Order Picking is one of the most critical warehousing processes. It's just the nature of distribution and fulfillment that you generally have more outbound transactions than inbound transactions, and the labor associated with the outbound transactions is likely a big piece of the total warehouse labor budget. Another reason for the high level of importance placed on order picking operations is its direct connection to customer satisfaction. The ability to quickly and accurately process customer orders has become an essential part of doing business.
The methods for order picking vary greatly and the level of difficulty in choosing the best method for your operation will depend on the type of operation you have. The characteristics of the product being handled, total number of transactions, total number of orders, picks per order, quantity per pick, picks per SKU, total number of SKUs, value-added processing such as private labeling, and whether you are handling piece pick, case pick, or full-pallet loads are all factors that will affect your decision on a method for order picking. Many times a combination of picking methods is needed to handle diverse product and order characteristics.
Key objectives in designing an order picking operation include increases in productivity, reduction of cycle time, and increases in stock accuracy. Often times these objectives may conflict with one another in that a method that focuses on productivity may not provide a short enough cycle time, or a method that focuses on accuracy may sacrifice productivity.
Regardless of the type of operation you are running, accuracy will be a key objective. Virtually every decision you make in setting up a warehouse will have some impact on accuracy, from the product numbering scheme, to the design of product labels, product packaging, the design of picking documents, location numbering scheme, storage equipment, lighting conditions, and picking method used. Technologies that aide in picking accuracy include pick-to-light systems, counting scales, and bar code scanners. Beyond the design aspects of an order picking operation, employee training, accuracy tracking, and accountability are essential to achieving high levels of accuracy.
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