Order Picking

Order picking is how products are selected or retrieved from storage locations to be packed and shipped to fulfill a customer order. Efficient order picking not only contributes to efficient order fulfillment, but plays a large role in customer satisfaction as well. 

Order Picking

What is Order Picking?

The term "order picking" refers to the process of retrieving products from their storage locations in response to specific customer orders. Handled effectively, this can be the most efficient process in the warehouse. Left unchecked, this can also become the largest bottleneck, slowing down business and delaying customer orders. 

Picking isn't just about getting an item off a shelf; it involves multiple steps, including verifying product information, checking quantities, confirming picks to warehouse systems,  and preparing items for packing.

What is The Role of Order Picking?

Order fulfillment has many steps from receiving the product into the warehouse through shipping the final order to the customer. Picking is one of the steps along this fulfillment process. A smooth order picking operation means faster delivery times which helps keep customers happy. Plus high productivity processes help businesses save money by reducing labor costs and minimizing errors that can lead to returns or complaints. That’s why we at Maveneer have been focusing our engineering design efforts towards improving this crucial aspect of order fulfillment.

 
Manual Picking

The most common, and oldest, type of picking is manual picking. This includes paper picking, where an operator is handed a sheet of paper with particular SKUs to pick in a warehouse, to guided pick paths with wearable voice picking or Radio Frequency (RF) device direction. 

Pain Points in Manual Picking Methods

Naturally there are challenges with these traditional manual methods and careful analysis of the operation and order profiles is required to improve performance. The advent of fast ship times, increased e-commerce, and customizable order configurations has only added to the need for picking improvements.Even manual picking processes can achieve high throughput and efficient operations, when properly designed. However, manual tasks also bring human error into play – an incorrect pick can result in unhappy customers or even lost sales.

There are several different types of picking philosophies, which must be carefully analyzed with the order profile and business operation to determine the appropriate type for your business.

Types of Order Picking

Order picking is a vital warehouse operation, but did you know there are different strategies to choose from? Let's take a peek at the most prevalent techniques.

Piece Picking

Piece picking, also known as broken case or pick and pack, involves selecting individual items for an order. It’s simple and cost-effective when dealing with small orders. For larger orders or high volume fulfillment, this method can become labor intensive and inefficient.

Batch Picking

Multiple orders with similar products lends itself nicely to batch picking. In batch picking, operators collect the quantity of items for a group of orders at once, making a single trip to that picking location, before sorting them into their respective order groups. This method cuts down on travel time within the warehouse, but is only effective when the same SKUs are picked across multiple orders.

Zone Picking

In zone picking, each operator  stays in a zone in the picking area and picks only those products that fall within his/her zone. It is analogous to having a dedicated set of aisles in a grocery store assigned to a single operator. Ordersthen pass through various zones, typically bundled in totes or cases, until all units for the order are fulfilled and the order is ready for packing

Wave Picking

A hybrid between zone and batch methods is wave picking where operators select products across all zones simultaneously according to a 'wave' schedule set by management or a warehouse execution system (WES).

Key Takeaways:

Piece, batch, zone, and wave picking each offer advantages to the picking process. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses. Choosing the right one for your operation depends on factors like order volume, SKU diversity, and warehouse layout. No matter which method you choose, remember that effective order picking is key to maintaining a smooth workflow in the warehouse and ensuring customers get their orders promptly.

Order picking is a crucial warehouse task with various strategies to consider. 

Automated Picking Systems

While manual picking is common, some operations lend themselves to automation. A highly efficient technique to achieve order picking is through the utilization of automated picking systems.

The Mechanics of Automated Picking Systems
  • Automated picking systems use advanced technologies such as robotics, conveyors, and software algorithms that work together seamlessly for efficient order fulfillment. These systems can dramatically increase accuracy rates while reducing labor costs.
Beyond Speed: The Benefits of Automation
A well-designed automated system offers up to 99% pick accuracy according to Inbound Logistics Magazine. This means more satisfied customers and less returned merchandise due to incorrect or damaged items.
  • Faster turnaround times lead directly towards happier, repeat customers.
  • An accurate inventory count lets businesses avoid stockouts or overstocking situations because the data used is reliable and up-to-date.
  • Picking with automation is typically more productive, offering cost benefits on top of improved turn-around times.
  • Safety improvements arise due to limited human labor and the removal of unergonomic picking conditions.
The Trade-offs Involved in Automation
While there are many benefits of automated picking, there are also some downsides to consider. 
  • Automation systems require a significant capital investment to implement.
  • They require maintenance and service.
  • Staff must be appropriately trained to operate with and around automation.
  • Physical constraints in the building may inhibit certain types of automation
  • Product type may not lend itself to automation, especially if it requires human intervention or verification to be picked.
Making the Leap: Is Automation Right For You?

Deciding whether automation is right for you boils down to evaluating the cost benefit analysis of the automation compared to manual or current piking processes.

Key Takeaway:

Despite needing a hefty upfront investment and potentially reconfiguring your warehouse, automated systems can bean invaluable asset. They bring speed, accuracy, inventory management benefits, and improved safety to the table. So when you're dealing with high order volumes or complex product assortments, these advanced automation tools like robotics and software algorithms can make order picking more manageable.

How Do I Choose The Right Order Picking System?

Selecting an optimal order picking system is crucial for your warehouse operations. It's not just about speeding up processes, but it's also about making sure that you meet customer demands and your business requirements and constraints effectively.

Analysis of the order profiles, building constraints, picking process, and current productivity are all considerations when deciding to make the jump to automated picking systems.

Maveneer analyzes operational workflows, including picking,  and offers guidance on picking process improvements. Your business may be well suited to automation or a change in manual picking processes.

The Role of Automation

Automation plays a significant role these days due to its potential for efficiency gains and cost savings. McKinsey highlights how automation accelerates productivity post-COVID. However, integrating automation into your order picking process needs careful thought because each business has unique needs and operational challenges.

Order Volume and Velocity

The volume of orders you process, as well as their velocity, is another key consideration. High-volume operations may benefit from an automated system to help streamline processes and reduce errors all while maintaining fulfillment goals and service levels with your clients.
On the other hand, if your operation handles a lower volume but at a high velocity, such as perishable goods or fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), then a different type of order picking strategy might be more suitable. Maveneer offers automation solutions tailored for various types of businesses.

Key Takeaway:

You need to balance the number of orders (volume) with how fast items are processed (velocity). This isn't just about speed; it's about ensuring a seamless flow in your warehouse that aligns with customer expectations and business goals. So, don't rush into automation or any other solution - consider all factors carefully before making a decision.

Best Practices for Warehouse Order Picking

Picking the right orders in a warehouse isn't just about getting products off shelves. It is a science, with its own set of limitations and physical constraints that must be considered to ensure efficiency and accuracy. 

The Importance of Training

Investing time into proper staff training is essential. A well-trained picker knows where items are located, understands how to use equipment correctly, and makes fewer errors. This investment pays dividends in productivity gains and helps maintain safety standards.

Avoid Single Item Picks

Single item picks can slow down operations significantly. Batch picking – grabbing multiple orders at once – often proves more efficient because it minimizes travel time within the warehouse.

Leverage Technology

Maveneer’s engineered design solutions, like automated pick-to-light or voice-directed systems, guide workers directly to items they need quickly and accurately while reducing walking and handling times.

Organize Your Warehouse

SKUs move at a variety of speeds throughout the year and change over time. Careful analysis of the order profiles and SKU inventory in the warehouse can yield storage optimizations. Utilizing Maveneer’s storage analysis, inventory locations can be optimized to be stored in the most cost effective and productive configurations. 
Most warehouses have a variety of picking areas and even storage types. Slow moving products are typically stored in a reserve area of the warehouse. This can include cheaper storage units and more labor intensive picks. Forward picking areas are typically the opposite. These areas have items ready for productive picking, but are located in more costly storage locations. Each SKU can have a reserve and forward locations, based on the velocity of that SKU. Careful analysis and consideration of the storage types and picking locations used should be performed to identify opportunities for improvement and efficiency gains.

 

Conclusion

We've embarked on a journey through the world of order picking, exploring its intricacies and highlighting how it directly influences business efficiency, operational costs, and customer satisfaction. 
From diving into various types of order picking strategies such as piece picking or zone picking to discussing the unique considerations of any particular picking method we've seen that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to this critical aspect of order fulfillment.
Many picking strategies have shifted towards automated systems, especially with increased order volume and labor costs. The shift towards automated systems has been nothing short of revolutionary for warehouse operations.
Making sense out of this wealth of information is similar to navigating through an elaborate maze; however, you're now equipped with insights that will help light your path. Choosing the right system isn't about going for what seems popular or trendy but understanding your specific requirements just like fitting puzzle pieces together in a jigsaw game. Maveneer is uniquely positioned to offer analysis of your operation, order profiles, and physical constraints to provide guidance and expertise in designing order picking for your business.

MAVENEER IS READY TO HELP YOU

SELECT, MANAGE, DESIGN, AND IMPLEMENT AS/RS IN YOUR WAREHOUSE

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