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How to reduce Warehouse Pick Times

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Business is booming and T/O is growing year on year, however, the only way you can meet growing customer demand is to increase headcount in your warehouse. Consequently, any potential upturn in profit is being swallowed up by spiralling operating costs. So, what are the alternatives?

Whilst mechanical automation in the form of conveyors is an obvious solution, is there any way you can increase operational efficiency by utilising your existing resources and people in a more optimal manner? Let’s consider ‘Picking’ as an example activity. What can we do without massive investment to increase the efficiency of this vital warehouse activity? After all, if we can pick more orders per day, we create the capacity to do more with what we have, and the vicious cycle of increased business equals increased headcount is potentially broken.

Statistical analysis shows that a significant portion of any pickers time is taken up by not by picking but travelling or moving between pick locations. In fact, during an average shift up to 50% of a pickers time can be spent walking, that’s right you are paying your employees to get fit! Add in the time spent searching for the correct item to pick and some other associated activities like breaks and setting-up and you realise just a measly 15% of your pickers time is actually spent performing their primary task.  What might appear a busy, well-oiled operation is in truth a busy operation riddled with inefficiency and certainly not one operating at its real capacity. The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities to improve this process and fulfil more orders per day. Here are some straightforward and easy to implement ideas:

Implement a WMS – Warehouse Management Software

Technology-enabled solutions can be used to dramatically improve pick times – we have real evidence to support this bold claim. By directing an employee on the most efficient pick route through a warehouse a warehouse management system like K-STORE will reduce pick times. Extrapolate this time saving across all your pickers and the saving could be significant enough to create the opportunity to redeploy staff to other activities or even shorten the working day. That’s right more picks, in less time and the additional saving created by reducing operating hours!

So how does it work? Firstly, the pick is ordered by location ensuring the picker takes the shortest possible route through the warehouse to pick all of the items on the list. Armed with a handheld unit the picker is directed to the aisle and shelf number of the first item they need to pick. When they arrive at the pick location, they use the handheld unit to confirm they are in the correct position and they can also confirm the correct product has been picked by scanning that as well.

Via the handheld device the software will then give the employee the aisle and shelf number of the next product that they need to pick, and so on until all of the items have been picked in the shortest possible distance.

There is a secondary benefit, beyond optimal route mapping, a WMS will also reduce the likelihood of pick errors. The right system, when used correctly will mean reduced returns based on the wrong item being picked and packed in the first place. Why not take a look at our blog story Can Warehouse Management Software Help Solve the Returns Challenge

Warehouse Management Software also gives managers vital information about the efficiency of each picker, as well as the overall performance of the warehouse. Managers can use this data to perform employee evaluations and improve other key performance indicators.

Location of Products

The layout of a warehouse or more specifically how and where items are located is critically important and will play a significant role in either reducing or indeed extending your time per pick.

In many warehouses, a minority of products make up the bulk of the orders. Someone once said “80% of our orders are made up of 20% of our products” If that is in the case in your business these best-selling products or top 20% should be placed as close as possible to the despatch area. If you are picking them frequently this automatically reduces travel time.

The most efficient warehouses are dynamic environments. Whilst locations may be fixed – what they contain doesn’t have to be.  Data from warehouse management software like K-STORE can be used to understand how to best locate products and adjust their location to suit a business’s changing needs. Consider seasonal products, or products on special offer. They may be a fast mover, but only for a short window of time. Could you realise further efficiencies by adjusting both the amount of space and location of these type of products throughout the year?

Warehouse management software data can also be used to identify products that sell well together. Whilst conventional wisdom may locate similar products together. Products often picked together can be grouped in zones to further reduce travel and therefore pick time. Separating products that are similar to each other is also a very simple means to reduce pick errors – particularly if you are not using scanners.

Experiment with different picking methods

There are many different picking methodologies. There’s single, batch, zonal, wave and cluster picking, this is not to mention other hybrids such as Zonal-Batch, Zonal-Wave and even Zonal-Batch-Wave. Each picking model is best suited to different sized warehouse and different order and product profiles. To read more about piking methodologies see our blog story What’s the best picking method for my warehouse?

Adopting the most appropriate picking methodology (this is not an exact science) is important. It is also worth considering that what was right when you employed 5 pickers, may no longer suit your warehouse with its 50 strong team and may actually be contributing to the process inefficiencies you are striving to address.

Which particular picking method suits your business best will be determined by a number of factors. For example, the size and layout of your warehouse, the volume and complexity of your orders, the number of SKUs you keep and the level of automation you have at your disposal. Unfortunately, when it comes to picking there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution, but whichever works best it is a given that it will work better if backed up by effective warehouse management software.

If it is picking efficiency you are looking for why not give Keymas a call. We would be delighted to share our 30 year experience of making warehouses more efficient. Be that through the deployment of mechanical or software based solutions.

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