Order Picking in a Warehouse or Distribution Center
The order picking process is typically the most costly and labor intensive activity for distribution centers. There are many order picking concepts and technologies available today to help you control those costs, increase productivity, increase throughput and improve the accuracy of your picking. To arrive at the correct order picking solution, here are question you should be asking yourself along with some guidelines that will help you make the appropriate determination of what is best for your operation:
Travel Time. Perhaps the most significant obstacle that undermines efficiency is the time order pickers spend in non-picking travel.
- What can you do to reduce the picker travel time and distance to the next item to be picked?
- Do your typical orders lend themselves to batch picking where an order picker is assigned and picks multiple orders simultaneously? This will minimize the number of "trips" to each location.
- Have you considered setting up a forward pick area that would allow all the fastest moving SKUs to be picked from a much smaller, more compact area in order to help to reduce picking travel time?
- Are "part to picker" technologies such as horizontal carousels, vertical carousels, vertical storage units and automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), which can virtually eliminate all picker travel time justifiable for your operation?
Minimize product touches. It's important to identify the number of times an item is "touched" or handled from the time it is ordered to the time it leaves the facility.
- Will an automated conveyor system that would move picked SKUs within the distribution center for such functions as sorting of product to the order consolidation area or shipping docks?
- Which of your products is it better to pick directly from the storage locations, rather than replenishing to a forward pick area?
Use of "golden zoning" principles. This is the process of placing the fastest moving SKUs within easy reach of the order-pickers. This minimizes pick retrieval times and as a result, improves productivity. This principle can be utilized across a number of different storage and picking mediums. For instance, in manual pick operations, it can be applied to shelving and carton flow rack, as well as automated pick operations such as carousels and automated storage and retrieval systems.
- Have you done a product slotting analysis so that your products are stored in the right type of storage equipment and at the right storage position in that equipment?
Incorporate dynamic work zones or flexible picking zones. When utilizing zone picking methodologies, the use of dynamic or flexible zoning techniques allow the boundaries of the pick zones to be shifted to match changing workload requirements.
- Do you have a Warehouse Control System that would automatically adjust work zones on a daily basis?
Does your facility do task interleaving. This principle applies to full pallet picking operations only, and targets some of the loss of productivity associated with travel time and distance. Task interleaving refers to the process of combining active picking with the put-away or other value-added processes. In short, the return leg of travel from the dock is used to kill as many birds with as few stones as possible.
Have you considered picking technology aids. Consider and evaluate the appropriate order picking technology--RF, pick-to-voice or pick-to-light - recognizing that the best picking solution may be some combination of the three.
The process of selecting the best picking concepts and technology for you facility is a daunting task. Done right you will not only improve productivity, lower your operating costs but you will increase customer satisfaction.
If you need help in determining the right order picking technology to incorporate in your operation call TriFactor at 800-507-4209 and ask for JJ Phelan