Warehouse managers realize the importance of a strategic order picking process. Order picking is the process of finding ordered products from the shelves in the warehouse, extracting the products, and moving them to the next phase, packing.
Because order fulfillment has increased so much in online businesses, companies need to have a well-organized order picking process for efficiency to be profitable. An efficient picking process means orders are delivered faster and more accurately. Order picking directly impacts customer satisfaction and thereby affects a business’ profitability. Hence, it’s one of the most essential parts of the order fulfillment process.
Order picking is a labor-intensive process requiring warehouse staff to move from one shelf to the next as they retrieve ordered products. However, various technologies have been developed to improve the picking process. Let’s take a look at the different methods of order picking and the technologies that improve these processes.
Order picking methods
Several different methods are used for picking by different warehouses depending on their needs and demands. Here are some of the most commonly used methods:
Discrete-order picking is a popular method because it’s easy to implement in any warehouse. In this method, a picker simply picks each product of one customer’s order until the entire order is fulfilled.
The method is ideal for small warehouses or those with a limited product offering since it’s time-consuming to handpick each order and then pick items for another customer’s order. The biggest benefit of this method is that it is easy to track orders and accurately get all the items. It also leads to customer satisfaction. However, this method can be cumbersome for a big warehouse with a wide range of products and a high volume of orders.
In zone-order picking, the warehouse is divided into several zones. Each picker is assigned to a certain zone and picks the products that fall in that zone. A combination of all the items from different zones completes the customer’s order. In some zone-order picking, zones are arranged so that pickers place items from their zone into a carton on a conveyor belt. As the carton travels through the warehouse, it is “passed” to each successive zone. This method is also known as pick-and-pass.
The main advantage of zone-order picking is that it is easier to retrieve the products in a huge warehouse because pickers don’t need to run around to grab products from the entire warehouse. Therefore, this method is ideal for large warehouses and for stores handling many different SKUs / kinds of products.
Batch-order picking is a method where a picker picks items that are the same for multiple customers all at once. This method saves time and effort because the picker fulfills several orders at one time.
Wave-order picking is a combination of zone-order and batch-order picking. Once the pickers from different zones have delivered the products to the central packing desk, a picker separates the products into individual customer orders. The order is then packed for each customer.
The biggest benefit of this method is that a scheduled time of day is allotted for sorting the orders, so it saves time and effort.
Technology for warehouse picking
For an efficient picking process, you must first ensure that your warehouse operations are streamlined and efficient. DEAR Systems comes with a dedicated warehouse management system (WMS), providing you with many features to optimize your warehouse operations.
You get real-time insights about the inventory and its location. Using barcode scanners, you can accurately pick the inventory and receive alerts whenever there’s a discrepancy. DEAR WMS also offers guided walk paths to help the pickers easily spot the inventory location (associated with the order). All this shortens the picking time and maximizes your warehouse productivity.
Mobile scanner-based picking
In mobile scanner-based picking, an app is downloaded on a mobile phone which helps in scanning the barcodes of the products. The system enables a real-time update on order fulfillment.
DEAR Systems offers an app, “DEAR WMS” that can be downloaded for free from Google play store and the Apple store (iOS). Using DEAR WMS app, you can turn your phone’s camera into a barcode scanner. This way, you can efficiently pick items from the warehouse, without relying on a dedicated barcode scanner.
Various kinds of robots are used for picking including automated guided vehicles (AGV), autonomous mobile robots, and collaborative robots (cobots). All of these robots have the ability to navigate within the warehouse using magnetic strips and fetch the ordered items with the help of data fed into their systems and tools such as sensors and cameras.
A few advantages of using robots for picking include:
- Robots can reach the top shelves as well as lower shelves with ease.
- Robots can move faster than humans.
- Robots eliminate human errors.
- Robots are flexible and can work for long periods of time.
Voice-directed warehousing (VDW), also known as speech-based picking, and pick by voice,
uses voice prompts for order picking. It directs the picker to pick locations and gives instructions for picking tasks. A picker has a headset with a mic that is connected to a mobile phone which relays instructions over the headphones. Once the picker collects an item, the barcode is scanned, or the picker can give verbal feedback using the system to complete the order picking.
How to choose a picking method for your business?
With so many different picking methods it can be easy to feel confused about which method to use in your warehouse. All the methods mentioned have their own advantages and disadvantages and selecting the right picking method will depend on the nature of your business.
Here are a few points to consider when choosing a picking method:
- First and foremost, you need to know the number of orders or transactions that you get on average in a day. If the number of orders is low, you can go for discrete-order picking, as your workers will get ample time to pick individual order items. In other cases, you can opt for batch picking and wave order picking.
- Secondly, know how many kinds of products you sell and if they are fast-moving products. You can categorize the stock of items according to the sale of these products and then decide your location strategy for easy picking of the fast-moving items. Zone picking is ideal for fast-moving products because your pickers would need to frequently collect them. Thus, having a dedicated zone for storing such products along with assigning pickers for such zones can improve your picking efficiency.
- Calculate the number of picks usually done in a given order.
- Track picks for a given SKU. This will help you determine which SKUs are fast-moving.
Best practices for warehouse picking
While it is necessary to apply proper strategies for order picking, picking can be performed efficiently only when certain standard practices are followed by you.
Keep your inventory consistently stocked
Effective picking can only be done when the stock of products is consistent. Stock your products for demand so that they’re readily available when a picker or a robot starts picking. DEAR Systems can also help you with inventory management. You can receive real-time insights about your inventory quantity so that you can reorder accordingly. You can automate your purchase orders using DEAR Systems to ensure that you don’t miss selling opportunities due to stockouts.
Optimize warehouse picking routes
Warehouse managers should arrange the warehouse in such a manner that there are quick and easy pathways for the pickers to collect products to reduce walking time. Place the fast moving stock strategically. It’s good to place all the high-demand products in an area that is near to the packing section so that it’s easy to retrieve products.
Warehouse picking with DEAR Systems
Order picking is the most important activity and it requires strong warehouse management. The success of any business depends on order fulfillment, and this is possible only when the picking process is in place.
If you wish to improve your warehouse picking, try implementing the warehouse management system by DEAR Systems. Barcode scanning and guided walk paths can make your picking process efficient and make it easier to locate the items in your warehouse. With DEAR’s WMS app, you can turn your phone into a barcode scanner. The built-in inventory management features ensure that you get full visibility over your inventory and its performance. Using that information, you can replenish the stock accordingly.
Book a call with our experts to learn more about using DEAR Systems.