A lot goes on in a warehouse beyond just shelving products and loading them onto trucks. One important process is order picking, which happens when employees select the items that go into order. It’s an essential part of making sure customers get the products they need, and it’s a job that takes precision and care. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at what order picking is and some of the factors that go into it. We’ll also explore how technology changes how orders are picked in warehouses today.
What Is Order Picking in a Warehouse?
Order picking is the crucial activity that pulls individual items from a fulfillment center to create an order. It’s a labor-intensive and costly operation that accounts for over 50% of total warehouse costs—so it pays off to get picking right! That being said, with customer satisfaction, business reputation, and profitability all hanging in the balance, managing picking operations effectively can be no laughing matter.
When it comes to picking in the warehouse, there are several picking methods to consider. The four top picking strategies for order picking are batch picking, zone picking, discrete picking, and wave picking. All four strategies have advantages and strategies tailored to optimize performance and reduce bottlenecks at different supply chain stages.
1. Batch Picking
Many different order picking methods can be used in a warehouse, but batch picking is often the best option when fulfilling multiple orders that use the same SKUs. This way, pickers only have to travel once to a location for a SKU to fulfill multiple customer orders. Batch picking aims to improve productivity as it reduces repeated trips, steps and time. In addition, it is often more accurate than other picking methods since pickers are less likely to make mistakes when picking items for multiple orders simultaneously.
2. Zone Picking
Zone picking is an order picking method used in warehouses where pickers are each assigned to a physical area, or zone, of the warehouse. It is only responsible for picking the SKUs from that area. This strategy is often used for complex or multi-item orders to improve efficiency. To fulfill customers’ orders, the picker(s) assigned to a zone is responsible for picking all the SKUs from that zone.
This means if an order has items in another zone, a different picker will pick that portion of the order, working like an assembly line. Zone picking is best suited for warehouses that fulfill complicated orders with many units or at least a combination of complicated and simple orders. The warehouse itself must be organized and optimized to make this model work. An order picking method like this can help save time and money while improving accuracy and order fulfillment rates.
3. Wave Picking
Wave picking leverages scheduling windows to group and prioritize orders based on time and importance. This picking method is a variation of zone or batch picking that is best for warehouses with large numbers of SKUs. Rather than picking orders chronologically, wave picking allows businesses to evaluate all orders together to determine an optimal picking strategy. By considering factors such as labor, delivery times, and ship dates, businesses can ensure that orders are fulfilled promptly and efficiently. This picking method is ideal for businesses that must quickly and efficiently fulfill many orders.
4. Piece Picking
If you’re running a small business with limited SKUs, piece picking or discrete picking is the way to go. This picking strategy refers to when a picker works on one order at a time, retrieving all the necessary SKUs before moving on to the next order. This method is best for small businesses with low SKU counts and/or small warehouses or storage facilities.
While piece picking requires a lot more movement than other picking strategies, it makes sense to use it until a business hits a certain scale that warrants one of the picking methods above. This strategy makes it easy to track order picker accuracy and enables rapid response time for order fulfillment.
Warehouse Picking Optimization With Technology
Warehouses are a critical part of the supply chain, and optimizing them can significantly impact your business. There are many factors to consider when optimizing your warehouse, from the layout of your storage shelves to the route your picking staff takes. Introducing new technologies can also help to optimize your warehouse, such as automated order picking systems. By constantly evaluating and improving your warehouse operations, you can ensure that your business is as efficient and effective as possible.
- Barcode Scanners: Barcode scanners are a simple way to improve warehouse operations. They allow for accurate identification of products, locations, and more while speeding up the process with near-zero errors!
- Wearable Computers: Wearable computers are a must-have for any warehouse, with the ability to provide real-time feedback and orders while picking. The small screen, keyboard docks, or gloves allow pickers hands-free access, reducing accidents and product damage because they can work from anywhere in your store without having an assistant around!
- Voice Picking: Voice Picking is an invaluable tool for operators. With voice picking, they’re equipped with a headset and microphone connected to the WMS over local wireless warehouse networks! They also interact verbally through commands which provide detailed instructions about where products need to be picked up or what kind of inventory you have available.
- Collaborative Mobile Robots: In the past, workers had to move their picking carts manually, but now mobile collaborative robots have been introduced to supplement the work done by human warehouse associates and automate movements throughout facilities.
Some of the benefits of doing this include increased accuracy and productivity, multi-language capabilities, reduction of data entry errors, improved safety through hand and eye-free technology operation, and increased availability of picker time.
Warehouse Efficiency Hacks
Nothing is more frustrating than searching through a warehouse for a particular item. That’s why it’s important to have a good picking strategy in place. The best strategies minimize picking times by making the most frequently picked items more accessible. Doing so will save time and money in the long run.
Implement a WMS like ShipHero
Implementing warehouse management software can improve picking methods and picking in the warehouse. This allows your team to pick and pack more in the same amount of time and train recruits faster. ShipHero’s Warehouse Management System simplifies eCommerce picking, packing, and shipping. By auto-generating pick lists, accurately displaying product availability, providing real-time insight into order status, forecasting when to replenish inventory through reorder point notifications, and even assisting with planning staff labor, a WMS like ShipHero can take your warehouse to the next level.
Use the Right Equipment
If you’re looking for ways to improve picking methods in the warehouse, you’ll need to invest in the right tools and equipment. There are many types of picking carts available, each with its own benefits. For example, some picking carts are designed for conveyor systems, while others are specifically for barcodes and inventory scanners. But no matter what picking system you use, the most important thing is ensuring you have the right equipment for the job.
Track Your Warehouse Productivity
If you’re running a warehouse, keeping track of your productivity is important. You need to know how long it takes to ship an order, how many units are in storage, and how accurate your pickers are. You should also monitor your inventory turnover and average warehouse capacity used. By understanding these metrics, you can help your pickers be more productive.
For example, suppose you know that it takes your pickers an average of two minutes to find a unit in storage. In that case, you can improve their productivity by ensuring that the units are stored in a more easily accessible location to them.
Why Warehouse Picking is Important
Warehouse picking is selecting individual items from a fulfillment center to fill customers’ orders. It might not sound glamorous, but it’s essential for any e-commerce or retail business that wants to thrive. That’s because picking directly impacts customer satisfaction, business reputation, and profitability. In other words, your business will likely suffer if your picking operation isn’t running smoothly. So how can you optimize your picking operation and ensure it runs like a well-oiled machine? Following these tips ensures that your picking operation is efficient, accurate, and cost-effective.