Warehouse Picking Optimization: 7 Tips
In order fulfillment, warehouse managers need to ensure that their operations are running at peak efficiency. Not doing so can dramatically decrease warehouse productivity, increase inventory error rates, decrease customer satisfaction, and lower overall profitability. To keep customers from turning to competitors, managers need to properly optimize their order picking. Here’s an overview of the order picking process in a warehouse, and 7 ways you can optimize your facility’s picking operations.
What is Order Picking?
Order picking is one of the most important order fulfillment tasks in a warehouse. It involves picking an item, or components of an item, from inventory to fulfill a customer’s order and then delivering it to the next work zone or shipping. This can be automated or manual, depending on the specific needs of your business.
Order picking is one of the most labor-consuming applications in a warehouse. Up to 55% of a facility’s labor consumption can be dedicated to order picking.
Order Picking Methods
To optimize your picking process, it’s important to start by evaluating which order picking method works best for your facility. There are three software-driven order picking methods that are commonly used in a warehouse.
- Wave Picking: Wave picking combines principles from zone picking and batch picking, grouping orders together into a logical “wave.” Pickers then receive their assignments, and work through their zone to pick the required items. The wave is “static,” since it won’t change once a wave has begun.
- Waveless Picking: Waveless picking differs from wave picking in that waves aren’t static, but dynamic. In other words, new orders are continuously added into the wave as older orders are completed.
- Overlapping Waves Picking: Overlapping waves are similar to wave picking in that orders are grouped into a logical wave, but as a batch reaches its peak, the next wave is released to help keep labor operating at peak efficiencies.
Each of these methods can provide better efficiencies based on specific product and order profiles.Its critical to analyze your specific business operations and evaluate which picking method will maximize your efficiencies.
How To Optimize Your Picking Process
Optimizing your picking process is incredibly important. It ensures you’re able to process your orders efficiently and in a timely manner. For example, in the retail space, approximately 69% of consumers are less likely to be returning customers if their order doesn’t arrive when promised. Whether you’re retail or B2B, it’s incredibly important that your operations run efficiently. Here are 7 warehouse picking optimization tips.
1. Optimize Your Layout
Optimizing your existing space is one of the first steps you should take in revamping your picking operations.
- Reduce travel time: Order picking is one of the most time-consuming activities in a warehouse. This is largely due to the time it takes to find each item and pull it from inventory. To combat this, try to make your warehouse easy to navigate, keeping similar items together to reduce walking time for just one order. This is also called slotting.
- Leverage vertical space: Vertical space is an incredibly effective tool for optimizing your floor plan. This area is often wasted, but can be an excellent place to utilize an overhead conveyor system, mezzanine, or vertical storage AS/RS system.
Improve safety of picking zones: Keeping your warehouse safe is incredibly important. Serious, non-fatal injuries cost the warehousing and transportation industry approximately $84.04 million each week. Prioritizing safety ensures more efficient warehouse operations, as well as employees’ health. Consider analyzing your picking zones to see if any areas could benefit from increased ergonomics, better signage, or more effective equipment for your employees.
- Keep floorspace clear: Don’t let your warehouse become messy. Forklift operators and order pickers don’t want to navigate through a maze to reach their SKU. Keep your floorspace clear to allow forklifts and employees to move easily.
- Clean your warehouse regularly: Bubble wrap, empty boxes, and other packing materials shouldn’t litter your warehouse floors. Neglecting to continuously clean your warehouse will likely cause unfortunate accidents, such as slips, trips, and more. Try to implement a regular cleaning schedule to prevent these incidents from occurring.
2. Select the Right Strategy
There’s no universal “one-size-fits-all” picking strategy. Each facility should select the method that works best for their business needs. There are several to choose from, including:
- Discrete: Also known as single order picking, discrete picking involves picking one order at a time. They select a single order SKU by SKU before moving to the next order. This method is one of the most labor intensive and time consuming, so it’s not the best fit for a majority of operations. But smaller operations that only handle a few orders at a time might find that it’s the best strategy for their needs.
- Batch Order: This strategy entails pickers processing several orders at once, typically batched based on the similarity of each order’s SKUs. Because pickers can choose the same SKU for multiple orders at once, batch order picking reduces their overall travel time and increases the efficiency of the pick. Operations that process orders that are close to Pareto Principle (80% of your picks come from 20% of your inventory) often utilize this strategy.
- Zone: Zone picking divides the warehouse into different sections, or “zones.” Each zone is assigned to a picker or multiple pickers, who travel within the zone to pick the SKUs for the orders being processed. Because they’re not navigating the entire warehouse, this strategy is often more efficient than others, reducing walking time and congestion. It also allows technologies to be implemented for similar SKU characteristics (size, weight, velocity and volume).
- Cluster: Cluster picking is similar to batch picking in that pickers process multiple orders at once. Where this method differs is picking orders that aren’t necessarily similar. Therefore, it’s not typically as efficient as batch picking, and is better suited for large operations that don’t typically process similar orders.
- Robotic: Robotic picking leverages automation to fulfill orders. With this picking strategy, a robotic component (such as a robotic arm) picks individual SKUs—whether pieces or totes—and packs them as they’re picked. This is a highly efficient method if you’re looking to reduce your warehouse labor costs.
- Automation: By utilizing mechanical equipment integrated with software and controls, an operation can quickly reduce labor, save space, increase ergonomics, and improve efficiencies. There’s a wide variety of automation available. The key to incorporating automation is determining your business and operations requirements, and evaluating which level of automation provides the best return on investment.
Whichever strategy you select, it’s important that it’s the RightFIT for your specific operations. Make sure you thoroughly analyze your business needs and objectives and choose a strategy that allows you to address them as efficiently as possible.
3. Track Inventory Error Rates
According to PR Newswire, the average U.S. retail operation has an inventory accuracy rate of just 63%. This is highly problematic since 16% of consumers will discontinue business with a retailer if they receive an incorrect order once, and 14% will take their business elsewhere if they receive a late order. With 34% of businesses shipping orders late—due to a lack of stock-level transparency—inventory accuracy is incredibly important. Ignoring your errors only means you’re more likely to repeat them, so track your inventory error rates and address your efficiency roadblocks.
4. Improve Your Organization
Staying organized is a must for warehouses. If your facility isn’t organized, it can run into issues such as increased walk and search time or inventory errors. Make sure to organize your inventory, workstations, and equipment storage. Here are a few tips to keep your facility well organized:
- Arrange your inventory on the shelves in an easy-to-find manner
- Ensure your shipping materials are organized properly
- Keep similar items together to make them easier to find
- Use picking bins, boxes, or totes to better compartmentalize your process
One excellent way to improve your organization is to use slotting, which is the process of organizing inventory in a warehouse or distribution center. Walking from product to product, manually retrieving orders can account for around 60% of a warehouse worker’s time. Effective slotting allows workers to pick items faster, and can reduce labor costs by nearly 20%.
5. Keep Your Employees Well-Trained
Training your employees regularly is an often overlooked method of warehouse picking optimization. However, if your workers don’t know what they’re doing, efficiency will suffer.
Training your employees can improve organization, and reduce injuries from avoidable hazards. Workers often rush tasks in an effort to complete them quickly, and in doing, ignore safety precautions. Continuous training can help prevent these injuries and shift the warehouse’s corporate culture to a safer and more organized work environment.
6. Use the Right Packaging
Evaluate the packaging you’re currently using for your inventory and consider whether an alternative packaging would be better. Your packaging should be sturdy enough so the item doesn’t suffer damage, but also compact enough so you’re not taking up valuable inventory space. For example, for smaller items consider using polybags. These bags aren’t as pricey as cartons and they don’t incur dimensional weight surcharges from parcel carriers.
7. Adopt the Right Warehouse Execution Software (WES)
Inventory management, automation management, shipping automation, and order fulfillment as a whole is incredibly difficult to do without software. Using the right WES is essential to the success of your facility, as it reduces labor, increases equipment’s utilization, and dramatically improves your operation’s efficiency. Whether you use automation or not, the right WES can help reduce the risk of human error, while being a modular and cost-effective way to improve your organization, tailored to your specific operation.
Choosing the RightFIT For Your Operation
Every warehouse is different, and not every solution is going to work for each facility. There’s a plethora of tools on the market to optimize your warehouse through automation, conveyor systems, and more. While each supplier is familiar with their own products, it’s important that your tools are the best fit for your business and operations, and that you’re able to integrate them effectively into your existing systems.
Interested in finding out how a systems integrator can benefit your operation and find the right solution for you? Request a consultation to speak to one of our experts who can help you discover the best optimization opportunities for your facility.