With the rapid growth of e-commerce worldwide, warehouses are continuously upgrading their technologies and facilities to streamline operations. Automation and advanced warehouse management systems have revolutionized the supply chain management process, with robotics and autonomous components playing a significant role in improving efficiency.
What is a picking system?
A picking system in a warehouse refers to the strategies employed to fulfill orders destined for end customers, logistics facilities or production centers. It involves gathering all the products required to complete a customer’s order, which can be done by collecting full cases on pallets, in containers, or on shelves, selecting smaller units within those cases, or breaking down bulky items into more compact units, such as pipes or cables.
The role of order picking in fulfillment
Order picking is central to the success of e-commerce and retail businesses and forms the backbone of efficient order fulfillment operations. It accounts for over 50% of fulfillment center operations and represents 55% of warehouse operating costs, making it a pivotal activity. Thus, having an effective order picking system is essential for a smooth and cost-effective operation. These are some benefits it brings having the correct picking system:
- Reducing Warehouse Costs: Order picking is a labor-intensive process, especially in larger facilities. A well-implemented warehouse order picking system can optimize the picking process, reducing the time and effort required to fulfill orders. By grouping similar orders with nearby inventory, the system can assign picks to a single picker, streamlining the process and saving on both costs and time. This efficiency translates into cost savings for the business, making it a valuable investment.
- Improving Customer Satisfaction: Accurate and timely order fulfillment is critical for ensuring customers receive their products as expected. A high order accuracy rate is crucial, as errors in orders can lead to customer complaints, bad reviews, and potential returns or exchanges. A reliable order picking system ensures that the right items are picked for each order, reducing the likelihood of errors and improving overall customer satisfaction.
- Enhancing Picker Efficiency: The right warehouse order picking system makes the job of warehouse pickers easier by reducing the potential for human error. By automatically assigning optimized picking routes and providing visual aids such as validations and photos, the system helps pickers improve their accuracy and efficiency. An organized warehouse layout and the use of suitable equipment further support picker efficiency.
Types of warehouse order picking systems
- Single Order Picking: In the single order picking system, warehouse pickers move through the facility and retrieve individual SKUs to fulfill one order at a time. This method works best for smaller warehouses that handle straightforward orders with just a few items. While it may be suitable for simple operations, it can become inefficient and time-consuming for larger facilities dealing with a higher volume of orders.
- Batch Picking: Optimizes the picking process by retrieving SKUs in bulk to fulfill multiple orders simultaneously. Workers use a consolidated pick list to pick items for several orders in one pass. This system significantly reduces travel time and boosts fulfillment operations, particularly for warehouses with multiple orders containing the same SKUs. It is a cost-effective approach to handle higher order volumes efficiently.
- Multi-Batch Order Picking: This system reduces picking times by enabling workers to simultaneously pick items for multiple orders. They often use multi-tiered picking carts to fulfill several orders at once. This system is ideal for warehouses where orders originate from different areas within the facility. By minimizing overall travel time, it improves efficiency and productivity.
- Cluster Picking: Involves fulfilling multiple orders at the same time. Workers travel through the warehouse retrieving SKUs based on multiple pick lists and place them
into separate bins or containers, each associated with a specific order. This eliminates repeated trips to the same pick location and streamlines the process. However, it requires sophisticated Warehouse Management System (WMS) solutions to schedule and assign clusters effectively.
- Wave Picking: Is a variation of batch and zone picking, designed for large warehouses that regularly receive multiple high-volume orders. Orders are grouped into sets or waves based on factors like customer location, order frequency, order type, picking zones, delivery date, etc. Workers simultaneously pick SKUs from multiple zones, and the items are later sorted and consolidated into individual shipments. This approach maximizes efficiency and is particularly useful for handling large order volumes.
- Zone Picking: Divides the warehouse into specific zones, with dedicated workers assigned to each zone. Workers fulfill orders by picking SKUs stored within their designated zone. Once all the items in that zone have been picked, the order carton is passed on to workers in other zones for further fulfillment. Zone picking significantly reduces travel time within fulfillment centers, as workers remain within their assigned zones when picking items.
- Order Picking According to Work Method: Apart from the picking type systems, the method of picking employed in a facility also plays a crucial role in order fulfillment efficiency. Two common work methods are:
- Cross-docking: Cross-docking involves distributing received merchandise directly into orders without storing it. This method works well for various goods, from raw materials and components sent to production to finished products shipped to stores or end customers. To implement cross-docking successfully, the facility must have sufficient space for organizing items without storing them and must be equipped with a reliable WMS to manage merchandise effectively and minimize mistakes.
- Person-to-Goods and Goods-to-Person: These methods refer to how operators interact with the products during the picking process.
- Person-to-Goods: Operators move through the warehouse, locating products to fulfill specific orders. They remove merchandise from shelves and place it in carts. Once in the consolidation area, the items are sorted into orders. Implementing a WMS helps optimize walking paths and order completion times.
- Goods-to-Person: Also known as product-to-person, this method is commonly used in automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS). Operators remain at their pick stations while automated handling equipment brings them the required merchandise to assemble orders. Goods-to-person systems maximize efficiency and minimize operator travel time.
Warehouse picking efficiency best practices:
To get the most out of warehouse picking and improve overall fulfillment operations, you should consider implementing the following practice for your businesses:
- Implement a warehouse management system (WMS): A robust WMS can revolutionize warehouse operations by automating and optimizing various processes, including order picking. A good WMS generates pick lists, tracks product availability in real-time, forecasts inventory replenishment needs, and provides insights into order statuses. It can also assist in labor planning, helping businesses make better staffing decisions.
- Use the right warehouse equipment: Investing in appropriate warehouse equipment enhances safety and efficiency. Equipment such as forklifts, conveyor systems, barcode scanners, and wearable devices can streamline the picking process, making it faster and more accurate.
- Optimize the warehouse layout: Regularly review and optimize the warehouse layout to ensure efficient picking routes and proper storage locations for each SKU. An optimized layout minimizes picker travel time and ensures smoother handoffs between picking and packing areas.
- Track warehouse productivity: Monitor warehouse metrics, including inventory turnover, time to ship, storage capacity usage, and order picking accuracy. Analyzing these metrics provides insights into the warehouse’s performance and helps identify areas for improvement.
- Consider outsourcing fulfillment: Outsourcing fulfillment to a third-party logistics (3PL) provider can be a viable option for businesses looking to improve warehouse picking without managing the process themselves. Outsourcing allows businesses to focus on their core competencies while relying on experts to handle the fulfillment process.
If you are looking for a system that optimizes your inventory and deliveries, along with personalized service tailored to your business needs, GLC Distribution offers a comprehensive warehousing and fulfillment service. We provide logistic solutions that perfectly adapt to the requirements of your business, ensuring efficient and effective logistics management. Trust us to deliver holistic logistic solutions that fit your business seamlessly.