Productivity and accuracy in fulfillment are two constant challenges in today’s distribution centers (DC). As the Amazon affect begins to make every company a multi-channel fulfillment company, knowing if you are picking the right order or, more importantly, picking the order in the right way becomes an important determinant in the overall productivity of your operations.
At a macro there are two basic pick methodologies – Process Based Picking and Layout Based Picking. Process Based Picking focuses on how the order is picked while layout based picking focuses on how the pick area is organized and operational flow.
Discrete Picking: Discrete picking, or one operator picking one order at a time, is the most common pick process due to process simplicity and control. Picking one order at a time is typically easier to control and manage. There is only one carton or tote to pick which minimizes the potential of the picked item being placed into the wrong carton. For larger multi-line type orders, this might be a good pick process. But for single line, single item orders, this process results in lower operator productivity.
In a discrete pick, the operator is directed to each bin in sequence, and told the product, pack size, and quantity to pick. You pick the required product and scan its barcode label. You are then provided the carton number in which to pack the product. You place the items into this carton and scan the label for that carton. Finally, you enter the quantity of product you picked. You are then directed to the next pick, and the process is repeated until you have picked and packed the complete order.
For picking large discrete orders you can reduce the order cycle time (increase throughput) by assigning multiple operators to a pick. This can be accomplished by splitting up the order picks by aisle or area where different operators pick the items in a specific aisle or area (see Zone Picking). Alternatively operators will work in the same area but start at opposite ends to eventually meet in the middle when the order is complete. This is supported by a concept referred to as Reverse Picking.
Keep these objectives in mind as you develop your overall picking strategy:
Keep pickers picking…not waiting…Keep a queue of orders and/or products available to the picker. This requires an effective replenishment strategy if you are using a forward pick/reserve storage layout.
Keep pickers picking…and not doing non-pick tasks…Do not bog pickers down with other tasks such as carton erection and taping, labeling, wrapping, adding dunnage, etc. Pickers are typically your most skilled warehouse resource.
Minimize product touches…Ideally, it is best to design your pick process so that there is sufficient accuracy at the time of picking to eliminate the need for subsequent checking and repacking. Each unit of product is touched only by the pickers’ hands before the carton is sealed and transported to an outbound truck.
Minimize travel…Pick from both sides of the aisle from properly sized pick modules. Unused space between pick modules and pick lanes can unnecessarily lengthen a pick path. Segregate slow movers from fast moving SKUs to avoid repetitive, unproductive travel past them when not needed.
Consider picking very slow moving SKUs from reserve storage rather than forward pick bins. Seek opportunities to batch pick many smaller orders in one trip. Pick all one-line, single-piece orders together since no sorting is necessary to break them down into a discrete order level.
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