I don’t know about you guys, but when I order something online, I have sometimes wondered how they process so many orders as fast as they do with the degree of accuracy that they do. Most of my online orders for gun stuff are generally placed on the Brownells website due to the prices being reasonable across the board, and they ship things out rather quickly.
I was given a chance to wander around the Brownells facility for a few days with an all access employee badge and the thought occurred to me that I would really like to see how my orders are packed. Now I have worked in a warehouse in my younger days as well as worked in eCommerce operations in recent years, I am not a stranger as to how orders are packed. That said, Brownells has a slightly higher tech approach to things that are more in line with how I would expect Amazon to fill orders rather than a retailer in the gun industry. We do resist change heavily and many of the retailers that I have had the chance to see how they work have a rather old school approach to filling orders.
That said, Brownells has a slightly higher tech approach to things that are more in line with how I would expect Amazon to fill orders rather than a retailer in the gun industry. We do resist change heavily and many of the retailers that I have had the chance to see how they work have a rather old school approach to filling orders.
I pulled up to Brownells newer facility in Grinnell, Iowa situated right between the main highway and one of the many corn fields in the area. I have been told that the new facility was designed to hold Brownells for the next 10 years, but at the rate they have been growing under the leadership of Pete Brownell, I imagine that they may be adding onto this facility sooner than expected.
I know this is a familiar sight for many of you and even some of you might have it set as your home page. Placing the order online is as easy as you might expect and I was able to locate all the products that I needed quickly.
Once I had added everything to my cart, checking out is a bit easier than it has been in years past thanks to a revamped checkout process that is quite welcome.
For those of you that are wondering what I ordered, here is the list:
- Three Primary Weapons Systems .308 shim kits – $4.99 each
- One Accurate Mag 10 round .223 AICS pattern magazine – $69.99
- One Magpul .308 short action 10 round AICS PMAG – $37.95
- One Glock 43 6 round magazine – $24.99
Once the order is placed, it is transmitted to the order picking software that transmits it to scan guns carried by warehouse employees like Chase. Since we wanted to track our order being placed we had to do things a bit different, but normally the scan gun will have several orders in its memory, and they are all picked at the same time and deposited in a large bin.
Chase starts with scanning the tote to let the system know where the products will be. Once that barcode is scanned the scan gun will tell Chase the location of every product on the pick list as well as how many to pull for the order batch he is working.
The first product Chase located was the .223 Accurate Mag. Every piece that is pulled from the warehouse shelves is scanned into the gun to confirm that it is the correct product. Brownells stocks everything on its website and as long as the website says it is in stock, chances are that it is there. Sure, there are a few odd glitches, but that happens everywhere no matter how advanced the system may be.
Bins are moved around the warehouse on conveyor belts, and rollers and the use of carts are limited to work in the aisles. Brownells keeps the products that are most commonly ordered along this roller conveyor belt to speed up order picking time.
Chase found the Magpul AICS on the main run of products and quickly grabbed one, scanned it, then deposited it in the bin with the other magazine.
Next Chase located the Glock 43 magazine, scanned it and put it in the bin with the rest of the magazines. Locating everything in my order has been pretty easy for him so far, which isn’t much of a surprise given how nicely the Brownells warehouse is laid out.
Every time Chase scans the product he just picked and the bin the gun will tell him if more of that product is needed or if he needs to move to another warehouse location for the next item on his pick list. Chase is getting the location for the final item on the pick list, the muzzle shims.
Once he gets to the location, each piece is scanned, deposited in the bin, then the bin is scanned to confirm it went to the right place.
Now that Chase has finished picking the order, it gets placed on the conveyor belt to leave the second floor of the warehouse and head down to a station that is called ‘Put To Light.’
Put To Light is designed to allow the warehouse pickers to pull several orders at one time and put them all into the same bin. Once they get to the Put To Light station, the bin is scanned, and the computer maps out all the orders into their own respective bins. Once the computer has that figured out, each product is scanned and placed into the bin that is indicated with a light and an arrow pointing to the correct bin for that order.
Again, since we were trying to follow a single order through the process, it got its own bin. Normally these totes are large blue ones that are large enough that a grown man can sit in them. Each and every one of them is filled to the brim with product to be separated out into their individual orders by a Brownells employee.
Now the order was turned over to Tia’s expert hands for the remainder of the order process. Now, normally there would be at least 4 employees involved in the process working each station that the order passes through but Tia offered to go from Put to Light all the way to slapping a label on the box. Who am I to say no?
Like previously mentioned, the put to light station requires Tia to scan every product in the bin she is currently working, and the machine will illuminate a light and arrow for the correct bin.
Tia got through the bin and every one of the items that were on my order happened to find their way into the holding bin. I did find this part of the process rather interesting as I haven’t seen something quite like this in an eCommerce operation. I am sure that it is standard practice in other industries, but it was a new concept for me.
Tia then moved to the other side of the Put To Light station to pack our order into a box that would then be placed onto the conveyor to the next station.
At this station, the box is filled with bagged air by a single employee. They pull the requisite amount of packing material from that black bet to Tia’s right and place it in the box so that everything is adequately protected.
Just a short trip down the roller conveyor and the box with your stuff now comes to a taping machine. That’s right, they use a machine to make sure that the tape on your box is not only secure but also laid on there just so.
Tia fed the machine our box and the machine spits out a perfectly taped package.
The last station that Tia showed us was the shipping label machine. Brownells has recently switched to a machine that prints the shipping label on one side and the packing list on the other side as opposed to the separate shipping label and packing list paper that they were using.
A few days later the box showed up on my doorstep looking much like it did when I last saw it at Brownells. Digging into the box you can see how Tia packed it a little better than previously. She laid a thinner sheet of bubble wrap type stuff on the bottom and then placed the items into the box then she filled the rest of the box with the green bags of air.
Huge thanks to Chase and Tia for getting my order to my house! If you are wondering what the hell I might need a .223 AICS mag for make sure you keep checking back for a speical project I have in the works.
Now that I see how Brownells picks and packs every order with the degree of accuracy that they do, I am even more impressed than I was before. Their order processing system is forward thinking and they spared no expense to ensure they will be able to serve their customers in a timely manner for the foreseeable future.
I want to extend a huge thank you to everyone that helped me out while I was there with the things I wanted to do. If you are looking to pick up any of the products that I bought, make sure to head on over to Brownells.