It's A Match:Tools Distributor Uses AI To Perfect Packaging Box

- Dec 16, 2019-

The Perfect Fit

Before applying AI, FastFetch analyzed nearly 85,000 order records to identify 40 to 50 box sizes that would accommodate all of Snap-on`s past shipments with minimal wasted space. Then, the AI software used a two-step calculation process to cut those choices by about 30% - and spit out the best assortment of sizes.

[Generally speaking, having a larger number of carton sizes increases the likelihood of selecting a good fit for the items to be packed," says FastFetch`s Jack, but this [requires more storage space and perhaps includes a number of infrequently used carton sizes."

[At some point, increasing the number of carton sizes provides diminishing returns and increases costs," he says.

Once the boxes were on site and ready for packing, another AI formula came into play. Much like gaming algorithms that can determine a good chess move, FastFetch`s software explores possible item placements, orientations and other properties such as nesting (for example, tapered trash cans stacked together) and containability (items with a hollow center that can contain other items) to determine the best box for a given order.

Upon scanning an order`s barcode, the system computes optimal dimensions and chooses a box in less than a second. (Packing is left to the worker`s discretion, as item-placement instructions tend to slow the process, FastFetch says. Consequently, the system always chooses boxes that provide a small bit of wiggle room.)

Packers retrieve boxes from one side of a carton rack, and replenishers fill gaps on the other side. LED strips on both sides light up to indicate which boxes to choose for packing and restocking.

A single carton rack can serve multiple packing stations by employing different colored LED lights for each station. At Snap-on, each carton rack supports two packing stations.

`Fast and Accurate`

Two replenishment carts employ barcode and voice technology to ensure fast and accurate retrieval of boxes from storage as follows:

A worker logs in via the cart`s tablet screen and requests a set of box orders.
Using voice technology, the cart directs the worker to the first storage location.
The worker scans a local barcode to verify arrival. Then, the cart announces how many boxes to pick and highlights where to place them. Numerical displays on the cart also indicate what`s needed.
Once boxes are loaded, the worker confirms proper placement by touching a light-sensitive proximity switch.
This process continues until the job is done, and then the tablet sends the worker to restock the carton racks.

For Snap-on, achieving right-sized packaging has boosted fulfillment efficiency - and generated [significant cost savings." FastFetch`s system was easy to install and use, and the return-on-investment (ROI) period was just three months, according to management.

Since installation, the distributor cut shipping costs by more than 11% and packing labor by 30%. Corrugated Box usage also fell, improving Snap-on`s green footprint by reducing landfill waste and fuel consumption required for transporting packages.