Five Tips for Improving Order Picking Efficiency

Order picking is the process of retrieval of items from storage and shelving systems, usually to meet individual customer orders. Studies have found that order picking tends to be the most labour intensive activity in any warehouse. Order picking has been found to form as much as 55 per cent of the operation costs of any distribution centre, compared to the shipping, storage, and receiving stages which typically make up under 20 per cent of costs. Order picking efficiency has a clear and direct influence on the timely fulfilment of orders. While there are many complicated software and technology solutions and consultants who can provide professional advice on optimising your warehouse procedures, these practical tips can be used by anyone seeking to cut warehouses operating costs by boosting the efficiency of your order picking.

1. Routing and Layout

Reassess your routing practices.

  • How long does it take for pickers to travel to the storage area and back with the items?
  • Can multiple orders be picked simultaneously to reduce the number of trips?
  • Do your order profiles lend themselves to using a “golden zone” – all the fastest and high demand SKUs to be picked up at a specially designated storage spot?
  • Have you laid out your pallet racking and shelving to enhance access and routing?

The layout of your storage spaces can have a large impact on routing practices. Setting out specific pick zones for items that are commonly order together, product categories, business types, or order size can enhance routing and travel times. This will depend on your products and requires a thorough analysis of your orders.

2. Minimising Touch

Check your inventory handling practices and look for how many times an item is “touched”. The more often it’s touched, the less efficient your warehouse practices will tend to be, since it suggests that different people have had to direct their attention to the item and hence, more labour intensity. Solutions to this can mean introducing automated conveyor belt systems, re-routing, or re-designing the way orders are handled from start to finish. You might also rethink using multiple forward pick areas if introducing zones can minimise touch. This is an issue to be considered in view of your entire warehouse.

3. Golden Zone

Using a “golden zone” has been proven in studies to vastly improve warehouse efficiency. Setting out golden zones simply means you place fast moving SKUs close to order pickers, reducing travel times and labour intensity, even if your order picking process is largely automated. You can classify products or SKUs as fast, medium, slow, or very slow and set out respective zones for different speeds.

4. Other Storage Strategies

Other storage strategies can also boost efficiency. For example, slotting may improve storage intensity, reduce incidences of produce damage, reduce congestion and improve retrieval times. Storage strategies can be reviewed on a regular basis to align practices to changing seasonal demand.

5. Picking Equipment

Good picking and material handling equipment may not only enhance picking speeds, they can be essential to employee health and safety. From forklifts to lift jacks and hand trucks, picking equipment should be regularly maintained and staff trained appropriately for effective usage.

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