6 Best Practices for Order Picking in Distribution

6 Best Practices for Order Picking in Distribution

Getting products into hands of the customer quickly and efficiently is quickly moving from a differentiation to table stakes. As expectation of buyers increase, distribution centers must look for new ways to get things done correctly and efficiently.

Consider these realities:

  1. Often, the picking process is the most time-consuming process off all, making it a potential bottleneck.
  2. More orders picked translate to more orders shipped. That leads to quicker invoicing and increased revenues.
  3. Picking also directly impacts throughput metrics, so that improving the productivity and speed of the picking process, directly improves distribution center throughput. Throughput is the measure of inventory that is received into the inbound dock doors and shipped through the outbound dock doors by fulfilling orders.

Bringing a variety of best practices to bear can create nearly instantaneous benefit.

1. Follow location sequence for the pick path

When pickers pick travelling in a well-defined location sequence, the picking process becomes efficient because:

  1. Users don’t have to go to the same locations twice.
  2. Users need not zig zag, but instead following a streamlined path that eliminate confusion.
  3. Location sequences simplify the skipping and returning to orders in situation when replenishment is needed.
  4. Sophisticated warehouse management systems (WMS) can configure the pick location sequence in multiple ways to accommodate a variety of warehouse layouts.

2. Establishing multiple zones that group locations

Dividing the pick locations into zones and assigning pickers to specific zones contributes to even better picking process because:

  1. This practice reduces picker’s travel time by confining them to one area of the warehouse and reducing walking time.
  2. When pickers are confined within zones, they become experts within their zones, and can find things more quickly.

3. SKU velocity classification

  1. SKU classification into A, B & C SKU’s based on SKU velocity enables the correct slotting of SKU’s.
  2. Fast moving or high velocity SKU’s, often called the A SKU’s, are slotted close to the shipping area to expedite picking.
  3. Moderate velocity SKU’s, called B SKU’s and are slotted further away but still not very far from the shipping area.
  4. Slow moving or low velocity SKU’s, often called as C SKU’s, and are slotted far away from the shipping area since they are in less demand.
  5. Sophisticated WMS can automatically categorize SKU’s as A, B or C SKU’s, based on sales volume, to cut complexity.
  6. The WMS can also automatically create move tasks and assign them to user to be reallocated to the appropriate bins or areas. 

4. Non-conveyables

Non-conveyables refers to SKU’s that don’t ride the conveyors because they are:

  1. Too big
  2. Too small
  3. Oblong shape/size
  4. Otherwise not within the specifications of conveyable materials

These items should be separated into their own zone, so that they can be picked and shipped separately.  Isolating the picking process for the non conveyables ensures that the they do not interfere with the picking process for the conveyable SKU’s.

5. Non sortables

Non sortables are the SKUs that don’t ride the Sorters because they are:

  1. Too big
  2. Too small
  3. Oblong shape/size
  4. Otherwise not within the specifications of sort-able materials

These items should be separated into their own zone, so that they can be picked and shipped separately.   Isolating the picking process for the non-sort-able items ensures that the they do not interfere with the picking process for the sort-able SKUs.

6. Task-based picking

Slicing and dicing picking work into tasks based on zones, after sequencing the picks by location and considering capacity of the carts works well. Creating batch picking tasks and then assigning those to pickers makes the process faster, more accurate, and more efficient.  Further confining tasks within specific zones reduces picker’s travel time makes completion of picking tasks even more efficient. More can be done though. By tracking such tasks for different pickers and providing real time feedback on performance in terms of picks per hour. Something as simple as a color indicator of red, green or blue encourages pickers stretch to meet daily departmental goals.

Originally published at Smartgladiator.com on Feb 28, 2018.

Puga Sankara is the co-founder of Smart Gladiator LLC. Smart Gladiator designs, builds, and delivers market-leading mobile technology for retailers, distributors, and 3PL service providers. SG LoadProof is a patent pending Centralized Enterprise Photo/Video Document System on Cloud for Supply Chain. SG LP is built on the fact that photos & videos are vital docs as important as POs/SOs/Legal Contracts/Fulfillment Orders that reside in ERP/WMS/TMS systems, that serve as compelling, conclusive, unequivocal proof of crucial, critical, vital operations executed in Supply Chain within/across orgs when fulfilling customer orders as well as meeting contractual obligations between orgs as merchandise is transferred between different parties that partake in Supply Chain functions & operations. And these photos/videos data should not be stored in someone’s Smartphone or Email Inbox or in their personal/work Computer, but should be stored in a Centralized Enterprise system, where such data can be pushed into super-fast, stored securely, accessible to all stake holders (CFO/Sales Reps/Customer Support/AR/AP) in an org, as well as facilitates super-fast retrieval/sharing. LP is an Enterprise System of record for Photo/Video docs & is as important as an ERP which is an enterprise system of record for POs, SOs, Legal Contracts between parties etc. that have huge legal ramifications, also as important as a WMS (Warehouse Management System) that hold indispensable shipment & fulfillment data on orders. Like how Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat etc. have evolved into social media platforms/systems that enable individuals to showcase their beauty/pretty clothes/lovely cosmetics/hep coolness etc., LoadProof is an Enterprise system that holds similar photos/videos, but for a different reason, not for show off, but to serve as compelling, conclusive, unequivocal & indisputable system of record and proof that can be presented even in the court of law, when there is a dispute between parties while they execute many facets of the Supply Chain functions & operations. Puga is a supply chain technology professional with more than 25 years of experience in deploying capabilities in the logistics and supply chain domain. His prior roles involved managing complicated mission-critical programs driving revenue numbers, rolling out a multitude of capabilities involving more than a dozen systems, and managing a team of 30 to 50 personnel across multiple disciplines and departments in large corporations such as Hewlett Packard. He has deployed WMS for more than 30 distribution centers in his role as a senior manager with Manhattan Associates. He has also performed process analysis walk-throughs for more than 50 distribution centers for WMS process design and performance analysis review, optimizing processes for better productivity and visibility through the supply chain. Size of these DCs varied from 150,000 to 1.2 million SQFT. Puga Sankara has an MBA from Georgia Tech. He can be reached at [email protected] or visit the company at www.smartgladiator.com. Also follow him at www.pugasankara.com.