7-11 is probably this nation’s largest chain of "convenience" stores. Each day they must send out supplies of freshly prepared food such as sandwiches, salads, pastries, as well as numerous packaged and auto-related products. To insure the consistent quality of the food items and to allow for an "assembly line" preparation of the food, they must distribute fresh product each night for early next morning availability.
Each day, the prepared food and other products arrive at the 7-11 distribution center which is run as a sort of "cross dock" staging area. Each store is identified by a store number and has a 2-3 deep pallet staging location. These staging locations are arranged in rows of about 20 lanes off each side of a main aisle. Each store lane has a terminal with a lighted store number suspended over the front of the lane and it has a pick terminal that will display the quantity of a product to be placed in each store’s lane.
In operation, each new product to be distributed is scanned at the end of the center staging aisle. All store lanes on that aisle light up with the quantity of this product to be "put" into each store’s lane. Several "putters" distribute this product to the 40 stores and then push the "put complete" button above each lane. When all stores have been served, the process is repeated for all the remaining food and product for the day’s run for these 40 stores.
There are several of these staging areas, each for another group of
40 stores. When all the product for the current 40 stores has been
distributed, it is loaded into delivery trucks using the 1-3 pallets
removed from the staging lanes and a new group of 40 stores can be
supplied in the same way.
In the classic put-to-light application, an reversed pick-to-light system (or a second pick after a first pick by some other method) is used as a combination sortation and product verification system. It works as follows:
First a group of 16-20 store or customer orders is batched (all the orders pick lines are combined into one pick document or picking trip) together and picked in a single trip for the whole batch. This greatly reduces pick walking times.
Next, the batch is conveyed to the "put" (or as it is also called, the "pack") area where all the totes from the batch are accumulated or sorted to the correct put station. Each put station has 16 or 20 compartments where 16 to 20 shipping totes or shipping cartons are placed. Each shipping tote or carton is then labeled with its final destination (customer or store address).
Each item from the batch totes is barcode scanned (they must have a UPC or other bar code label for this to work). A terminal will then light up below the correct shipping carton or tote indicating how many pieces of the scanned item goes into each shipping tote. As the picked products are scanned and the "put complete" buttons under each carton are pushed, the batch picks are gradually both sorted and verified to the correct shipping carton. Any extra pieces left at the end, or any shipping totes that are short pieces, indicate picking errors that must be corrected.
This is similar to the results achieved by a large tilt-tray sortation system at a company like Lands End, but it has several distinct advantages for the lower volume operation. Because the products are not mechanically sorted, they do not have to be specially packaged and bar coded with sortation labels. They are also less prone to damage or loss from the sortation equipment. The put to light system is also generally significantly less expensive that a tilt tray sorter.
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