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Have you considered going waveless?

01 July 2018

Waveless picking can help streamline operations, says Eric Lamphier, senior director, product management, Manhattan Associates.

Retailers have to operate sophisticated omni-channel distribution centres (DCs) that strive to satisfy around-the-clock customer demands. Rapid and efficient e-commerce order fulfilment is a top priority.

The traditional order fulfilment approach in the DC, known as wave processing, involves processing orders in large batches. As each batch of orders nears completion, the next batch is started, and this approach is known as a ‘push model’, meaning orders are ‘pushed’ into the DC operation for processing in batches. While wave/batch processing does deliver specific efficiencies for other channels, it can create peaks and valleys as one tracks the utilisation of labour and automated equipment in an eCommerce operation. Under-utilised assets reduce overall fulfilment capacity which is not a desired outcome in an eCommerce distribution centre where orders stream in all day, every day, 24x7. Customers increasingly place orders via streamlined apps and mobile experiences and in turn, their expectation is that their order will be fulfilled and delivered rapidly. In other words, real-time order fulfilment and speed is as critical as it as has ever been.

Order streaming 
Dealing with a massive amount of relatively small orders, with just a few items per order, demands a different kind of fulfilment approach. Order streaming, a form of waveless picking, reimagines traditional order fulfilment logic and produces a more flexible, eCommerce centric fulfilment method. Rather than batching orders and dropping them into the DC operation in waves, Order Streaming continuously evaluates the order pool and offers ways to optimise those orders as they are being driven through their required DC workflows. Unlike the wave push model, order streaming operates under a ‘pull model’, meaning that as soon as there is capacity in the fulfilment operation, new orders are pulled into the workflow to the available asset(s). This results in more immediate action orders are not held until they can fit into the next batch; as soon as an order can be addressed, it is pulled in and processing begins.

\This approach to fulfilling eCommerce orders ensures real-time alignment between labour and equipment availability and helps maximise efficiency to enable DCs to strike a better overall balance of resources. Additionally, the dynamic assembly and assignment of tasks when they can be actioned versus waiting to batch means that fulfilment decisions can be delayed and more specific. Instead of queuing up a batch of orders with different needs or priorities, orders can be dealt with in real-time on a more individual level, and ultimately decisions can be made based on the most recent and best data.