The Zone Picking Best Practice to Improve Order Picking Productivity

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The warehouse zone picking best practice helps in improving picking efficiency and productivity of operators. Learn this best practice from the expert.

This next best practice is about the warehouse zone picking process. The way this works is if your picking involves going to multiple areas, multiple isles of bin locations, and you are picking from different bin locations. This process is about eliminating all the unnecessary walking, and of course we all know the more you pick, the more you can ship, the more you ship, the more you invoice, the more you can get paid. This results in more revenue for the company, more revenue for the distribution center and everyone is happy. If you can eliminate the time that is spent by people on walking and instead have them pick all the time then that becomes efficient. If you have one long isle or multiple isles you could divide those isles into multiple zones. So what would happen is and typically this works well with a MHE (material handling equipment) wherein the box comes to the zone and the person stays in the zone all the time. 

The zone could be a confined area where they are not walking so much and staying in that zone and staying closer to the bin location. When a carton arrives into their zone, they pick their product and put it in the carton and scan the carton. Then they know the products that needs to be put in the carton and they go to the bin location. In the bin location they had to take that product and put it in the carton and scan the carton again. It tells that they fulfilled their picks that they need to perform in their zone. The operator just stands there instead of walking and going to the location, the cartons comes to the operator and they scan, picks products, drops it off and then moves to the next carton and scans the next carton or tote. 

Sometimes it could be some kind of a bulk picking where they are picking for the tote and scans the tote and then goes picks. When they are picking they are scanning the location as well because the inventory in that location has to be decremented and then the inventory going on to the cart and tote has to be incremented. They are doing this all day just standing in that location which means they are not spending time, wasting time walking so that adds to their efficiency. 

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They are not spending time on moving the product as nowadays it is done by the material handling equipment. The robots that are now being implemented to move the cartons. The beauty of the robots is that it is configurable. Now imagine that you had one long material handling equipment mean with a roller and long rails. The rollers move these boxes, and they come to the zone and you are in that zone. Then there are pickers in the other zone named zone 1, zone 2, zone 3, zone 4 and zone 5. When it comes to your zone to drop off the box and if you fulfill the order, then it goes to the next zone. The next person fulfills the order like that they are doing it that works great. But imagine your business changed and you have to change this layout which means you have to completely lift these long rail of rollers and then put something else that’s where the robot comes. It’s easy to program the robots, change the configuration of the robots, so the robots can instead of going in a particular path it can go in some other optimized path. 

It’s all very flexible and that’s the beauty of the robots. It’s a zone picking instead of it’s coming through the conveyor the long rails with rollers it comes with the robots. As the operator is not walking and just need to perform picking and dropping off the product to the carton the efficiency gets increased. So that’s the fundamental concept of zone picking and especially if your DC is very large and there is one pick that is all the way on the other corner of the DC then you want to think about zone picking process. We don’t have control over how the order arrived for picking so that’s something to think about zone picking. It might work or might not work and typically where I have seen were lot of successes are not from small SKUs  and big SKUs.

It is more efficient on medium size SKUs that are too heavy for the people to handle. It with an office retailer, that’s where it worked well. There were some kind of automation where the cartons where diverted to the zone only if there are picks in that zone. If there are no picks in that zone carton would just got to one, three, five and, if there are picks then it will go into the zone so that also save some time. It was planned like that because there is no point in diverting a carton if there is no picks, so the person does not have to scan and find if there are no picks. It adds to the efficiency, and that’s something to think about zone picking. If it is suitable for your facility, and justifies your investment in the material handling equipment and all that taking into account, all the walking that your people are doing and the labor cost associated with it then zone picking can be implemented without any second thoughts. Please share your comments in the section below.

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Originally published at Smartgladiator.com on Oct 1, 2019.


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. So far, Smart Gladiator Wearables have been used to ship, receive, and scan more than 50 million boxes. Users love them for the lightweight, easy-to-use soft overlay keyboard and video chatting ability, data collection ability etc. Puga is a supply chain technology professional with more than 17 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.

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