The warehouse basic process of Putaway is after receiving and before picking. This is also called stowing and may be known by other terminology as well. But the idea remains the same: put inventory into the warehouse.
The warehouse needs to put all that received inventory somewhere. The process to accomplish this is putaway and includes transportation to a location and the systematic and physical placement of inventory into that location.
The destination locations may be reserve locations or pick locations. Reserve locations are often non-pickable and are used to buffer inventory that will eventually be replenished to pickable locations. Pick locations can be accessed directly by pickers to fill orders.
Transporting the inventory to the putaway location can take several forms. It is dependent on the type of inventory being put away and level of automation of the facility. If the unit of measure is a pallet, then the inventory is often transported from the receiving dock by forklift or pallet jack, or in automated facilities by conveyor, crane, or AGV.
Once the inventory reaches the putaway location and the system movement to that location is complete, then the inventory is eligible for additional handling in the next steps of the warehouse process.
The labor content of putaway is usually less than of picking. This is because product is put away in higher densities than it is picked.
For example, EE (employee) may put away a pallet of trays of cans of beans into a case pickable location. That pallet may contain 120 trays. With an average line order of 4 trays, this pallet might see 30 picks to the location. So the labor content of the putaway process is 1 / 30 of the picking process. In contrast, a pallet-in / pallet-out operation may see roughly equal putaway and pick labor.
This will vary depending on order profiles and units being put away.
When would the labor content of putaway be higher than picking? This could happen in an environment where the unit putaway is less than the pick unit. Where does this happen? A prime candidate for this is in reverse logistics, where many random returns have to be sorted and putaway into orderable quantities.
However, on an absolute scale putaway can be labor intensive depending on the type of good received, its unit of measure, and the level of automation of the facility.
Putaway process efficiency is dependent on the facility’s storage strategy and putaway strategies. The storage strategy encompasses the physical and systemic setup of the storage locations as well as the logic used to direct automation or employees to accomplish the putaways.
Key factors to consider in physical setup of the storage locations are the storage profiles. That is, whether the physical locations well-fitted to the number and sizes of the inventory that will be stored in them. If a warehouse has 50 Large locations and 50 Small locations but only receives 10 Large items and 70 Small items, then its use of cubic space is inefficient. But if the warehouse receives 60 Large items, then it won’t be able to put away all the inventory.
The most physically efficient putaways are short and therefore contain very little travel. Depending on the shape of the warehouse, this may be in conflict with the most efficient placement of the goods for picking. So there are some tradeoffs in design to consider. Usually picking efficiency will drive warehouse design but the designer should not ignore putaway .
The systematic setup of the locations and product matters too. There are many decisions to consider here. Will the locations be able to hold multiple SKUs? Higher SKU capacity means better space usage but a harder time for pickers to locate the product and a harder time keeping accurate inventory. Are the locations configured to hold a certain volume of product? If so, then the master data on the product needs to be correct or else the locations won’t work correctly.
Putaway process logic is another key thing to consider. Some systems allow direction of employees to specific putaway locations based on logic such as what is already in the location, what the sales velocity of the product is, efficient routing of puts, and so on. Whether the putaway is directed or not, which locations are accessible, where those locations are, and how employees find them, are critical decisions that will influence productivity and efficiency in puts and later in picking.
In short, putaway process efficiency is controlled by inventory location and configuration and must be balanced with picking efficiency requirements.
Automation in putaway is increasing and takes several forms.
Automated Storage & Retrieval systems (ASRS) will intake inventory, store it, pick it, and present it to an end user. This makes it a goods-to-person system. So there is no employee involvement in the putaway, only in the inducting from receiving. In fact, if the receiver completes a receipt and places an item onto a conveyor that goes to an ASRS, then the entire put process is automated. ASRS systems are typically used for case-level UOMs and larger.
Goods-to-person systems such as Kiva and Grey-Orange are used for broken-case or eaches handling. They may not automate the putaway but they do move the put location to the employee. These systems then take care of the logic for putaway and inventory management, and the employee’s only task is the systematic put and physically placing the item onto a shelf. It eliminates all the manual travel.
Automated Guided Vehicles of various types (including Laser-Guided Vehicles, autonomous guided forklifts, aisle-traversing robots, and so on) can pick up inventory and take it to racked or bin locations and deliver it. These systems are becoming more sophisticated and able to handle more product handling profiles.
Collaborative mobile robots are another available technology that integrate into existing operations. Unlike other systems that require the entire building to be suited to them, the Co-Mobile robots can operate in sites that are set up for and operate with human employees.
As a general rule, automate putaway after you automate picking. However because putaway shares much physical infrastructure with picking (physical locations, travel lanes, racking, and so forth) a system that can do one can often do the other and they are automated together.
Putaway is the process of placing inventory into storage locations for replenishment and ultimately picking. It is downstream of receiving and upstream of picking. It is often a major labor center in a warehouse though less than picking, because it processes larger units of measure per move. It is often automated with picking because it shares physical infrastructure and flow paths. And while putaway is less exciting and high-profile than picking, it is critical to picking’s success because it is the basis for inventory accuracy.