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The logistics of logistics: From manufacturer to consumer

At warehouses of all e­commerce giants, men and machines work in tandem 24X7 to send goods from the supplier to the consumer.

gurgaon Updated: Sep 07, 2018 21:15 IST
Sonali Verma
Sonali Verma
Hindustan Times, Gurugram
warehousing,gurugram
A warehouse coming up at Bilaspur, Tauru Road, in Gurugram. (Sanjeev Verma/HT File )

“Attendance is key. Being late everyday can add up to a lot of lost learning time. Don’t be late!” screams a circular on a notice board at the entrance of a warehouse facility of Ecom Express, an e-commerce-focused logistics firm, in Bilaspur, about 25 km from Gurugram.

On the main gate of the warehouse, a handful of employees get into an argument with the security guards. “Hurry up, I am already late,” an employee tells the guards. The guards frisk the employees thoroughly and wave them inside the massive warehouse through a door that, in comparison to the size of the facility, is rather small. Inside, the employees deposit their mobile phones, go through a second round of security check, place their fingers over the sensor, register their irises on the iris scanner so as to mark their attendance, and get to work.

Ecom’s warehouse is lodged among a row of many more such massive facilities run by e-commerce firms on the Tauru Road. Ecom’s fully automated facility covers more than 250,000 sqft and offers inventory management, order processing, packaging and dispatch services. It employs around 700 people during peak season, which is whenever an e-commerce website offers huge discounts. On a daily basis, some 450 people work here. People, however, are secondary; it’s the machines that are in charge.

The first thing one notices upon walking into Ecom’s warehouse, apart from an endless sea of white delivery packages, is a giant machine attached to a conveyer belt. Called the sorter, this machine assembles around 7,000 packages in an hour.

The sorter detects the bar code stuck to each package through its sensors and automatically releases the package in a compartment marked with the destination of the package. An employee picks up packages from there and scans the bar code. Right next to the sorter are shelves marked with the names of hundreds of places in India. When the bar code is scanned, a light blinks at the shelf where the package is supposed to be kept.

“There is zero per cent chance of error in this method,” says Vikram Rathore, senior manager at the warehouse. “Sometimes, the sorter doesn’t read the bar codes of packages that are cylindrical in shape. Such packages are kept separately and sorted manually,” Rathore adds.

FROM WAREHOUSE TO YOUR HOUSE
Step 1: Online orders are received at an e-com portal’s storage warehouse
Step 2: Employees pick ordered item(s) from shelves through a bar code scanner, which has details of the item(s) orders, quantity and delivery location
Step 3: Automated conveyor belt takes items to packing station where they are scanned by computers that determine right box size according to product dimensions and weight
Step 4: Employees pack items and send to the SLAM station, where it is checked for conformity to customer’s order in under 2 seconds
Step 5: Parcels are shipped off to sorting centres in various cities
Step 6: In sorting centres, sorting machines organise parcels by final destination areas
Step 7: Sorter machines send the parcels to delivery station where they are organised by pin code and assigned to a delivery associate
Step 8: The associate brings the ordered goods to the customer’s doorstep.

In Amazon’s fulfilment centre in New Delhi as well, a 1.2-kilometre-long conveyor belt handles the sorting process. But sorting is just a part of the larger process that ensures your package is delivered in ‘two to three business days’.

When you place an order through an ecommerce website, say Amazon, the order is sent to their fulfilment centre where the item is stored. The item gets picked off the shelf by an employee who has a bar code scanner, which guides him to the ‘pick task’— where technology guides him to the item that needs to be picked next with its details to ensure he gets the right item from the shelf. The items are then scanned and the computer tells what box size would be optimal for that particular product’s dimensions and weight. The packed item is sent to a SLAM (scan, label, apply, manifest) station which is the ultimate point of quality control. Here the package is checked for its weight and conformity to customer’s order before being loaded into a truck. The parcels are transported to sorting centres in various cities and towns, by road or air. Here, the packages are organised by final destination area. They are further sent to a delivery station where they are sorted by pin code and assigned to a delivery associate, who finally brings it to the customer’s doorstep.

At Amazon, this otherwise lengthy and complicated delivery process is simplified by algorithms and software that determine the shortest, most efficient route to ensure the fastest delivery possible, said a company spokesperson.

At warehouses of all ecom giants, men and machines work in tandem 24 into seven to send goods from the supplier to you. This man-machine combination is nothing short of a wish fulfilling machine. However, newer waves of technology, such as robotics, are emerging and many believe that this will spell the end of the warehouse as a significant source of employment as centres would become fully automated. But some differ.

The vice-president of customer fulfilment at Amazon India, Akhil Saxena, said it’s a myth that automation destroys net job growth. “Automation increases productivity and, in some cases, increases consumer demand, which, history shows, creates more jobs. In the long-term, this means continued job growth and a new sector emerging of warehouses in which employees work in technologically rich environments,” he says.

First Published: Aug 27, 2018 14:55 IST