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Pick-to-light systems increase productivity. (State of the Industry).

NEW YORK -- Advances in technology are affecting all aspects of chain drug retailing, including warehouse and distribution-system operations. One new technology that is increasing productivity and cutting costs in that arena is pick-to-light (PTL).

"When using PTL technology a lighted display at each picking location illuminates to show the associate the item and quantity to pick for an order," explains Pamela Davey, a senior consultant at Sedlak Management Consultants. "PTL is often used on flow-rack systems, because this storage medium houses the fastest-moving items. The cost of the pick lights and the computer system is offset by the increased picking rates and better accuracy."

PTL technology is frequently used to direct picking from horizontal carousels, and lights can be installed on carts to aid batch picking. The advantages of PTL technology include:

* Higher productivity. Associates are directed immediately to the proper location, eliminating the time typically spent searching for the right one. Items can be selected faster, because the pickers do not have to carry a pick ticket and pen or a radio frequency (RF) terminal in their hands. The steps of setting down and picking up the paperwork or RF device are completely eliminated.

* Improved accuracy. The quantity to be picked is displayed by the lights at the picking location. That reduces the likelihood of the picker going to the wrong location or picking the wrong quantity.

* Faster training. New associates can learn to pick orders efficiently and accurately in minutes--an important advantage for distribution centers that employ temporary or seasonal labor.

* Real-time order and inventory information. Picks are confirmed and inventory is updated immediately, which enables better customer service and automatic replenishment of the pick faces.

"The disadvantage of PTL is that it requires a significant initial investment in hardware and software," Davey notes. "However, PTL can cost less than radio-frequency terminals for some distribution centers."

For example, operations that process most of their order volume during a short time period typically require many more pickers during their peak season. Each seasonal picker must be equipped with an RF terminal, whereas the same pick lights used during off-peak periods support larger seasonal workforces, Davey points out.

One chain drug store operator that is sold on the advantages of PTL technology is Rite Aid Corp. The company has installed some 60,000 PTL locations in three distribution facilities in Lancaster and Woodland, Calif., and Perryman, Md. Vertex Interactive Inc. has supplied the PTL technology in all three of those facilities.

Rite Aid obtained the Woodland distribution center, the one most recently outfitted with the Vertex PTL system, as part of its acquisition of Thrifty PayLess Inc. in 1996. Although the 513,000-square-foot facility already had more than 8,800 lights in place, Rite Aid determined that it was necessary to expand the established light system to support volume growth and expansion of its product base.

"We decided to implement Vertex' technology, based on the company's ability to maintain the functionality of our light systems and to provide a single point of interface to the warehouse management system [WMS]," explains Frank Matunis, manager of logistics engineering at the drug chain. "Vertex was able to meet our requirements at a competitive price and on an accelerated schedule that coincided with our business requirements."

At the Woodland facility a Vertex eFulfillment system controls four PicRite PTL subsystems, distributes orders from the WMS to the PTL system and tracks each reusable tote from order induction through picking. The pick system displays each tote number and the number of pieces to pick at each pick location.

Scanners make tote induction simple and fast. The Woodland facility operates two shifts six days a week and replenishes each store in the region on a weekly basis. Rite Aid uses PTL technology in its Lancaster center to support over 425 stores in its Southwestern region. The Perryman facility has what is believed to be the largest PTL system in North America, with 30,000 PTL locations, 19 PTL subsystems, 10 carousel control systems for 30 carousels and 16 automatic label applicators.
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Comment:Pick-to-light systems increase productivity. (State of the Industry).
Publication:Chain Drug Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 29, 2002
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