The unsuspected life of the toilet.

When you sit down on the throne, take a moment to consider its journey. Weighing around 40 kg, moving this porcelain object from a warehouse or fulfillment center to your bathroom is no easy task. For one of North America's leading hardware chains, this challenge has economic implications. With numerous stores, they sell a considerable volume of toilets, packed in cartons. A two-person team is needed to place each carton on a pallet and transport it out of the store.

Two Operators Reduced to One for Handling

This is where the lifting device comes in. Attached to a forklift or pallet truck, it is equipped with a suction lifting arm to safely pick up the cartons. Although slightly slower than teamwork, one person can now pick the toilets for delivery. The hardware chain adopted this mobile device for each of its stores and saw a return on investment in just four months, calculated taking into account the toilets and the manpower required to pick them. The employees thus relieved of picking are reassigned to other tasks. Objective achieved, everyone is satisfied.

This story is just one recent example of the success of TAWI's new mobile order picker. However, the challenges of order picking in modern logistics go far beyond the humble latrine.

The Era of Order Preparation 4.0

Of all warehouse operations, order picking is both one of the most essential and one of the most difficult to automate. Methods such as grouping, zoning and wave picking have reduced the time needed to assemble requested items, thus improving efficiency. However, despite attempts to automate this process, manual picking systems are still widely used.

Despite this, order picking is crucial in almost all supply chains, and has a major impact on warehouse operating efficiency. In logistics, order picking often accounts for more than half of operating costs. Continued reliance on manual labor contributes significantly to these relatively high costs.

Facing the challenges of digital transformation

In the age of digital transformation, many industries around the world are facing new challenges. In logistics, the mass customization and increasing individualization of goods is making the management of logistics processes more complex. In particular, these developments complicate bulk handling and shipping.

The rapid growth of e-commerce brings with it increased challenges for order picking. Several factors contribute to this, including :

  • A steady increase in the number of orders
  • High customer expectations for fast, accurate delivery
  • Increasing stock diversification
  • Orders with a limited number of items
  • High staff turnover and reduced worker availability

Faced with increasingly complex orders, the importance of innovative order-picking methods is undeniable. The digital transformation of industry, also known as "Industry 4.0", has spawned parallel developments in logistics, known as "Logistics 4.0". In the field of order picking, technical solutions support the manual process, referred to by researchers as "Order Picking 4.0". Although automated order picking systems do exist, based on the use of robots, their flexibility remains limited when it comes to picking a variety of goods. It is therefore plausible to consider that the human will continue to play a central role in Order Picking 4.0, particularly with the growth of e-commerce and the individualization of warehouses characterized by their diversity and low volume.

Intelligent Lifting to Overcome the Challenges of Order Picking

The TAWI lifting device tackles the four main challenges faced by warehouse order-picking managers:

  • The difficulty of the task
  • Process duration
  • The risk of injury to employees
  • The risk of damaging products

It's a proven technology with enhanced mobility and range. Staff can be up and running after just a few hours' training. What's more, the return on investment is far more advantageous than full automation. Semi-automation offers far greater flexibility and lower costs.


Labor shortages and the benefits of semi-automation

The global economy is characterized by labor shortages in many countries. Migrant workers have returned to their countries of origin, senior citizens have anticipated their retirement, and childcare or health problems have pushed other workers out of the job market. Employers have discovered that staff availability is not a constant, but a risk to be managed. According to the Financial Times, " a new generation of workers, from warehousemen to delivery drivers, has realized its importance ".

Impact on Order Preparation

"The warehouse picking process is labor-intensive, and a shortage of warehouse handlers was already present in logistics before the pandemic," explains Mike Lee. "For most of the companies we talk to, understaffing is a key element in their thinking about picking methods: they don't have enough people. Some goods require three or even four people to lift them safely - think barbecues, mattresses or canoes. So the reality is that many sites simply neglect the safety aspect."

While retail stores are ubiquitous, distribution centers are often located in rural areas, exacerbating the labor shortage. In the U.S., for example, these centers are often located near highways, resulting in a high demand for personnel. In short, the workforce cannot be restricted to physically stronger individuals. Thanks to mobile vacuum lifting technology, not only is the number of workers required halved, but the task is also accessible to a much more diverse workforce.

An intelligent, mobile lifting solution

TAWI's approach is to reduce injuries, increase productivity and enhance work flexibility. We're proud to say that the mobile order picker solves this equation elegantly and safely. This technology, which is still new to the market, is attracting a great deal of interest. In the USA, for example, a major online retailer recently acquired ten TAWI mobile order-picking systems and is testing them in its distribution centers.

Don't hesitate to contact our representatives to find out more about how this solution can benefit your business.