Werner Electric, a supplier of automation, electrical and industrial network products and services, has implemented a smart system for picking inventory from its 200,000-square-foot warehouse, resulting in significant savings in supply chain management and more speedy order fulfillment. The system was built in collaboration with Tecsys, a supplier of warehouse and transportation management technologies.
Werner Electric’s warehouse contains 30,000 individual SKUs in components ranging from electric supplies to networked electrical systems. Because Werner Electric maintains a zero-order backlog, any order placed before 7 p.m. is picked, fulfilled and delivered by the following morning. Prior to automating the warehouse, workers traveled around 290 miles per month picking inventory from the racks.
Navigating the warehouse was not a problem for veteran team members, but new team members faced a steep learning curve.
“In the past, our training required three to six months of job shadowing before an individual learned the nuances of the warehouse,” said Mark Mueller, regional distribution center continuous improvement team leader at Werner Electric. “Now our training can be completed in as little as two weeks.”
Tecsys used artificial intelligence (AI) to understand the warehouse’s processes and challenges for future improvement. To do this, the routes traveled by veteran warehouse workers were mapped along with defined pick paths and established performance markers. These variables were converted to data to address three primary areas by using AI to:
- Pick orders more efficiently by developing a digital twin of the warehouse to recalculate pick sequence for optimized travel route and shortest distance.
- Reduce training time and onboard new employees more quickly to improve labor costs and employee retention.
- Conserve additional resources such as wear and maintenance on equipment, electronic hardware and other support systems within the warehouse.
The results have been significant. Picks per hour improved by 30% and travel through the warehouse was reduced by 39%.
“The results-based approach to data science [for this project] meshed well with the lean continuous improvement passion of our distribution center leaders,” said Fred Mauermann, vice president of operations at Werner Electric. “This innovative, co-developed AI solution delivers an improved employee experience for our team members, accelerating their training progression and freeing capacity to better serve our customers.”