Originally Published: April 17, 2013 – Updated: June 2020
Warehouse Order Picking
In a typical warehouse, order picking is the most manual, labor-intensive, and expensive operation. It can account for up to 60% of warehouse operating costs. Companies tend to focus on this area first because any improvement can positively impact their customer's experience, for instance, transactions and delivery times.
If you're consistently picking the right products and quantities, for the right customer, at the right time, with the right conditions, and at the lowest possible cost, then congratulations and keep up the good work! But for those of you who seem to miss one or multiple of those elements, you're not alone.
In paper-based picking, it's not uncommon to see errors due to omitting items, picking wrong items, or miscounting quantities. Any sound WMS system can offer solutions that reduce or eliminate these errors. BlueYonder (formerly JDA) WMS takes this further and provides a variety of picking options that can significantly improve productivity. These options are flexible and can work out of the box. However, if optimally configured and customized, these picking solutions will yield greater results.
It is well known that travel time makes up the most critical factor of the order processing time. It can be up to 50%, and it partly depends on factors difficult to change, such as building layout, existing racks, and equipment (pallet jacks, carts, etc.). This is why the objective should be improving travel time through improving picking strategies.
Eight Tips and Tricks
Based on my experience, I can share the following eight tips:
- Rely on System Verifications: Design your SOP to double-verify almost every step in the picking process, and you can loosen this later as needed. For example, utilize area pick verification flags to have users scan and verify LPN, quantity, item, etc. Count Back or Count Near Zero can also be used to count remaining inventory in a location in-line with picking.
- Touch Items Once: Focus on preventing errors during picking, and you won't need further repacking, or shipping checking. Picked inventory should go on trucks touched only by pickers. Also, pick into shipping cartons instead of totes.
- Use Pre-Labeled Cartons: With modifications, you can enable relabeling system-generated carton numbers during cluster picking.
- Look for Family Groups: If you would like to make completing multi-line order picking via a short picking path, the norm and not the exception, then analyze how customers place orders to slot your pick faces and group your items. This can take time to complete but can be very rewarding, as it ultimately reduces travel distance, your picking enemy #1.
- Pick your Smallest Unit of Measure (UOM) First: You don't want your easily picked full cases waiting for your time-consuming picks. Let the smaller picks lead the bigger picks.
- Consider Using Bulk Cluster Picking Instead of Cluster Picking: Bulk Cluster Picking provides the ability to scan a bath of carton (like cluster picking) but walk to every distinct location in the batch precisely one time. When you pick out of an area, you will scan the entire quantity needed for all of the cartons at one time instead of having to scan each pick individually. This is available in BlueYonder's WMS (JDA) 2004.2 and up.
- Consider using Bulk Picking (new in 2012.1): This enables picking higher UOM, which fulfills multiple orders with a single pick. This not only frees up labor by combining the demand of multiple shipments into a single pick and reduces travel distance, but it can also reduce the number of replenishments to the pick face.
- Consider using Pick Stealing (introduced in 2008.1): Newly received inventory may sometimes represent an alternate source for picks that have yet to begin. Picks sourcing from interior storage could then be redirected to source from the receiving area instead. If the receiving area is adjacent to the picks' destination, this redirection will reduce product movement and therefore improve operational efficiency. Keep in mind that cross-docking takes precedence over pick stealing, given that the former is pre-planned, and the latter is an ad-hoc process.