In any warehouse, order picking – the function of retrieving goods/SKUs from their location(s) – is one of the most labour-intensive and costly activities, with about 55% of the operations costs going towards this single activity. Currently, with low growth rates, manufacturing companies are under pressure to reduce operating costs and preserve profit margins. In this scenario, making order picking a cost-effective activity assumes a large role in the economical growth of a company.
In any warehouse, order picking – the function of retrieving
goods/SKUs from their location(s) – is one of the most labour-
intensive and costly activities, with about 55% of the operations
costs going towards this single activity.
Currently, with most challenging market conditions and increased
competition, manufacturing companies are under pressure to
reduce operating costs and preserve profit margins. In this scenario,
making order picking a cost-effective activity assumes a large role in
the economical growth of a company.
Let us look at the various types of order picking to understand which
one better suits to your requirement.
Types of Order Picking
In this method, one order is picked one line at a time. In this style
of picking there are no scheduled orders and they may be picked
at any time during the day.
Pros: It is simple and is useful for fast order fulfillment. It can be
used for tracking the picker’s accuracy.
Cons: However, this method is not efficient as it involves high travel
time for picking.
In this method, pickers are assigned specific zones in the
warehouse and they are responsible for picking all SKU’s from that
zone only. Zone picking is ideal for situations wherein numerous
orders come in at a time.
Pros: As pickers are assigned discrete zones, there is less
interference with other pickers blocking aisles.
Cons: The method is not as efficient for warehouses where
customer orders are infrequent or few in numbers.
This is a combination of zone as well as batch picking. When several
pickers move through the zones picking up orders only from those
zones, they create a “wave” of simultaneous picking throughout the
warehouse. This type of picking is more appropriate for warehouses
with a great number of SKUs.
Pros: The individual sorting and consolidation is done later down the
line, more items of similar size and shape can be picked up in one
‘wave’, enabling a faster process.
Cons: For all the downstream sorting into individual orders, equipment
this might be expensive, depending on the size and type of operations.
In this system, multiple orders from the same product location are
picked at the same time, minimizing repeat trips to each location. It
is best used in situations where there is a dense concentration of
SKUs over a large area.
Pros: It is time-saving. Also, as most batch-picked items are usually
transported via carts, it is economical.
Cons: For large warehouses, it may result in overcrowding of carts
with multiple pickers getting in each others’ zones.
Warehouse Storage Layout
Existing picking arrangements
(pallet racking, shelving, Case flow systems)
Available order picking machinery
(pick carts, trucks, pallet jacks)
The critical factors in order picking
> Devise efficient processes:
The first step toward a productive order picking process is making
sure that the picking-and-packing process is well documented by
way of clear SOPs.
Review and fine-tune the documentation periodically to eliminate
inconsistencies. SOPs should ensure sufficient verification for each
step in the process.
Tips for manual order picking
> Reduce travel time:
The time taken by a picker to walk to different storage shelves in
the warehouse (the pick line) can greatly influence the order picking
Reducing the walking distance not only makes the process faster,
but also cuts down on errors caused due to fatigue in order
Some of the main things to do to reduce the distance for order
Picking from both sides of the aisle
Picking multiple orders in a single trip (batch or cluster picking)
Stocking slow-moving items on inside aisles
Introducing conveyance systems
> Use appropriate storage systems:
Using the right or most suitable racking for storage of the items in a
warehouse affects the efficiency of the picking operations.
> Implement slotting:
The system of grouping similar kinds of inventory in a given storage
space is called slotting. Items can be slotted together on the basis of
size, frequency of picking, seasonality, etc. Surprisingly, studies
show incorrect slotting of about half of the SKUs in a typical
warehouse, resulting in up to 20% reduction in efficiency of picking.
> Maximize floor level storage:
It is a known fact that order picking at ground level is more
productive than that at higher levels. Unfortunately, many
warehouses lack the space to store everything at ground level. One
way around this problem is to stock fast-moving SKUs at floor level,
keeping slow-moving ones at higher levels.
> Create Hot Zones:
Picking from more pick locations at a time, i.e. a higher pick (or hit)
density results in higher pick productivity. Therefore, it is a good idea
to set up ‘Hot Zones’ consisting of fast-moving items that generate
most of the picking activity in the warehouse.
> Reduce changeover time:
Operational studies have demonstrated that almost 20% of an order
picker’s time is possibly spent changing from one assignment to
another during his shift. This unproductive time should be eliminated
as much as possible.
> Design ergonomic pick areas:
Every pick location that is just a bit out of reach adds a little extra
time to the order line. In the long run, this adds up and can lead to
up to 5% reduction in order picking productivity and also higher
error rates. Having ergonomically well-designed pick areas will thus
add to the speed of the picking process.
> Invest in manpower training:
Experts agree that efficient warehouse operations – including order
picking – are a function of great team effort. To this end, regular
training and quality checks for warehouse operators is a critical
activity. Training pickers in using the most suitable and energy-
efficient methods of order picking and packing will save crucial time
and money. The monetary savings can be routed back to the
pickers in the form of incentives for efficiency and speed. In the
long run, these initiatives can reap rich dividends
Efficiency in order picking is critical to the operations as it determines
delivery time as well as order fulfilment accuracy. It also plays a
fundamental role in ensuring customer satisfaction and in the smooth
running of the supply chain.
Efficient and streamlined order picking is one of the most important
functions in a warehouse.
SILVER LINING is a leading intelligent storage solutions provider. If
you would like to create an agile, reliable and efficient warehouse or
reengineer your existing warehouse storage, please drop us an email
at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will get in touch with you.
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