Unfortunately, the items our customers order can’t put themselves in a box and ship themselves (not yet, anyway). Due to this, we instead have to put together customer orders ourselves. But let’s be real for a second: we’re in the 21st century, which means that there’s got to be some way to integrate and automate this process, right? Of course there is. So we’re going to take a look at how you can integrate and automate your order picking.
What is Order Picking?
First off, what is order picking, exactly? Luckily, it’s fairly self-explanatory. Order picking is a part of the order fulfillment process where the individual items of a shipment are collected so they can be packed and shipped to their destination. Specifically, this involves collecting various items from the picking area and dropping them off for packing. One of the many components of warehousing, order picking is essential to the speed, efficiency and accuracy of your shipments.
As today’s businesses look to improve their warehousing operations, order picking has been identified as one of the areas where improvement is needed the most. This is due in large part to the general inefficiency of the process. Up to 70% of the picking process is spent walking, compared to only 30% of the time actually picking items. That’s a lot of time spent making very little contribution, which would be better served doing something more productive.
That said, that’s part of the reality of distribution centers and warehouses: they’re large spaces where the items you need probably aren’t going to be right next to each other. In order to reduce this issue and improve the productivity of order picking, the process is being integrated with and automated by warehouse management systems (WMS). If you’re wondering how you might be able to take advantage of this integration, you’re in luck.
Integrating Order Picking with a WMS
One of the best strategies for streamlining order fulfillment is to optimize your warehouse’s slotting. Slotting is the process of storing your products in the most efficient manner possible in order to make picking easier and faster. This generally involves placing the most popular items closer to the packing area, while leaving them spaced out enough to avoid congestion. Just as important is placing these items at a height where pickers don’t have to bend down or reach up to get to them.
Many of today’s WMSs include floor planning features that you can use to optimize slotting. By tracking how quickly your inventory flows through the warehouse, you can easily determine which items need to be placed in the most strategic (aka easiest to reach and find) areas. Once all of your items are slotted and your order pickers memorize the new floor plan, the order picking process will take less time and reduce the amount of time allocated for walking.
To further increase the effectiveness of slotting, implementing batch picking greatly improves the order picking process. Batch picking is when several customer orders “are picked at the same time to minimize repeat visits to the same product bin location,” according to Multichannel Merchant. So rather than making, for example, 20 trips per day to grab a popular item, you may only have to make 3 or fewer trips thanks to batch picking.
A WMS provides functionality that helps with batch picking as well. Rather than going through a manual process of deciding which orders should be picked together, a WMS can automatically group all of your orders in the most efficient manner. As such, orders that include either the same items or items that are located next to each other are picked together, improving the productivity of your order pickers.
Yes, picking robots are really a thing, and they’re eliminating the need for manual order picking. As we discussed earlier, one of the biggest problems with today’s order picking methods is the time wasted by walking. This isn’t your order pickers’ fault — it’s just the reality of a warehouse.
This is why automated order picking systems are the way of the future. Robots can speed up the picking time for sales order by calculating the optimal route in an instant. They can then do the actual picking by collecting items and delivering them to the packing area.
Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), these robots can be managed and controlled by your warehouse management system. With this feature, you can collect and analyze data about how efficient your robotic order pickers are. In addition, you can set various priorities and conditions if you need to, such as requiring that certain items of customer orders are picked first.
Quicker Picking, On-Time Delivery and Happier Customers
The formula is pretty straightforward: faster order picking leads to more shipments arriving on time and, in the end, happier customers. And that’s what we’re all striving for, isn’t it? After integrating your order picking processes with a WMS, you’ll wonder how you ever did it manually.
Know of any other ways that businesses can integrate order picking with a warehouse management system? Let us know below.