Order picking is a critical process in warehouse management that involves selecting items from inventory and assembling them into customer orders. The accuracy and speed of this process have a significant impact on warehouse efficiency, customer satisfaction, and ultimately, business profitability.
In this article, we will discuss the importance of order picking in warehouse management and how speed and accuracy impact warehouse efficiency. We will also explore the best practices for improving order picking speed and accuracy, as well as strategies for integrating these improvements. Finally, we will discuss the future of order picking in warehouse management and the advancements that are shaping the industry.
Analyzing Current Order Picking Process
If your warehouse picks inventory for orders, then you are probably familiar with your order picking process. Even so, before implementing any improvements, it’s essential to analyze your current order picking process to identify areas of improvement.
Be sure to measure current order picking metrics, such as:
- Picking accuracy
- Picking rate
- Fill rate
- On-time rate
- Travel time
You may also need to evaluate other relevant inventory KPIs. For example:
- Inventory accuracy / error rate
- Order turnaround / cycle time
- Cost per order
And any other metrics valuable to your operation.
Once these core KPIs have been baselined, then you can identify areas where improvements can be made. Additionally, observing the process and collecting feedback from employees can provide valuable insights into areas of inefficiency and potential improvements.
Tools and techniques for analyzing the current process include:
- Time-motion studies. This involves analyzing the time required for each step of the order picking process.
- Process mapping. Visually map out the entire order picking process to identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies.
- Value stream mapping. Similar to process mapping, value stream mapping analyzes the entire value stream, from receiving raw materials to delivering finished products to customers.
Best Practices for Improving Order Picking Speed
Optimize Warehouse Layout to Reduce Wait & Walk Time
Minimizing travel time and distance is one of the most effective ways to improve order picking speed. Strategies for minimizing travel time and distance include optimizing warehouse layout, reducing the number of aisles, and grouping frequently picked items together.
Optimizing warehouse layout can reduce travel time by minimizing the distance between locations and reducing the number of aisles that pickers need to navigate.
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Focus on Productivity to Accelerate Speed
Improving order picking productivity is another way to increase order picking speed. Common strategies to achieve this involve implementing smarter picking methods.
For instance, optimizing pick routes or implementing batch picking are two highly effective ways to elevate picking speed. Arranging pick locations in a logical sequence to minimize the time and distance required to complete the order is a low-cost first step. Batch picking may require assistance from inventory software to enable picking multiple orders simultaneously.
Intelligent mobile software capable of streamlining pick paths with advanced picking methods like batch picking, wave picking, or multi-order picking, can be especially transformative in this area.
Other solutions, like pick-to-light or voice picking technology, are more expensive but worthwhile in certain high-volume operations.
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Best Practices for Improving Order Picking Accuracy
Order picking accuracy is critical to maintaining customer satisfaction and reducing returns and rework. To improve order picking accuracy, consider making changes to these areas of your operation:
- Utilize new technologies
- Procedure standardization
- New quality control measure
- Employee training and engagement
Implementing new barcode software that includes mobile picking apps is by far the best way to maximize picking accuracy to 99.9% and above. Although it may require budget to invest in a new picking solution, most mobile technologies include built-in best practices. Software automatically ensures procedure standardization, quality control, and validated data. Training can be up to 80% shorter for new hires than learning to pick orders manually.
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That said, standardizing procedures, such as using standard operating procedures (SOPs), can also help improve order picking accuracy by providing clear guidelines for picking and reducing the risk of errors. Standardization enables scalability and simplifies training.
Implementing quality control measures, such as double-checking items and verifying quantities, can also improve order picking accuracy. Here, automated data collection for scales, conveyors, and RFID can be useful.
Employee training and engagement are critical to improving order picking accuracy. Providing employees with proper training and engaging them in the improvement process can increase their motivation and sense of ownership, resulting in fewer errors. Confirming that they know how to use new mobile solutions will help workers reach full productivity as soon as possible.
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Integration of Speed and Accuracy Strategies
When implementing improvements to the order picking process, be sure to balance speed and accuracy. While improving speed can increase efficiency, it can also increase the risk of errors. Therefore, it is essential to integrate strategies for improving both speed and accuracy.
Strategies for integrating speed and accuracy improvements include analyzing data to identify areas for improvement, prioritizing improvements based on their impact on speed and accuracy, and monitoring performance metrics to ensure improvements are sustainable.
Again, mobile software is an effective means of optimization, since it can increase speed and accuracy by 30% or more.
Order Picking Case Studies
Case studies of successful implementations can provide valuable insights into the benefits and challenges of integrating speed and accuracy strategies.
For example, vitamin supplement company Life Extension implemented a mobile solution that enabled automated cycle counting and advanced picking. Directed picking and bulk picking functionality accelerated order efficiency and speed while also improving quality, visibility, and more.
In another use case, UAE food and beverage company National Food Products (NFPC) leveraged mobile barcoding to gain outbound visibility and speed in picking and shipping operations. The software also ensured these processes would confirm to FEFO (first expiry, first out) rules to prevent spoilage of finished goods.
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Future of Order Picking in Warehouse Management
Advancements in automation and robotics are shaping the future of order picking in warehouse management. Technology can improve both speed and accuracy by reducing the need for human labor and increasing the efficiency of the order picking process.
For example, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) can be used to transport items between pick locations, while robotic arms can be used to pick items.
For most operations though, advanced robotics are more science fiction than reality. Mobile warehouse software is a more reasonable alternative for most companies. Not only is mobile software cost-effective, solutions like RFgen are exceptionally fast to implement and can be expanded indefinitely with new capabilities.
The importance of data analytics and predictive modeling is also growing in warehouse management. Data analytics can help identify areas of inefficiency and potential improvements, while predictive modeling can forecast demand and optimize inventory management.
Implementing blockchain technology can also provide greater visibility and transparency in the supply chain. However, at present, blockchain remains out of reach for many since it requires buy-in from all members of the blockchain ledger to be valid. For now, this remains a barrier to wider adoption.
Finally, there is a growing need for sustainability in warehouse operations. Implementing sustainable practices, such as using renewable energy sources and reducing waste, can help reduce costs and improve efficiency while also contributing to long-term environmental sustainability.
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Don’t Overlook Order Picking Practices
Order picking is a critical process in warehouse management that has a significant impact on warehouse efficiency, customer satisfaction, and business profitability. Improving order picking speed and accuracy can result in increased productivity, reduced errors, and greater customer satisfaction. Best practices are essential to streamlining overhead costs and quality. Equally essential is finding a balance between speed and accuracy.
The future of order picking in warehouse management is shaped by advancements in automation and robotics, data analytics and predictive modeling, and the growing need for sustainability. Implementing best practices and embracing advancements can help warehouse managers improve the order picking process and stay competitive in the industry.