Batch Picking: Process, Examples, and Benefits
Order picking is one of the most time-consuming and labor-intensive processes of order fulfillment. Since different strategies work better for different companies, efficient picking is difficult to accomplish. Technology and automation can go a long way in the picking process, but if you don’t leverage the right strategy for your warehouse or distribution center, you’ll sacrifice valuable time and resources to an inefficient process.
One potential strategy to consider when optimizing your picking process is batch picking. Here’s an overview of batch picking, when it should be used, and some alternative approaches if it’s not the right strategy for your facility.
What is Order Picking?
Before diving into the details of batch picking, it’s important to understand what warehouse picking is. Picking is an integral part of the order fulfillment process, which involves retrieving an order from inventory and delivering it to the next destination.
This process sounds simple enough, but for companies that receive thousands of orders each day, picking becomes much more complicated. Picking one order at a time isn’t feasible for large distribution centers since it makes the process extremely labor- and time-consuming.
Different warehouses need different picking strategies and methods depending on their industry, business size, inventory and order profiles, storage capacity, as well as other considerations. In light of this, several methods and strategies for picking are devised to accommodate the needs of different businesses.
There are two decision points in order fulfillment. The first is the METHOD—how your WMS or WES software will handle waves (waveless, wave, or overlapping waves)—and the second is STRATEGY—how your operators will do the physical picking (discrete, zone, batch, cluster or robotic).
The three most common software based picking METHODS in a warehouse are wave, waveless, and overlapping waves.
- Wave Picking: A static method that groups multiple orders into a singular “wave,” requiring pickers to fill all the orders in the group before moving on to the next wave. The orders are then sorted and consolidated to prepare them for packing and shipping.
- Waveless Picking: A dynamic picking method where new orders received are automatically prioritized by shipping requirements and added to a batch for picking. When a picker completes a pick, the WES automatically checks for the next best pick, and directs them to that location.
- Overlapping Waves: A picking method that operates similar to wave picking in that multiple orders are grouped into waves. The difference is, instead of waiting to release the next wave until the previous one has been completed, the next wave is released when the first reaches its peak efficiency and its productivity begins to diminish. The purpose is to maintain a higher level of productivity, as there are fewer extreme valleys and peaks of efficiency.
Each method is WES software-based and has its own set of benefits and drawbacks. In addition to the three primary picking methods, warehouses can leverage different picking strategies, combined with the above methods to optimize efficiencies. One such strategy is batch picking.
What is Batch Picking?
Batch picking is a picking strategy that groups orders into “batches” based on the similar SKUs and their characteristics in each order. With this strategy, pickers process a batch of similar orders at the same time by picking the same SKU for multiple orders simultaneously.
This prevents pickers from having to travel to and from different locations in the warehouse to fill one order at a time. Instead, they can move from location to location to sequentially pick enough of the same SKU to fill each order in the batch. They will then route the orders to their next location or zone, such as pack out or sortation. The orders are then buffered, consolidated, and shipped.
Batch picking typically follows these steps:
- Manual Operations: A pick list is generated for each order: Pick lists are documents that communicate the items pickers need to collect from inventory in order to fill an order. It includes the items’ locations, SKUs, and the number that needs to be collected to fill the order. These lists are almost always generated electronically.
- Automated Operations: A batch of orders is directed to each zone: The wave of orders are sorted by the software based on commonality and directed to each of the picking zones. Automated G2P (Goods to Person) technology presents each SKU in the batch for picking to each operator. SKUs are often presented with integrated pick-to-light and the operator verifies each pick is made and placed in the correct open order.
- Group the orders based on similar characteristics: For batch picking to be efficient, the orders in each batch need to be as similar as possible to optimize the efficiency of the process and reduce unnecessary travel. The software will automatically do this.
- Pick the items: Once the orders have been grouped and delivered to the pickers, the items need to be delivered to the next zone or consolidation/sortation for packaging and shipping.
When should Batch Picking be used?
Batch picking is most valuable for large companies that process thousands of similar orders per day. For these companies, selecting one order at a time is inefficient because it requires employees to constantly travel around the warehouse, collecting different items for just one order, and repeating the process. However, batch picking allows the picker to travel to one location and collect SKUs for several orders at once, reducing the overall travel time.
Particularly for ecommerce organizations, where customer satisfaction is immensely important, finding the fastest and most efficient picking strategy is critical. When properly implemented, the batch picking process can be highly beneficial for companies that operate in the ecommerce space, especially for companies that have a large inventory with many different SKUs.
Batch picking usually isn’t the best strategy for smaller organizations with small inventories, since travel time isn’t as much of a consideration. In these cases, batch picking can create additional steps of sorting items after they’ve been picked.
Pros and Cons of Batch Picking
Like every picking method, batch picking has both pros and cons. Here’s a look at some of the most common.
The primary pros or benefits of batch picking include:
- Reduced travel time
- Improved picking efficiency
- Decreased physical labor for pickers
Each industry may experience these benefits to varying degrees, depending on a variety of factors such as how optimized the warehouse’s floor plan is, or the use of robots or human employees to pick items.
The most common drawback of batch picking is:
- Longer process when sorting and collecting orders for companies with smaller inventories
It’s important to carefully consider these pros and cons when selecting a picking strategy. If the drawbacks outweigh the benefits, consider a different strategy that’s better for your facility.
Automating the Batch Picking Process
Batch picking is often employed alongside Goods-to-Person technologies like pick-to-light, AS/RS, and AMRs. Automation can improve the batch picking process, increasing its efficiency and reducing inventory error rates, since robots are less likely to make an error than human pickers.
Additionally, automation can reduce the labor required to complete order picking. In most facilities, order picking is the top labor-consuming application, comprising approximately 55% of a warehouse’s total labor. Automation, when properly integrated into a warehouse’s operations, can reduce this by nearly two thirds.
Alternative Warehouse Picking Strategies
If you’re trying to decide on the best picking strategy for your operations, it’s important to evaluate all the options to determine which makes sense for your facility.
- Discrete order picking: Discrete picking (also known as single order picking) involves picking a single order—SKU by SKU—from start to finish before progressing to the next order.
- Batch picking: A method that groups orders into “batches” based SKU similarity and the similarity of each order’s characteristics.
- Zone picking: A picking method that requires segmenting the warehouse into different “zones,” which are then assigned to different pickers. When an order is being processed, each picker travels to their zone as necessary to pick the required SKUs to fulfill it.
- Cluster picking: This strategy is similar to batch picking because pickers collect multiple items at once, but, unlike batch picking, the orders aren’t similar. Instead, the picker typically works with an order picking cart or AMR with compartments to hold several orders. These carts also direct the picker to the location of each necessary SKU using the most optimal route.
- Robotic picking: Using robots and AS/RS to pick items combines the picking and packing process into one, making it a fully automated process. With robotic picking, individual SKUs are collected from inventory by an automated component, such as a robotic arm. This component will then immediately place the items into their proper shipping containers or totes.
Finding the Right Strategy
If you’re trying to decide which strategy will work best for your warehouse, or you’re considering automating your existing strategy, it’s incredibly important to ensure that each decision you make is the RightFIT for your specific facility. Every warehouse is unique and requires different approaches depending on the facility and the company’s business goals.
Partnering with a trusted systems integrator like Conveyco can help you select the right strategies and technologies for your specific business needs. Request a consultation today to speak with a member of our team.