Want to learn how to improve your warehouse picking methods? Well, this article is for you. Listed below are some of the best practices that can be followed while performing the picking process in any Distribution Center

1. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

There are numerous steps business owners can take to improve the efficiency of the warehouse picking process. However, one of the leading strategies is the implementation of RFID tags.

To start off, this technology enables merchants to track items throughout the picking process, check them in and out automatically. This would bolster visibility across the warehouse and combine multiple orders effectively.

At the end of the day, this means pickers are completing orders quickly and accurately, processing more orders on a daily basis and getting items to customers even faster. There are fewer picking errors and more efficiency throughout the process.

Leveraging hand held RFID Terminals

Mobile technology with RED capabilities is deployed by many businesses to aid with the picking process. Orders will be sent to pickers’ RF devices and the employee will then be able to pick the item right from the shelf without having to return to another workstation to check it out afterward. Pickers could even use portable label printers to streamline the process further.

One of the core barriers of efficiency is the time pickers spend walking around the warehouse. They are often required to walk from a station that receives orders, out to the warehouse and back to check the product out. Hand held RF terminals can eliminate multiple steps from this process.

An optimal picking process using RFID technology

According to one report from the Warehousing Education and Research Council, the use of RF technology is considered a best practice for picking and packing orders.

The report noted poor practice as using “stationary terminals” and “systems [that] do not support transaction process well,” possibly using multiple systems with batch processing.

On the other hand, best practices involve the use of wireless RF terminals that are integrating into warehouse management systems to enable automated order communication to personnel.

“RFID technology is considered a best practice for picking and packing orders.”

These picking solutions should operate in real-time and leverage RFID tag tracking to improve the picking process.

The picking process is an area where many merchants can improve their operations, and using RF technology is one step toward that direction.

2. Follow Location Sequence for the Pick Path

When pickers pick travelling in a location sequence, the picking process becomes efficient for the reasons below

  1. Users don’t have to go to the same locations twice
  2. Users are not going in a zig zag manner, but instead following a streamlined path, hence there is no confusion in where the picker went and where he did not go
  3. While picking in location sequence, it is easy to skip picks if the inventory has not been replenished in the unit pick locations. Then after all the picks are picked complete, it is easy to go back to the skipped locations to ensure fulfilling orders after the replenishment is complete
  4. Sophisticated Warehouse Management Systems have the ability to configure the pick location sequence in multiple ways allowing different warehouse layouts to be easily accommodated

3. Use Zones

Establishing Multiple Zones, where a group of locations become a Zone. Dividing the pick locations into Zones and assigning pickers to specific zones contributes to even better picking process for the reasons below

  1. Pickers travel time is reduced, meaning pickers are confined within one zone, hence they spend more time picking instead of spending any time walking
  2. When pickers are confined within zones, then spend more time within their zone, so they become experts within their zones, they are specialized in their zones, so they are finding items at a faster pace within their zones

4. Track SKU Velocity

You can track your SKU Velocity through Classification A, B, C.

  1. SKU classification into A, B & C SKUs based on SKU velocity enables correct slotting of SKUs. Meaning, the SKUs that are fast moving or high velocity SKUs, which are often called the A SKUs are slotted close to the shipping area. Hence can be picked faster spending less time on travel
  2. Whereas SKUs that are moderately moving or moderate velocity SKUs are often called B SKUs. They are slotted moderately close and not very far from the shipping area, hence can be picked relatively faster, spending less time on travel to pick them
  3. SKUs that are slow moving or low velocity SKUs are often called as C SKUs. They are slotted far away from the shipping area, hence can be picked faster, spending less time on travel to pick them.
  4. Sophisticated Warehouse Management Systems have the ability to automatically mark the SKUs as A, B or C SKUs, depending on sales volume. Hence users don’t have to do anything extra to classify SKUs
  1. Sophisticated Warehouse Management Systems also have the ability to automatically create move tacks and assign them to the users, so these SKUs can be moved automatically from the Fast moving bins to slow moving bins depending on SKU

5. Engineering Labor Standards with Ergonomics

  1. What gets measured gets managed. There is a big difference in the behavior of operators, when everyone realizes that they are being measured and incentivized based on the amount of work they get done.
  2. Operators just don’t stand around anymore when they run out of work, instead they are not only much more pro-active in seeking work but also more engaged as a team and get a lot more work done
  3. When the motions that pickers undergo are measured, optimized for ergonomics and appropriate engineering labor standards are established, then targets can be assigned to pickers on how many picks they need to complete taking into account the nature of the product they are picking, the amount of travel they are doing and also based on the handling attribute at the SKU level.
  4. This also includes sharing the performance KPIs on a daily basis in some form of displays in a notice board or in a wide screen TV hence not only the process is transparent but also encourages certain competitiveness

6. Using Purpose Built Racks

Most warehouses (especially in developing countries) usually only apply methods used by their neighbors. They rarely look further and, hence, end up using the common options that may or may not suite their warehouse needs.

A simple example is the flow racks (shown below)

As the e-commerce market grows, many do not realise that the nature of loose picking is increasing greatly. That means, they would be pick smaller quantities but from a wider range of selection. Thus, pickers are having to walk around the warehouse even more.

A simple solution is to implement a flow rack instead of the traditional pallet racking.

While this is just an example, it’s also a suggestion for companies to look for purpose built racks.

Read more here.


7. Daily Cycle Counts

One of the most important factor that makes a huge difference in the operations is the inventory accuracy within the whole facility.

Maintaining a 99{528a46749d196be7df21540ff140c83acfb7bfa395f69b6580b6b804895671bc} accuracy rate within the building not only helps with improving operations, but also instills a rigor and discipline. We all know how life is so much easier and better when we find things in our home, where we always look. No yelling among the family members, no last minute searching and frustration not finding the things in their places.

Same thing applies to the Distribution Centres as well, when the product is in the right bin location and in the right reserve location, the pickers are not chasing ghosts any more, instead they focus all their time on picking.

Deploying a dedicated cycle count team as part of the 2nd or 3rd shift to count pick locations to make sure the inventory count is 100{528a46749d196be7df21540ff140c83acfb7bfa395f69b6580b6b804895671bc} accurate in the bin locations helps a lot to avoid chasing ghosts, especially during the picking process.

8. Multiple shifts with well-planned Replenishment

Understanding thoroughly, the dynamics of different processes and the dependencies of one process over another is crucial. This also helps clearly assign priorities and ensure the processes that other processes are dependent on get completed on a timely basis.

One such example is replenishments, replenishments need to be completed on time, in order ensure the pickers are not standing around and waiting for the product to make it to the bin locations to complete fulfilling their orders and/or cartons. Hence it is paramount to ensure the bin locations are full, before the pickers start picking.

It helps a lot to have a 2nd shift or 3rd shift exclusively just to complete replenishments hence no time is lost in completing picking. Also staying on top of these replens during the day helps complete picking on time as well.

Typically, there are 3 types of Replens, they are called Priority 40, Priority 50 and Priority 60, based on priorities under which they need to be completed. Typically, it takes a while for the operations team to get a handle on ensuring these Replens get done on time after the new WMS has gone live.


9. Gamification for Picking

Gamification tackles the challenge of making work resemble a game, so instead of doing the work with drudgery, boredom, and a sense of pressure or like a zombie, workers get interested and do better.

Gamification, done right, pushes people to new levels of engagement and makes work more enjoyable. Further, this approach transforms what is normally an extrinsic reward (business success or a bonus) into an intrinsic reward (meeting and exceeding clear goals, create a shared sense of community, and building a sense of enthusiasm).

Of course, extrinsic rewards work well in conjunction with gaming, especially if employees see an increase in pay for their efforts.


Thank you for reading. If you have any questions or would like to add on valuable details, please do comment below.