sec. This is the minimum time from the moment the customer presses the "checkout" button until the parcel is ready to be shipped.
As you can see, the result was well worth the effort. Automating our warehouse processes has allowed us to help our customers more efficiently. We hope that our experience was of interest to you. Thank you for your attention and don’t forget to subscribe to our blog !