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6 strategies to improve efficiencies in order picking

6 minutes to read

Order picking refers to selecting and collating products from different areas of the warehouse to prepare an order. Picking can account for up to 55%-60% of the costs of a distribution centre. In general, the quality of the picking operation has an impact on both customer satisfaction and the reputation of the business and its profitability.

In this blog you will find out more about different types of picking strategies, how to improve your picking efficiencies and when it is beneficial to automate your picking process.

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How can each strategy improve my picking process?

1. Single Order Picking
In this strategy, orders are prepared one by one. Each picker processes the lines of the orders individually. This is the simplest picking solution, which involves low implementation costs. It is suitable for small businesses since it is considered a non-scalable solution.

The learning curve of this type of picking strategy is usually slow, because operators have to know the location of the products. In addition, checks on products are not usually carried out after order picking is complete, which could result in errors in the delivery of orders.

2. Cluster Picking
This strategy is based on simultaneously preparing different orders by separating the various items into separate containers. The advantage of this type of picking is that the time required for the movement of the operators is reduced compared to Single Order Picking, with a consequent increase in the productivity of the process. On the other hand, the same drawbacks mentioned above for Single Order Picking also apply to Cluster Picking.

3. Batch Picking
In this modality, the items are picked for different orders at the same time, but instead of collecting them directly on the final container, the products are deposited on a container common to all orders in preparation. At the end of the process, the items are distributed among the various orders.

This strategy is recommended when a SKU can be included in multiple orders. Productivity is higher compared to Single Order Picking (greater number of lines prepared in the same time), since the time needed to reach the different locations is distributed among different lines.

4. Zone Picking of complete boxes
In this strategy, each operator in charge of picking is assigned to a work area, in which he will collect the necessary units to complete the lines corresponding to that area. The travel time to reach the picking location is shorter compared to traditional strategies. The preparation time for large orders is shorter, and the learning curve is faster.

This strategy is usually associated with automated transport systems and an EMS, Warehouse Management System, so it requires an initial investment.

5. Zone picking with order sortation
This solution is used when the order needs to pick items at the individual level (single units) instead of complete boxes. Order containers are distributed at the beginning of the line and distributed to all stations that have the necessary SKUs for the order. In the same way as in the zone picking of complete boxes, the operators continue to work in a dedicated area, with the advantages mentioned above.

6. Goods to person (G-T-P)
In this strategy, picking stations contain the orders to be prepared instead of the products to be collected, unlike in the picking zone. The items are transported to the picking stations by an automated system, where the preparation of orders is carried out by the operators.

This solution is highly scalable, through the implementation of additional stations, and is very efficient because operators do not need to travel to reach the products.

They are usually associated with strategies to reduce possible errors (for example, scales). The products with which the order will be prepared may be stored in ASRS (automated warehouses), which would result in a reduction in the labour required. The investment associated with these systems is usually higher compared to other systems, especially when using ASRS technologies.

Should I automate my picking activity?

The reasons for opting for an automated solution for picking are different, here are some of them:

  • Scalability: possibility to scale easily and quickly.
  • Flexibility: possibility to respond to changing scenarios.
  • Increase volumes without increase in labour
  • Reduce occupied space in the warehouse
  • Reduce errors with more accuracy and a fast learning curve
  • Reduce lead time to customers
  • Reliability, especially during seasonal peaks (Black Friday, Christmas etc.)

The importance represented by the achievement of one or more of the aforementioned objectives, accompanied by the calculation of the ROI, will indicate whether it is appropriate to automate the picking operation in each specific case.

Which picking strategy best suits my business?

To define the best picking strategy for your business, it is necessary to look at the data of the operation:

Number of SKUs
• Product mix
Format type: whole pallets, layers, boxes, fractions or mix
Size and layout of the distribution centre
Order distribution: order size, number of SKUs and features
Type of deliveries: retail, e-commerce, omnichannel

With our array of integrated automation solutions to support warehouse logistics, we can design and deliver turn-key automation projects, tailored to your business needs.

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