Studies show order picking accounts for around 50% of a warehouse’s labor costs. Georgia Tech reports that the number can be as high as 63%. With the rise of ecommerce, order picking has become more important. Why? Because while other operations in your warehouse can be automated, order picking largely remains manual. Technology can be brought in to help your pickers, but that technology can’t replace them. So how do you help your employees perform their best, reduce costs, and increase order picking productivity?
Our Order Picking Productivity guide will go over the following:
1) How Does Order Picking Impact Your Warehouse Profitability?
Order picking directly impacts your warehouse operations, and indirectly impacts other areas of your business. Your order pickers’ speed can keep your warehouse on track for order fulfillment, or it can put kinks into your schedule.
The results of your order pickers’ work affect your customer satisfaction levels as well. No one likes to receive the wrong products or too few of what they ordered. According to a small study of 500 customers, 54% said they returned a product because the seller sent the wrong item.
Your reverse logistics process is already getting a workout. The return rate for online purchases is about 20%. In order to keep your business margins healthy, you have to do what you can to lower costs.
BONUS: Before you go any further, download our Order Picking Strategies guide where we compare order-based, cluster, and batch-picking methods to see which method leads to the highest productivity.
2) Most Common Order Picking Goals
Yes, the goal of order picking is order fulfillment. However, there are a few common internal order picking goals most warehouse managers strive for. These goals keep your employees productive, effective, and healthy. They also optimize your order picking process. All of these goals work towards the bigger goal of a more efficient (and profitable) warehouse.
Minimize Travel Distance
An order picker spends half of their time traveling from one item to the next. So many managers seek to improve this time with good reason. Much of the technology related to order picking helps the picker move from place to place. The equipment you use often depends on your warehouse layout.
Maximize Use of Space
An optimized warehouse design goes far in improving order picking efficiency. Your warehouse’s flow should be specific throughout the entire warehouse. You should be able to map it out, like the image below.
Minimize Pick Errors
Minimizing picking errors on the front end means you won’t have to put that item back on the shelf when your customer returns it. Returns in the U.S. are expected to reach $550 million by 2020. The reverse logistics process (taking a product from the customer and putting it back in your warehouse) can be very costly.
Order picking duties put workers at greater risk for musculoskeletal disorders (MSD’s). In 2013, MSD’s accounted for 33% on work-related injuries. Warehouse workers came in second for the highest number of MSD’s that year.
Injuries increase factors like workforce churn. You also end up with a lot more uncertainty in your daily operations. With workers absent, there are fewer people available to perform the same amount of work.
3) Order Picking Methods
Some order picking methods work better than others depending on your warehouse. In the end, your goal is to get your customer’s order fulfilled. If you can improve your order picking productivity, then your profit margins will stay healthy as you scale your operations.
You may have also heard this called discrete order picking. When an order comes in, one of your pickers will take the order slip and go through the warehouse, gathering all of the required products.
Batch Picking or Multi-Order Picking
You may decide batch picking is a more efficient method for your warehouse. Batch picking can work well if you have a wide range of products and many small orders. Batch picking is the process of picking multiple orders in the same picking trip into same car/cart.
Generally, a batch picking trip is followed by a sorting or consolidation process which you sort or consolidate batch picked products to distinct totes. The only exception to this process is single item orders. Single items orders directly transferred to packing stations to be packed. Your pickers would batch the orders together and pick the required number of the listed SKU’s to satisfy all of the orders.
In this method, you divide your warehouse into different zones, with pickers dedicated to each zone. The ideal way to implement this system is with a warehouse management system (WMS). Your WMS receives a customer order. It examines each SKU, and sends picking instructions to the relevant zones. Once your pickers have gathered the required inventory, it will need to be brought to one place for packaging and shipping.
Pick and Pass
This technique normally involves equipment of some kind, like a trolley or a bin and conveyor. A picker would pick all of the SKU’s in their zone and place them in the bin. Then the bin (or trolley) is passed off to the picker in the next zone.
Using your WMS, you can choose to release your orders in waves. Releasing orders in waves allows you to moderate the flow of inventory for orders and replenishment. Your outgoing transportation schedule normally determines your waves.
Cluster picking is the process of picking multiple orders in the same picking trip into distinct totes or bins. Generally, your pickers will use multi-tote or multi-bin to execute a cluster pick batch. In a cluster picking batch, each order is assigned to a distinct tote or bin.
With that schedule, your WMS can release picking instructions to the relevant zones in time to meet the outgoing vehicle. Some of your zones may require a longer picking time than others.
We recommend using a WMS that can take all of your warehouse data and help you create the most efficient order picking system possible. As you can see, many of these methods can be used together. With a great WMS, you can end up with a complex yet neatly orchestrated dance of operations in your warehouse.
Choosing an Order Picking Method When You Have a WMS
When you have a WMS, a whole range of order picking methods are open to you. As your operation grows, and the demands on your warehouse increase, you’ll search for ways to keep your warehouse efficient. The pick-to-order method works fine for most new warehouses with lower demand. However, eventually, you’ll need to increase productivity in a standardized way.
A lot of data runs through your WMS, and it can help your warehouse manager make key operations decision in a matter of minutes. If you decide to use a combination of zone and batch picking, your WMS will be able to deliver picking orders to all of the relevant zones for all of their orders. It would take a human much too long to work out that information manually.
Order picking accounts for 60% of your warehouse operational costs. Make sure you’re using the most cost-effective order picking strategy by reading our detailed guide where we compare the 3 most common order picking methods.
4) Order Picking Equipment
The sort of equipment you have in your warehouse is largely dictated by your warehouse layout. Certain types of equipment will only fit in aisles of a certain width for example. When selecting equipment for your warehouse, you must also consider the resources required to get your employees trained to use it.
Of course, proper use is critical to a smooth running warehouse, but also to keep your employees safe. Let’s take the forklift for example. This extremely common piece of warehouse equipment causes 95,000 injuries every year.
Picker to Goods
Much like the name describes these types of equipment focus on getting the picker to the goods as quickly as possible. Cutting down on your picker’s transportation time makes for faster picking times.
Trolley and Roll-Cage Pallets: Your picker pushes a trolley or roll cage pallet around, putting the required goods inside. Some trolleys have shelves or are structured to accommodate plastic bins or totes.
Order Picker Forklift: Not to be confused with a traditional forklift, an order picker forklift lifts the operator so they can manually move goods on and off the order picker.
Semi-Automated Trucks: This type of truck is guided automatically to picking locations, often by laser. The picker picks until the truck is full, and then the truck returns to the dispatch area.
Goods to Picker
This category of equipment leans more heavily on more modern technology. You can see more potential for warehouse automation in these equipment types.
Warehouse Carousels: You can have either vertical or horizontal carousels, depending on your warehouse layout and design. Using computer control, goods are presented to the picker to place in customer order bins.
Totes-to Picker Systems: Your employees will use a computer to direct the extraction and presentation of certain totes to pickers for order assembly. The totes usually travel a conveyor to the picker. Your pickers will consistently receive totes for the orders they’re putting together.
Shelf Modules-to-Picker Systems: This system is very similar to the totes-to-picker system, except entire shelving units are presented to your picker. Robotic drive units, taking computer direction, will present shelving units to the appropriate picker station. Also called a robotic butler, the bot will return the shelf module to storage, or present it to another picking station.
Much like the order picking methods we described, your equipment set up in your warehouse is only limited by creativity. In the video below, you’ll see a vertical carousel system that also uses the totes-to-picker system to present pickers with the right inventory for customer orders.
Latest Order Picking Assistive Technology
We would be remiss if we didn’t include a section about some of the latest innovations that assist your order pickers in their work. Two of the biggest tech upgrades for order pickers are voice technology and mobile order picking.
Voice Assisted Picking
The primary piece of equipment is a microphone headset worn by your pickers. They can receive audible instructions about where to travel and what to pick. This leaves them hands-free, with no paper slips to deal with.
Mobile Order Picking
If all of your inventory is fitted with a unique barcode, then a mobile scanning technology may be a great fit for your warehouse. A WMS can push order picking information to your pickers’ mobile devices, along with the ideal picking route. You pickers can achieve almost perfect picking accuracy with this system, since their information is fed directly from the customer’s order to their mobile devices.
5) Your WMS and Your Order Picking Equipment
Some order picking equipment, like trolleys, have been around for quite some time. As technology continues to penetrate the supply chain industry, we're even seeing upgrades on that sort of equipment. Like automated trolleys that follow order pickers as they move about the warehouse.
Your WMS is the information highway that connects all of these different points in your warehouse and the rest of your supply chain. A fully integrated WMS will communicate with your warehouse stations and the equipment.
Increase Order Picking Productivity with an Integrated WMS
In order to use the advanced fulfillment strategies we’ve described to their fullest potential, you need a warehouse management system. By automating tasks like order picking lists, you free up your warehouse staff to take care of the tasks that really require their attention. If order picking takes up 50% of your warehouse budget, make sure those resources are used to maximum impact.
As the most integrated WMS on the market, Logiwa is the solution you're looking for if you need a solution to help you pick, pack, and ship faster. Click here to learn more about what Logiwa can do for your warehouse performance.
Download our Order Picking Strategy guide
Order picking accounts for 60% of operational costs in your warehouse. As such, your order picking method has a huge impact on your bottom line.
In this guide, we simulated 3 different scenarios to compare the effectiveness of the 3 most popular order picking methods.Learn More
Written by Ruthie Bowles
Ruthie is a content marketing consultant for Logiwa. Her specialties include small business development and inventory management.