Warehouse Order Picking and Logistics

A forklift operator collecting inventory in a tire warehouse.

An efficient warehouse can help improve a variety of business aspects, including customer satisfaction and cost-efficiency. Today’s competitive environment shows that businesses must operate at maximum efficiency and provide superior service to win and retain customers, ensuring profitability. Warehouse efficiency management has many benefits, including:

  • Maximizing all available space
  • Reducing inventory
  • Adopting warehouse management systems (WMS)
  • Organizing work stations
  • And optimizing labor efficiencies

It can also help optimize the production and distribution processes, specifically with order picking.

The order picking process can involve costs related to warehouse staff or automated equipment used to fulfill orders. There are also risks of inaccurate data entry and inventory shortages. A streamlined order picking method can help save time and money while lessening the risk of errors, giving businesses a greater chance of customer satisfaction and fulfillment.

What Is Warehouse Picking?

Warehouse picking is the process of finding inventory to fulfill customer orders. While it seems simple, this process can become extremely complicated due to the vastness and intricacies of a warehouse. Because no two businesses are the same, there are many picking methods available, and some may be better for the efficiency of specific warehouse operations and fulfillment needs.

Order Picking Strategies

There are several ways to determine the best warehouse order picking method for your organization. For example, a business could use either manual or automatic picking . Manual picking includes writing out a pick ticket or memorizing an order, which can lead to errors. Automated picking requires a business automation platform that can generate a picking route, improving warehouse efficiency.

Another example of warehouse picking is mobile picking. This type of picking is wireless and allows the picker to scan products promptly. The software is barcode-based, meaning there is less room for error. Instead of printing tickets, their device tells them where to go and the quantity of the items needed for the order.

Deciding between automated and manual warehouse picking is one of the key factors when deciding on a particular picking method.

BATCH PICKING

Batch picking, or “multi-order picking,” is the process of grouping multiple orders into small batches. This allows operators to pick from a consolidated pick list, creating a more efficient route through the warehouse and lessening the need to go back and forth through the aisles. For instance, if multiple orders require the same picks, the warehouse location could be visited once instead of multiple times.

Batch picking is useful when the typical order has less than four stock keeping units (SKU). This process is both manual and automated, as the batches are sorted by SKUs and a picker manually picks them from the warehouse.

CLUSTER PICKING

Cluster picking is the process of picking into multiple orders at the same time. The items are placed in a dedicated box to separate them from other orders. The picker then avoids walking to the same locations and sorts all of the boxed items by the end of the route. This helps cut the sorting time for each item.

The sorting is done in an automated program using an inventory management software while the picker follows the designated route. This type of picking is ideal for medium to small warehouses with low to medium SKUs and compact products to fit into the boxes.

DISCRETE PICKING

This method is also referred to as “single order” or “piece picking”. A picker goes through each order one order at a time. This can cause a bottleneck during high-volume orders since this type of picking is manual, and is based on the walking time of the picker. While this is not the most efficient picking method, it is the most common. It is simple, easily traceable, and ideal for paper-based picking as well as for small warehouses

PICK TO BOX

In this process, the picking area is organized so there are numerous picking stations connected by a conveyor. The picker then fills a box on the conveyor with products from his station and the box moves on to other stations until the order is complete. This method saves time because the picker does not have to collect all of the individual items for the order, however, other costs could negate the time efficiency, such as the cost of the conveyor.

PART TO PICKER

This method allows the products to be brought to a picker. A picker will be placed in a certain picking bay, and products are moved from the storage area to the designated picking bay. The picker then collects the products and fulfills the order. While it may be a faster way to collect the products, this method could cause wasted labor, because the pickers may be waiting long periods for the products to be delivered to their stations.

PICKER TO PART

This common method involves pickers to obtain customer orders from the picking areas. The orders are in a much smaller area, allowing the pickers to be more efficient with their time. This is both a manual and automated operation, and there have been many technological advances to this process.

For example, to help pickers find the products faster, pick-to-light systems are implemented to shine a light on the products. Another example is voice picking systems, which tell pickers which items to pick through headsets

SORTING SYSTEM

This automated method uses numerous conveyors and sorting devices to fulfill orders. The items are placed on a conveyor in the storage area, then sorted for each order. Then, the operator in the picking area collects the items and processes the order. This is one of the most efficient picking methods since the picker does not have to collect the items individually.

WAVE PICKING

This process is used to combine orders into small sets called waves based on shared characteristics. There is no route optimization. Instead, orders are grouped by:

  • Delivery date
  • Picking zones
  • Types of orders
  • Customer locations
  • And order frequency

A warehouse management system can automatically combine orders, and waves are assigned to related pickers who follow the routes suggested in the system. Wave picking is ideal for larger warehouses that have products in a large range of sizes.

ZONE PICKING

In this method, orders are assigned to a specific zone in the pick area. A picker is assigned to each zone and is responsible for picking all the items in that area for each order. If an order has items in multiple zones, it is passed through each zone until the order has been completed. This is also referred to as the “pick and pass” method. This is considered both a manual and automated system, as the items are sorted through an operating system while pickers manually box each item.

Warehouse operations can be complex, especially when it comes to fulfilling orders. Creating and implementing a concrete order picking process can help fulfill orders more efficiently, which can, in turn, improve customer satisfaction.

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