In fulfillment operations, efficient picking practices are crucial to reducing costs and order cycle times. The picking process takes up a significant amount of time and labor for distribution sites. This is because a large portion of the picking process is spent traveling from location to location and not actually picking products. With increased volume comes the opportunity to gain efficiencies. Below are a few of the strategies that can be used to optimize the picking process.
- Discrete Order Picking
This can be considered an entry-level form of picking. Simply put, a picker is assigned order and she picks all of the products on that order. This is a method that any operation can put in place as it can be used with any level of technology, and because of its simplicity, it typically results in high picking accuracy. The problem here is that there is an elevated amount of travel from location to location. This method should really only be used in low volume operations or with high priority orders.
- Batch Picking
Batch picking focuses on grabbing all quantities of certain items for a group of orders. For instance, if item A will be included on 50 orders throughout the day; then all 50 are picked at one time and then sorted into individual orders later on. This works great when a smaller subset of different SKU’s are being picked quite a bit, since it reduces the required travel time per order (and therefore the warehouse cost per order). However, as the number of SKU’s increases and the amount of each SKU shipped lowers, the potential gains decrease: more time must be spent downstream sorting out orders from one another, and the complexity from more SKU’s can lead to inaccurate orders being sent out.
- Wave Picking
Wave Picking might be the most confusing warehousing term out there because there are two widely used definitions. Some will say that wave picking is a lot like batch picking with the added complexity of time and other factors. Imagine strategically timed batches being released multiple times per day while considering optimal paths, weights, etc. This definition of wave picking will be able to handle a large quantity of product shipping outbound. Others define wave picking as comparable to discrete order picking, just conducted at set intervals during the day. While this definition is more advanced than discrete order picking, it may not be ideal for very high volume operations. When anyone refers to wave picking, make sure you obtain clarification on what their exact understanding of wave picking is.
It is also important to note that zones can apply to both batch and wave picking. The functionality of each remains unchanged. The operations just occur in specific areas. Remember, any time full orders are not being picked together, there needs to be some type of sorting process to ensure products go outbound properly.
Any of the above strategies can be successful as long as they are dispatched in the correct operation. A 3PL can help make sense of the different strategies and have enough scale to obtain the benefits of more advanced methods than discrete order picking, therefore lowering per-unit costs.