• Jim Southern

5 Tips on How to Improve Order Picking

Your Challenge: Doing more with less in the warehouse by improving order picking productivity.

This must be a familiar topic in management meetings in many distribution businesses. Declining margins, smaller order quantities, and pressure on delivery expectations, whilst trying to reduce costs.

So the business challenge is to do more with less resource in the operation, or grow the business with the same resource. Either way you need to increase efficiency in the warehouse.

Since more than 50% of warehouse labour resources are usually involved in picking, packing and shipping outbound orders, it makes sense to focus on these operations first. Improved picking accuracy and speed can pay huge dividends in the warehouse operation.

Now may be the time to take a hard and candid look at how you work. The commercial side of your business has evolved, changed and adapted to your customers expectations but have you changed the way you fulfil orders from the warehouse? Now is the time to revisit some basic first principles to maximising warehouse efficiency. Here, we focus on 5 ways to improve picking operations:

Having multiple SKU's in the same picking locations reduces picking accuracy and efficiency. Various studies have proven that there is a definite time and accuracy penalty to mixed SKU locations. Pickers have to find the right SKU in the location, they may be behind other SKU's etc. This is seen in many warehouses where a bin location may represent a shelf level that contains 5 - 10 SKU's. The operator is directed to the shelf level and then needs to search through the different SKU's to find the item to be picked. Not only does jeopardise accuracy, it also slows the operator down by as much as 15+ seconds per pick transaction. Having a discrete pick location for every SKU should be rule #1.

Reducing travel time also improves picker productivity. Many studies over the years have shown that travel time can easily account for 50% to 60% of the overall order picking time. This is why picking groups of orders is a more efficient way of picking orders in a single sweep of the warehouse. We have many customers using this strategy. Combining orders into a single travel instance greatly reduces the overall picking time, particularly for smaller orders.

Traditional order picking efficiency increases when it is at ground level. Generally it is accepted that it costs more to pick vertically than it does to pick horizontally, however this isn't always possible due to to a lack of warehouse locations and space. In these cases you need to assign the faster moving items to the ground floor locations and slower moving items to higher rack levels.

Order picking productivity also improves with a higher "hit rate". If the picker picks from one out of every 50 locations than this is slower than if they only need to travel 10 loactions to pick the next item. Higher pick rate = Higher Productivity and more orders picked in a shorter time. Knowing your "item velocity", i.e. which items are picked most often is key so that you can position your SKU's in the most easily accessible zones in the warehouse, normally to the from of the warehouse near packing and despatch stations.

Don't pre-allocate stock to orders. Many traditional ERP and WMS systems "allocate" stock in locations to orders. This assumes you are going to pick the orders in a particular sequence, which in reality doesn't happen. Using this method a picker may arrive at a location, see the stock, but not be able to pick it because it's not allocated to their order - which is crazy! Use a system that dynamically assigns the pick tasks to the picker and guides them at the point of pick. This will save time on travel and replenishments.

Dexterity WMS supports and helps with all these strategies.

Ready to get started? We have a wealth of experience in implementing our barcode driven Dexterity WMS Systems to help clients realise the benefits of a smart Warehouse Management System. Please get in touch for a no obligation and no pressure discussion on how Dexterity WMS could help your business.

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