5 steps to achieve stock picking optimisations that save time and money

Picture of Posted by Bill Denbigh

Posted by Bill Denbigh

January 10, 2023

Today, many organisations overlook easy ways to improve efficiency in stock picking. Some even come at no cost. In this blog we give you five steps to optimise your stock picking, followed by a look at technologies you should consider.

Why is pick optimization important?

At its core, efficient stock picking is about picking the correct order lines through your warehouse management system(WMS) with the shortest working time. More than 50% of a warehouse’s working hours are typically involved in picking, and the picking function accounts for up to 55% of a warehouse’s operating costs. As slow picking methods and picking errors damage customer satisfaction and company reputation, it is especially important to ensure that your organisation makes stock picking optimisation a top priority.

How to optimise order picking

There is no “one-size-fits-all” best practice for order picking. For most organisations, optimisation will come from a combination of the right warehouse layout, data management, smart technology and, most importantly, common sense. There are different ways to improve efficiency in stock picking, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. This is where common sense comes in, so read these five steps with your inventory management goals in mind.

5 steps to achieve stock picking optimisations

1. Analyse your customer and order profile

The first step in your journey to optimising stock picking is to think about your customer base and typical order profile. Both now and how you see it in the future. Is it mostly individual products, whole boxes or pallets that need to be picked? Do you deal with variants of the same product that may share location? It can be clothes in different colours. How you structure your warehouse layout and picking process will reflect how products are picked, and each scenario requires its own approach.

To accommodate different order profiles, you can have a full-pallet or full-case picking section that utilizes forklift or pallet jacks and another area for open cases where product is picked from shelves.

2. Examine stock classification

Given the size of many warehouses, picking can involve a lot of time spent walking around to pick up order lines from remote warehouses. Having a varied stock mix is often at the root of inefficiencies because it can take a lot of time to place goods correctly. Some skip this step because they don’t know how to go about it. Nevertheless, effective placement of the 20% fastest selling products will provide significant efficiency for your stock picking.

Fortunately, most warehouse managementsystems (WMS) include the business intelligence you need to manage your product placement based on the speed of sale of the product. Just avoid giving prime stock locations to the slow-selling products.

Place slow-selling products at the back of the warehouse or in a separate area that is not frequently visited. Keep track of how fast products move and organise your shelves and replenishment areas accordingly. Replenish products on a regular basis, but don’t do it too often (i.e. daily) because you’ll waste time constantly moving boxes.

3. Choose the correct picking method

Another important step when looking at stock picking optimizations is to choose the correct picking method. The advantage of warehouse management software(WMS) is that it automatically sorts orders into jobs for each picker, so each job uses the optimal picking method.

Batch Picking: an example of this would be a retailer with 50 stores, where each store needs to be sent the same goods, but in different quantities. Batch picking fulfils this in two steps. First, individual quantities for each product are consolidated to reflect the total number of required products delivered in a consolidation area. Then each store’s order is picked from the products in the consolidation area and packed into boxes. This helps to reduce the overall travel distance for processing all orders.

Group Picking: this option allows an employee to select multiple orders for processing. Group picking focuses on picking a total quantity and then parsing it out into the separate shipping containers by customer.

Picker-to-order/piece picking: this is a simple form of picking, and for that reason it is the most commonly used method in simple warehouses. Pickers simply select items one at a time until the order is complete. This strategy is ideal for smaller warehouses with smaller orders and a limited range of SKUs. This is not an ideal method for optimising warehouse picking as it involves significant travel time, making it labour intensive and an inefficient picking strategy for warehouses handling larger volumes or more complex orders.

Wave picking: similar to piece picking, but in wave picking orders are released to the warehouse floor for fulfillment in waves of planning windows. This allows orders to be prioritised and is often used to optimise picking and shipping operations based on pick-ups at specific times within a shift.

Cluster picking: a warehouse worker brings a trolley with boxes intended for several customers to a picking area and picks the products directly into each container.

Pick and pass/zone picking: this method, usually found in a mezzanine system, allows the employee to identify the boxes for picking in a single zone with perhaps five to 10 flow racks. The employee can then select the boxes in his or her zone and send them to the next zone. Pick and pass exploits group or cluster picking, typically for smaller orders.

4. Evaluate your hardware and storage

You can often save time by storing and picking your goods more efficiently. Are you using the right pallet rack positions for case-pick goods? Are you using the height of the warehouse? Can you use a mezzanine or shelving system to consolidate your slow-moving items to make better use of warehouse space? These are all questions you should evaluate when considering stock picking optimizations. It can also provide space for much-needed storage while reducing the walking time needed to pick orders.

The type of hardware you have has a direct impact on improving the efficiency of stock picking. You need efficient handheld terminals/smartphones so your software works optimally for the picker – minimise load time. You can also test different equipment like scanners mounted on a glove or printers on your belt to save time.

5. Calculate automation cost against labour cost

Finding the right balance for your warehouse is crucial when it comes to deciding whether to purchase automation equipment designed to optimise picking. Often it is cheaper to increase the number of hourly workers in the short run, but do the calculation 10 years ahead and remember to include the calculation for the better use of storage space if you plan to expand your capacity in that period. At some point, adding labor won’t help your warehouse due to lack of space. When you see that happening, it’s time to review automation or other optimization options for stock picking.

Invest in stock picking technology

The most popular technologies invested in:

Pick by voice: The pick routine is implemented as a conversation between the application and the user. The system prompts the user to go to a specific location and select a specific quantity of products. Once this is done, the user verbally confirms completion and moves on to the next task. Watch demonstration here

Pick to light : This technology uses light display to visually indicate the warehouse worker’s next pick location and the quantity to be picked. Picking trolleys can also improve this process by using a light to show which box to place the picked product in.

Warehouse automation : Both horizontal and vertical carousels (Goods to person) promote efficiency by bringing the product to the warehouse worker at picking.

Final thoughts

Improving warehouse picking efficiency is an essential part of modern warehouse operations. Warehouse managers should constantly look for ways to improve customer satisfaction while reducing operating costs to protect their company’s bottom line. The key to achieving this in the warehouse is to proactively optimise processes, especially stock picking activities. As a manager, you need to choose the right optimisation strategy for warehouse picking, design the warehouse, implement best practices for picking and invest in the right technologies and the best equipment.

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