Back to Basic - Picking & Packing
Picking is about task execution. After running a wave in the WMS (Warehouse Management System), a list of tasks are generated in the system waiting to be carried out. When the warehouse operation decides to work on these pick tasks, the wave is then “released”.
Whether the warehouse operation uses paper or mobile device (commonly referred to as Radio Frequency or RF), the picking tasks should be system guided. This means picker follows the instructions given by WMS, walks to the chosen locations to pick the required items. The instructions from WMS include the sequence of the tasks, which mean “pick path”. A good warehouse management system should have the pick path feature, instructing picker to walk the warehouse in the shortest path and hence the productivity shall improve.
There are many ways you can strategize the picking activities. The simplest way is to “pick by order”, i.e. the picker goes inside the warehouse to pick one order. If you have a very big warehouse, you may notice that this isn’t a very efficient way.
One of the most time-consuming activities in a warehouse is travelling. So, you would want your pickers to travel less and do more picking. As such, logically it is better for a picker to walk into the warehouse with multiple orders, and when he walks out, multiple orders are picked (instead of just one order); even better if the picker can pack the picked item into cartons during picking. Pick and pack with multiple orders – in some systems, this is called “cluster picking”. A decent warehouse management system should have this feature.
How about eliminating travelling? Can the picker just stand there, don’t walk, and just pick? Of course! But to do that, you need more technologies such as pick to/from light or advanced warehouse robotics system such as an Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) system. Select a Warehouse Management System and a consulting team who has the domain knowledge to help you do so, interoperability between systems is one of the critical success factors for your business.
What is an Automated Guided Vehicle(AGV)? Watch the following video.
The automated guided vehicle is very useful if you are required to pick a lot of “loose” item, meaning if you are required to pick at “each” level instead of picking carton.
If your business requirement is to pick at the carton level, and you have a warehouse installed with selective racking, then you want the warehouse management system to behave differently to be more efficient.
There are other methods to organize picking, such as “consolidated picking” which basically means to group a few orders into one bigger picklist, so picker goes inside the warehouse once, and pick all the orders one time, and perform the final order picking at the outbound staging area.
Because pickers use different equipment, example hand pallet jack, man-up truck, reach truck, etc, so picking tasks should be organized and assigned to equipment best fitted to that task. For example, using a reach truck to operate at a ground location other than replenishment (see our next article) might not be desired.
A real warehouse management system (WMS) provides the flexibility in allowing you to perform picking tasks so to improve greatly in productivity.
There are always some exceptions to the above. For example, sometimes order picking is more efficient than other methods. If you are planning to procure a Warehouse Management System, it is best to also evaluate the implementation team, make sure that they have the domain knowledge to guide you in all the picking strategies.
Click here to look at some good warehouse management systems.
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