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Pick Smarter for Gained Efficiencies

Posted by Dwight Jones on September 12, 2014

From the perspective of conventional operators, use of conveyor picking solutions or even higher level goods-to-person automation are very attractive as a purchasable solution to control labor.

However, careful evaluation reveals that efficiencies can be obtained with a focus on warehousing fundamentals within the existing conventional operation. Installation of concepts guided by warehousing fundamentals often can provide better payback and avoid common pitfalls of mechanization such as a lack of future flexibility.

Batch order picking
Generally, direct fulfillment operations begin within an organization at very low volumes, and orders are picked discretely. This typically continues as the volume grows, until it reaches 3,000 to 5,000 orders per day. At these volume levels, discrete order picking requires significant labor resources and it’s time for a change.

The easiest way to initiate a change that will have a significant impact on labor is to move from discrete order picking to batch order picking. This has the benefit of reducing pick travel by a factor directly related to how many orders one can batch onto a picking cart or other picking transport. Applied intelligently, orders with common pick areas are grouped together, further optimizing pick travel. Batch picking typically does not require changes to any forward pick areas, and if there are functionality limitations within the incumbent WMS, batch pick functionality is widely available in standalone (forward) picking software systems.

Process single-line, single-piece (SLSP) orders separately
Many direct fulfillment operations have a very high percentage of orders that only have a single line and a single piece. It’s not uncommon for 40% to 50% of orders to be SLSP. A very efficient approach for processing these orders is to use a batch pick. Pickers can collect all potential SLSP orders within a work zone on a single pass through a given work area. The picked pieces can then be packed efficiently because each picked piece is its own discrete order.

Implement a pick slotting strategy
Direct fulfillment operations are more sensitive to the effectiveness of the slotting strategy than other operations. The goals of any slotting are always very specific to the operational profile and pick concept considerations, but in general, for direct fulfillment operations:
• Slotting SKU’s or groups of SKU’s with high order affinity within common work zones can have a big impact on travel and/or consolidation requirements.
• Balancing volume often is a goal to keep labor utilized, avoid equipment bottlenecks, and reduce picker contention.
• Often in direct fulfillment, pick locations are in short supply with the typically high SKU count. It’s important to slot active and seasonal SKU’s into the pick module and remove inactive SKU’s from prime pick positions.
• Consider dynamic slotting. With unpredictable demand and high SKU counts, dedicating up to 20% of the primary pick area to dynamic slotting can create a big boost in the volume picked from preferred locations and simplify replenishment.

Good warehousing fundamentals in a growing direct fulfillment operation can have a huge efficiency impact and are critical for a responsible evaluation of other mechanization options. With good fundamentals, productivity may improve to the point that large capital investments are avoidable or delayed, thus maximizing future flexibility.

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Topics: Conveyors, Warehousing, Distribution Centers