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What’s the best picking method for my warehouse?

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It has been calculated that up to 55% of the operational costs of running a warehouse can be attributed to the action of picking. This far outweighs the costs associated with similar actions like putaway or even processes like shipping. Implementing an inappropriate picking process will only increase costs, whilst also seriously reducing productivity and potentially meaning increasing picking errors – which in turn undermines your hard-fought good reputation and damage your brand. So, adopting the right picking methodology to suit your business is really important. It is also worth considering that what was right when you employed 5 pickers, may no longer suit your business with its 50 strong team and may actually be impacting your ability to achieve that ambitious growth plan.

Which 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. When it comes to picking there is no ‘one size fits all’ type solution, but whichever method suits your business best it always works better if backed up by an effective warehouse management system.

Here’s what you need to know about picking and some of the options available to you.

Single Order Picking

The most common picking method, particularly in smaller warehouses is single order picking. The picker is provided with one picking list or order at a time, which they proceed to pick finding each item on the list until the order is completed and all the items are picked. This is a simple process ideal for paper-based picking, it provides fast response time for order fulfilment and allows you to easily track picker accuracy. However, if the sequence in which orders are presented to the picker, or the route they follow is not optimized the picking process is already less efficient than it might be. Plus, that same picker may be returning to the very same locations for the next pick. Whilst best suited to smaller warehouse environments this is a method has very obvious efficiency issues. All is not lost however and if this method meets your operational needs a Warehouse management system (WMS) can address these and increase picking efficiency dramatically.

Zonal Picking

Employing this picking method means order pickers work in a specific area or zone of the warehouse – so you immediately reduce the time they spend walking. These pickers then only pick items that appear on pick lists from this zone. These items will then often be transported via a conveyor system for collation into completed orders at packing benches. Alternatively, an outer or tote may travel down a conveyor from zone-to-zone to have items picked into it in a process sometimes termed ‘pick and pass’. With only one scheduling period per shift, it will mean there is a cut-off point for orders to be accepted and any order received after that cut-off point will not get fulfilled until the next shift. Perhaps best suited to medium and larger sized warehouses, with transport conveyor in place there is a requirement for a WMS that can receive then split and reconsolidate orders and can integrate with conveyors.

Batch Picking

This popular method sees multiple orders or batches of orders picked simultaneously by the same picker, with the picker selecting all the items from a single location simultaneously for multiple orders. This method minimises visits by the picker to the same product location and thus reduces their travel time over their shift. Batch picking relies on an order management system that can arrange groups of orders in the correct picking sequence. This picking method is well suited to larger sites, especially where there is a high volume of SKUs, and the SKUs physical dimensions are relatively small and individual orders contain only small numbers of items.

Wave Picking

Commonly regarded as the speediest picking method, wave picking sees all relevant picking zones being targeted at the same time, by multiple pickers, who spread out across the different zones to select the items required for an entire ‘wave’ of orders. These items are then collated and sorted into individual orders later on in the process.  To optimise the ‘wave’, a warehouse management system is required. This calculates how long it will take to complete each pick and how much labour is required at each stage of the process. It will also help to inform the allocation of resources at each stage in the process, avoiding bottlenecks.

Hybrids and Combination Picking

Of course, it may be that the type of orders you receive or your warehouse layout demands you employ a combination of these tried and trusted methods or even hybrid of them, many have – be it zone-wave, zone-batch or even zone-batch-wave as we have said before picking equals cost, make sure you invest this money as wisely as you can.

Automation of picking systems.

Whichever picking method you adopt, for optimum efficiency it is critical that it is supported by a warehouse management system, such as K-STORE. A product such as K-STORE delivers enhanced order picking efficiency in manual warehouses but also integrates with conveyor systems for the optimal picking experience.

If you’re interested in finding out more about What’s the best picking method for my warehouse, contact us here

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