Warehouse order picking is one of the most significant cost centers in a warehouse, and pick and pack fees are rising steadily each year for B2B and B2C orders.
One way to curb costs is to have an optimal pick and pack strategy for your business. There are pros and cons for each order picking strategy, but they all have one thing in common: There’s room for improvement. To build on your current success or amp up your operations, closely evaluate your order picking methods and consider new strategies that may increase throughput and accuracy.
As a premier supply chain partner, we’ve worked with our clients to implement order picking strategies to optimize their operations. These are not all, but some of the most popular pick and pack strategies that we’ve seen and managed in the past.
Also called discrete order picking or single order picking, a direct picking system is one of the most popular for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
In direct picking, single orders are fulfilled individually, and there’s a lower error rate than some other methods listed. Also, training new employees can be easier because of the limited number of SKUs and straightforward collection methods.
This system has its downside, however. This pick and pack method usually takes more time, as some orders make workers walk the entire length of the warehouse. Routes are usually not optimized in this strategy because many SMBs that use direct pick often do not have a warehouse management system (WMS) due to a low order volume or SKUs.
- Single orders fulfilled individually
- Low error rate
- Shorter training periods
- More time, more steps
- Not route-optimized, inefficient
- Doesn’t scale well
Zone Order Picking
Also known as pick and pass, zone picking is ideal for warehouses with a large volume of SKUs that can be stored in zones. The idea is to group items with other similar items to limit the time employees take walking across large facilities. This method can also allow workers to pick multiple orders at the same time. Zone order picking also cuts down on management time and labor costs by assigning workers to single zones. Employees also build a familiarity with the product sets in their zones which can speed up picking.
This system is ideal for companies that handle a high volume of SKUs. Picking orders in zones help larger warehouses stay organized. Also, zone picking makes it easier to regularly shift stock based on inventory turnover, which can be a positive but complicated task for large companies.
The cons of zone order picking include scheduling challenges. Assigning workers to specific zones can silo knowledge and make it harder to fill orders when key team members are out. There are also time and warehouse space considerations with zone order picking.
- Handle a high volume of SKUs
- Orders only go through zones with associated SKUs, more organized
- Workers build familiarity with their zone’s products, faster picking
- Scheduling challenges associated with specialized, siloed workforce
- Needs more time/technology to combine orders
- More space necessary for packing
Wave picking is a variation of zone picking with a “wave” of orders batched together. It takes zones, shipping, staffing, and logistics into account rather than completing orders individually.
Wave picking is ideal for large businesses that deal with sizable order volumes and an extensive number of SKUs. Wave picking builds on zone picking strategies by arming a worker with a list of items grouped together strategically; this may be by zone, by similar SKUs, or even by what carrier service will deliver the final order. Ideally, employees perform wave picking at certain times of the day or by certain shifts. Workers pick the items on their lists, scan them to confirm correct picking, and send them to packing to be sorted into orders and shipped.
While this method can be efficient for large warehouses, keep in mind it requires room for staging that other pick and pack strategies may not. Also, it typically requires hands-on management time and an investment in a WMS system. Keep in mind when you’re evaluating this fulfillment strategy that wave picking, like zone picking, can lead to siloed workforce issues if SKUs and items vary drastically.
- Efficient system for large businesses
- Eliminates unnecessary steps
- Reduces errors and returns
- Requires extra space for packing
- WMS and hands-on management
- Siloed pick and pack team members
Batch Pick and Pack
Batch picking is the “supermarket sweep” of warehouse fulfillment. Workers typically have a list of small pallets or many similar items to gather. This method works well for small businesses that have a high volume of orders with very similar, or limited, SKUs. This strategy reduces pick and pack time and can also reduce the time employees spend walking back and forth.
Batch picking requires extra space and labor for sorting and combining orders in a packing center, and it’s not feasible for orders with large, bulky items. The best use case for this system is small or medium-sized items that are easy to carry or cart together in one trip.
- Good solution for limited SKUs
- Reduces steps and time
- Ideal for identical or similar orders
- Requires extra space for spacing
- Not feasible for large items
- Requires more labor for packing
Voice picking has become an industry standard. The productivity and throughput rates of businesses that move from another form of picking to voice picking can be notable.
Voice picking requires employees to wear headsets like the HS3100 Rugged Headset Series. They receive precise directions in their native language to direct them to the SKUs they need to pick. Additionally, many voice picking software solutions have vocal confirmation built in to limit mispick instances. Voice picking is a good solution for large distribution centers that employ dozens, or hundreds of employees. Wearing a headset can help keep your team focused on throughput and error reduction in a way that a paper system cannot.
Voice picking is efficient, but it does require several investments. Many SMBs don’t use voice picking because the headsets, platform, servers, and other solution costs can add up quickly. It’s vital that you work with a trusted vendor to help execute advanced deployments for projects like this and to monitor and manage your new tech stacks.
- Different languages means faster training and better efficiency
- Hands-free pick lists enhance safety
- Suitable for large distribution centers
- Employees have to wear headsets and special equipment for their entire shift
- Investments in voice picking solution, hardware, and infrastructure
Pallet picking is a standard pick and pack strategy across many industries. This system is a good fit for small businesses that have a high volume of similar or identical orders. As an extremely visual system, the pallet picking method often results in high accuracy rates.
There are two ways pallet picking can work. Full pallets are loaded onto forklifts and driven straight onto delivery trucks. The forklift drivers use handheld scanners, like the Zebra DS3608, to verify that the correct pallets are on the truck before distribution. While this is an efficient system, it requires hiring or training certified forklift operators.
Another method is floor-level pallet picking. In these instances, a worker uses a list of SKUs to pick from ground-level pallets. This is ideal for orders with smaller quantities than what a whole pallet contains. The worker picks up the items and delivers them to a packing center.
One of the biggest drawbacks to pallet picking is warehouse safety. Typically one or more forklifts are moving through the area where floor-level pickers are also working. Safety policies and procedures are necessary to keep everyone safe. Also, many pallet picking systems need additional support to replenish high turnover items from a backstock zone. This keeps pickers working continually throughout their shift.
- Good for small-sized items
- Visual system, higher accuracy rates
- Efficient for similar or identical orders
- Extra labor is needed to replenish high-volume items from a backstock area
- Forklift logistics for warehouses with vertical storage
- Higher floor traffic to pick and pack orders
Customize Order Picking for Your Operation
Each operation must weigh its options and choose the best pick and pack method for the greatest efficiency, accuracy, throughput, and safety. An experienced service provider can help you make the right decisions about the best method to use and the IT solutions that support it.
Contact us to learn more.
Sponsored By Zebra Technologies