Nowadays, there are multiple solutions available for faster, error-free order picking. So taking into account that picking is one of the most complex warehouse operations, how can you streamline it to boost productivity?
Based on variables such as industrial sector, facility size and product type, companies can employ strategies to optimise picking and monitor throughput. Likewise, it’s possible to automate all or part of the operation with storage and order picking technologies.
How to improve warehouse picking speed
Logistics managers must analyse the performance of the picking process and look for solutions to streamline the operation and eliminate the risk of error. Here are 10 tips for faster picking:
1. Design your warehouse according to logistics needs
The first step to faster picking is a layout that enhances operations. It should be divided into logical zones that enable operators and/or robots to move in an agile way.
The configuration of your facility should be consistent with your company’s logistics planning. The warehouse layout design should include the different order picking areas as well as clearly delimited receiving, storage and dispatch zones.
2. Equip your facility with the right storage systems
There are numerous storage systems available according to criteria such as unit load to be housed, warehouse design, handling equipment used and product characteristics.
Your choice of storage system should be suitable for the attributes of the goods and your company’s logistics needs. For example, products sold in the food industry tend to require high-density, energy-efficient solutions. But other sectors might require more accessibility to goods.
3. Implement effective picking methods
The logistics manager should incorporate picking strategies that guide warehouse pickers in performing their tasks and raise their throughput. In facilities with manual operations, it’s standard practice to employ batch picking (items for several orders are picked simultaneously). Zone picking is also common in this case (one or more operators are assigned to a specific zone to pick products stored in that area).
When it comes to the ideal picking strategy, there’s no “one size fits all.” Each facility requires specific strategies adapted to factors such as the number of goods and their turnover, the warehouse layout and the number of order pickers, among other variables.
4. Digitise your warehouse operations
Implementing specialised software such as a warehouse management system (WMS) minimises the risk of error in storage operations, including order picking. For example, a WMS distributes products among the storage locations according to rules and criteria preset by the logistics manager.
The software also connects to the work computers and RF scanners to guide operators step-by-step as they carry out their tasks. The WMS shows them the most productive routes and significantly reduces the risk of error.
5. Configure optimal pick paths
Among the multiple functionalities of a WMS is the design of efficient pick paths. With the help of the software, operators cut down on unnecessary travel in the building.
To further scale up operator productivity, Mecalux’s Easy WMS offers the Labor Management System module. This advanced functionality detects improvement opportunities for picking by measuring the throughput of order pickers.
6. Track picking KPIs
To make order picking more efficient, you can employ key performance indicators to monitor the performance of picking operations. Examples of these KPIs include picking accuracy, percentage of orders shipped, quantity of goods in stock and backorder rate.
Easy WMS also features the Supply Chain Analytics Software module. This advanced program structures and segments all the information produced in the centre, allowing you to make decisions based on your actual throughput.
7. Plan optimal slotting strategies
You should review your slotting strategy (i.e., distribution of stock in the different locations in the facility) periodically to adapt it to changes in product demand.
Digitising operations with a software program makes it possible to determine the optimal location for each good. For instance, the Warehouse Slotting Software module from Mecalux analyses the current and historical demand for each SKU. Based on the results, it recommends a periodic redistribution of the storage locations for more productive, error-free picking.
8. Implement automated picking systems
You can combine the deployment of warehouse management software with other semi-automated picking methods — e.g., pick-to-light or voice picking — to guide operators during the process.
In automated facilities, you can also incorporate picking robots and anthropomorphic arms, which maximise the productivity of more repetitive movements.
9. Automate internal goods transport
The goods-to-person order picking strategy uses automated solutions to bring the products to the operators. These internal material transport systems save operators from having to travel. Instead, they pick the unit loads they receive at their workstations. By bringing the product to the operator, this picking strategy shortens operation times and maximises warehouse efficiency.
You can also outfit your facility with automated guided vehicles (AGVs) or autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), for instance. These automated internal transport systems employ technologies such as machine learning to perform tasks, moving stock in the warehouse without human supervision.
10. Install automated storage systems
Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) increase the number of cycles performed and accelerate the removal of goods from their locations. Automated solutions such as stacker cranes for boxes and stacker cranes for pallets ensure that goods are supplied continuously to the different pick stations.
To connect two areas of your facility, you can pair these systems with conveyors that move, accumulate, or distribute the unit loads to the picking area. Equipping your warehouse with a conveyor line means that materials will be moved to the pick stations nonstop, expediting this task.
Strategies for faster picking
Order picking is one of the most complex logistics stages for any company. To minimise the risk of error and speed up picking, logistics managers need to explore solutions to ramp up productivity in this operation.
Process automation could be the path to optimised order picking. Solutions like warehouse management software, which coordinate everything happening in the facility and automated storage and internal transport systems (e.g., stacker cranes and autonomous robots) eliminate the risk of error in goods handling. At Mecalux, we have extensive experience developing and deploying warehousing technology. Want to boost your logistics performance? Don’t hesitate to contact us. One of our expert consultants will advise you on the best solution for your company.