It isn’t difficult to guess by the name, but the BusinessDictionary online defines order picking as the action of withdrawing items from the inventory to fulfill an order. As we already know by now and have previously mentioned here in other articles at David Kiger’s Blog; order picking constitutes more than half of the total operational costs in a distribution center and its direct effect on customer satisfaction is more evident than what you get from shipping, receiving and storing goods. The ability to process customer orders in a speedy and precise manner has become one of the most important aspects of doing business.
Order picking is an internal operation that must be carefully planned and executed and that should periodically be reviewed in order to evaluate its continuous efficiency. The fact that this is such a labor extensive activity makes it even more important to pick the best methods to utilize and the most sensible strategies to map out routes and to locate goods within the warehouse.
Methods for order picking vary greatly mainly depending on your type of operation, but also on the resources you have available to handle orders; such as the number of workers, the size of the warehouse and picking tools at your disposal. Other secondary characteristics also include the type of product being handled, the number of transactions and total number of orders, quantity per pick, picks per SKU, picks per order, total number of SKUs, extra-valued processing such as private labeling and special care of certain goods, and whether you are handling piece pick, case pick, or full-pallet loads of picks in your process. In most situation, one picking method is not sufficient to meet the demands of the operation, so different methods are combined in order to custom-make the solutions that best fit your needs.
The reasons why you want to modify your picking practices is because you want to experience an increase in productivity and accuracy while expecting a significant reduction in your cycle time. The main problem is, that more often than not, these objectives tend to be mutually exclusive and while you focus on accuracy, the method pretty much forces you to take a hit on your productivity, or if you want to increase the former, then you need to be careful because your cycle times will most likely become slower.
When you want to focus on productivity, you need to think about your pick rate. The pick rate relates to the number of line items picked per hour when we talk about piece picking, but in pallet pick operations it refers to the actual number of pallets picked per hour. Since the methods of extraction from the locations are pretty much standard when it comes to how long it takes to actually remove goods from their racks, productivity improvements are mostly directed towards finding ways to make picking routes shorter and thus reducing the travel time of operators inside the warehouse.
Cycle time refers to the time it takes to get an order from its status of entry, all the way to the shipping dock ready to go. Obviously, when it comes to reducing cycle times, you have to think about the whole operation working flawlessly and it moving parts matching perfectly. New technologies are allowing customers a closer insight on the way operations are handled inside warehouses and their relationship with the supply chain itself is not a far removed as it once was. These same advances in the industry are helping companies offer clients options like same day shipping and overnight deliveries, a factor that puts great strain into the supply chain and requires for faster times of order release to the warehouse. Choosing the correct picking methods is the best way to reduce cycle times.
It doesn’t matter what type of operation your company runs or even the type of inventory that you need to process; the need for accuracy is universal to every aspect of logistics and achieving the highest measure possible of that accuracy should be a matter of great concern. Absolutely every decision made when it comes to the setup and daily operation of a warehouse, will impact accuracy in some way. Correct numbering of goods, the designing of labels, packaging, the way packing documents are design and the information they hold, the way they are located within the warehouse, the equipment used for storage, the conditions of the facilities and the picking methods used, are all factors that affect accuracy in the operation. Some of the most common technologies that help improve accuracy in picking accuracy are the barcode scanners, counting scales and pick-to-light systems. But perhaps the most important aspect is the correct employee training paired with picking methods that are adopted in accordance with a thorough analysis of the aspects we mentioned before in this article.
* Featured Image courtesy of Gwan Kho at Flickr.com