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What is order picking?

Inventory| 6 mins read

Have you ever placed an order for a certain product, but ended up receiving the wrong one? If you have, then you know how unpleasant it can be. Every time a customer receives the wrong order, it adds extra work for the store to exchange the products, deal with refund amounts, and update stock levels. It also causes a drop in customer satisfaction levels, which is why it is every business owner’s responsibility to make sure that their customers never have to deal with this type of situation. This is where a solid order picking process will help.

Order picking is when the products listed in an order are retrieved from their respective warehouses. It is the first stage in fulfilling a customer’s order, and it’s essential that the process is flawless so that the remaining fulfilment processes—order packing, shipping, and post-sales activity—can also run smoothly. An efficient order picking process should be able to make sure that the right product is picked for every order. To understand better, think about shopping at a store like Costco or IKEA. In this scenario, you are the warehouse picker. You notice that you have items on your list that won’t be shelved in the same area, so you walk around to different parts of the store until you have all the products that you need. This is exactly what a picker does in a warehouse.

Although order picking may seem like a basic process, it actually costs a lot of money. Several studies show that out of all the warehouse processes, order picking accounts for the highest portion of operating costs, and according to a report from Georgia Tech, this portion can be as high as 63% of a warehouse’s total spending. This makes it one of the most important processes taking place in a warehouse.

Types of picking

There are three types of picking systems: piece picking, case picking, and pallet picking. Under these types are 5 different processes: single order picking, batch picking, multi-batch picking, zone picking, and wave picking. Let’s start by taking a look at each picking system:

Piece picking

Piece picking is when items are picked one at a time from a warehouse. This type of picking is commonly seen in orders that have many different SKUs but a smaller quantity of items per pick.

Pallet picking

A pallet is a wooden platform that holds an arrangement of products in a warehouse. Depending on the size of a pallet, it can hold one large item, or several smaller ones. So pallet picking is when one entire pallet of items is picked and sent to the packing area.

Case picking

Case picking is similar to pallet picking except here, only a part of the pallet is picked and sent to the packing area. This form of picking is used when there is a large number of SKUs with fewer items per SKU.

Now let’s take a look at the different picking processes:

Single order picking

Single order picking is when the picker picks one order at a time before taking it to the packing station. This is usually only used in smaller warehouses with low traffic. This technique can be used with piece picking, case picking, and pallet picking.

Batch picking

Batch picking allows pickers to work with multiple orders at the same time. The picker is given multiple orders to pick in one go and take to the packing station. This method is ideal for warehouses that deal with a large number of orders with a small number of products each. Batch picking is usually used with piece picking, rarely with case picking, and cannot be used with pallet picking.

Zone picking

Zone picking is used when a warehouse is split into different zones. Pickers are assigned to individual zones to handle all the orders that come from their section of the warehouse. Zone picking is best for warehouses that receive many high-volume order, meaning orders with a large number of items, and it can be used for all 3 types of picking processes.

Pick-and-pass

Pick-and-pass is like an extension of the zone picking technique. Here, an order is passed down each zone, until all the items or SKUs contained in the order have been picked. The pick-and-pass technique can be used with all 3 types of picking processes.

Wave picking

Wave picking is when pickers from different zones of a warehouse select the items for an order at the same time, and send them to consolidation. After all the items in the order have reached consolidation, they are sent to the packing station. This form of picking is also called order consolidation, and it is typically used by warehouses that need a quick process to ship multiple high-volume orders. Wave picking can be used with all 3 picking processes.

Automated Picking Systems

Traditionally, pickers used a paper picklist, which is a list of products required to fulfill a particular order. These days, pickers use automated picking systems, which can act as a picklist, display the best possible route to a product’s location, check if the item picked is the right one, and more. Take a look at these commonly used automated picking systems:

Pick-to-light

Pick-to-light order fulfillment technology requires a barcode scanner and pick-to-light LEDs set up throughout the warehouse’s racks and shelves. A picker starts by scanning a barcode that is attached to a shipping carton, which is a container that temporarily holds the items from a single order. Scanning a shipping carton causes the respective pick to light LEDs for the products of the order to glow. So the picker can basically just follow the light until they’ve got all the products for their order. Pick-to-light technology helps reduces picking time as well as labor costs.

Voice picking

With voice picking technology, pickers wear a headset that is connected to an order management system, and they receive instructions on where to go to collect the items for an order. This method increases productivity as well as accuracy.

Mobile scanner picking

With mobile scanner picking, all the products in your warehouse need to be labelled with unique barcodes. Pickers use a mobile scanner that displays the picklist for an order along with the location of each item. If the picker scans the barcode of item that is not a part of the picklist, the scanner notifies them of the error so that they can remove it. This error-checking gives mobile scanner picking a high accuracy rate.

Regardless of the method you choose, order picking is simply the process of pulling out the right products from a warehouse for an order. It’s the first step in an order fulfillment process, so if a warehouse gets the order picking process right, then they’re one step closer to reaching customer satisfaction. Depending on the volume of orders and the infrastructure of the warehouse, there are several different ways an order can be picked, and there is no one-size-fits-all method. Choose the right method for your business so that you can have a top-notch order picking process.

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