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Responding to change in e-commerce fulfilment

22 October 2018

When you look at a line chart of e-commerce growth over the last five years, it has been remarkably consistent. In the U.S. alone, there’s an average growth rate of more than 13 percent per year. 

Of course, growth in an individual warehouse comes in fits and spurts. Spikes during the holiday season usually account for at least 25 percent of annual retail e-commerce sales. 

This has caused e-commerce warehouses to think twice about traditional automation methods. Mechanised conveyor and sortation systems are notoriously difficult to install, maintain and scale.

Compact, modular robotic systems bring a new degree of flexibility to fulfilment operations. Here are three examples:

  • Businesses experiencing the same level of growth as the e-commerce industry as a whole would need an automated system almost twice as large as needed today to ensure it still meets requirements in five years. 

Modular robotic systems give the flexibility to size the system to current needs and add modules as required. This reduces initial capital expense and allows future automation costs to be shifted from the capital equipment to the operating budget.

  • Finding enough labour to meet demand during the peak holiday season can be challenging.

A modular, robotic goods-to-person picking solution not only increases the productivity of current personnel, it provides the flexibility to extend work shifts by having robots stage orders before human workers arrive on the job. 

  • Many e-commerce operations may end up needing to move their fulfilment operation as they outgrow the confines of their space and the limitations of their warehouse automation system. Modular robotics systems can move with the warehouse, extending their lifecycle.

Responding to the continuous change inherent in e-commerce fulfilment requires flexible automation solutions that are easy-to-deploy and re-deploy, scale incrementally and include the embedded intelligence required to take advantage of machine learning and other developments. 

To learn more about how these systems support sustained and seasonal scalability, read our white paper, Using Automation to Manage Growth in E-commerce Fulfilment.