Our Warehouse Wednesday articles are designed to assist those ProAdvisors, and business consultants, wanting to expand their practices into the role of trusted inventory and warehouse management advisors, by providing overviews of basic concepts behind inventory management, warehouse design, inventory controls and warehouse operations. This week we are going to examine 5 ways to improve 'Picker' performance in an effort to enhance order processing. And when I say 'Picker' I'm not talking about someone who plays the banjo.
To identify and analyze ways to improve Picker performance we first need to insure that we understanding the role and complexities of 'picking' as well as the standard picking approaches used in most warehouse operations. Picking (aka: Order Picking or Order Preparation) is a critical warehouse process. It consists of reviewing an order for fulfillment and then collecting the items on that order in the specified quantity in order to transport those items to a packaging location where they are verified and prepared for shipping (or delivery).
There are a variety of ‘picking’ methods, some warehouses are designed and operated to use only a single method, others are based upon the use of more than one picking method.
- Piece picking (aka: single order or picker-to-part) is a method where the Picker moves to collect the items for a single order.
- Batch picking involves a single picker who collects items for multiple orders traveling a route that takes them in sequence so as to avoid back-stepping for products, the products must then be sorted to the individual orders upon the Picker’s return to the packaging station.
- Zone picking is one form of multi-order picking, this method uses multiple Pickers, each assigned to one specific zone within the warehouse, they only pick products from their own zone to fulfill orders that may require products from multiple zones.
These by no means represent all of the possible ‘picking’ methods, especially in highly automated and/or mechanized warehouses.
So let’s look at 5 tips that can improve Picker performance and enhance order processing:
Create product-driven zones within your warehouse
You may be able to gain significant efficiency by grouping together in one zone the 20 percent of your SKUs that represent 80 percent of your orders. Layouts of this design substantially cut travel time for Pickers. Because of the high-volume of activity, you must insure that this zone is properly designed to accommodate the traffic, especially when multiple Pickers may all be entering, traveling within and exiting from the same zone. Some warehouse layouts will extend this product-driven zone methodology into each of the 20% groups; in other words, Zone A top 20%, Zone B next 20%, and so on.
Warehouse Golden Zone locations
Reconfigure product-driven zones based on order profiles
Large retailers, wholesalers and distributors like have their most popular SKUs change with the seasons, in these cases it is both appropriate and necessary to re-configure product-driven zones based upon actual or anticipated order profiles on a season-by-season basis. This helps to insure that your ‘new top 20%’ of SKUs (on a seasonal basis) are in the correct zone (aka: Zone A is ‘always’ the top 20%). In following this profile driven model you are helping to reduce travel for Pickers, thus speeding-up order fulfillment, and enhancing overall productivity.
Analyze your picking methodology
Make sure your picking methodology suits your warehouse and products. Whether you make use of a single order, multi-order, batch picking via a single Picker, or zone picking, use of the correct picking methodology is critical for optimizing productivity.
Create friendly pick locations (row/shelf/bin) for popular SKUs
You can increase picking productivity and improve Picker ergonomics by allocating your fastest-moving SKUs to the waist-to-shoulder height areas of your zones.
A variety of technology options can be used to increase efficiency including mobile warehouse displays (on professional hand-held computers or tablet computers. When these are incorporated with the use of bar codes, radio frequency ID, pick-to-label, pick-to-light, and voice-activated technologies, the resultant efficiencies can greatly speed up order processing and/or reduce manpower requirements. Each of these technologies provides different levels of increased picking productivity and improved accuracy, thereby enhancing overall efficiency.
Most warehouses across America could use a 'trusted advisor' (like you) to help them with reorganization of their picking processes. Efficient order fulfillment within any warehouse is all about the expediting processes of picking, verification, packaging, and shipping. Once you understand these concepts fully you will be ready to assist your inventory and warehouse clients with policies, practices, training, and technology to bolster their profits.