Picking is nowadays one of the best known terms in intralogistics warehouse management and refers to the order preparation activity that consists of receiving the order, as well as the combination of materials until the generation of the order. This process can be carried out in almost any type of warehouse and is developed whenever it is necessary to unify boxes, parts, materials or products for shipment.
Let’s learn more about what picking is and how it is carried out, as well as when it is interesting to automate this operative process.
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What is picking?
Picking is the activity of picking items for order preparation. This activity can account for up to 55%-60% of the costs of a distribution center. In general, the quality of the picking operation has an impact on customer satisfaction, business reputation and profitability.
The main characteristics of a picking activity and the related technologies are as follows:
Scalability: Possibility to scale easily and quickly.
Flexibility: Ability to respond to changing scenarios.
Accuracy and fast learning curve.
Reliability, especially during peak workloads (Black Friday, Christmas Campaign, etc.).
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What are the most commonly used picking strategies?
Single Order Picking
In this strategy, orders are picked one by one. Each picker or operator in charge of this process processes the order lines individually. This is the simplest picking solution, which involves low implementation costs. It is suitable for small businesses as it is considered a not very scalable solution because a notorious business development through the application of this strategy could end up generating excessive traffic in the aisles.
The learning curve for this type of picking strategy is usually slow, because the operators have to know the location of the products. In addition, product checks are not usually performed after picking is complete, which could result in order delivery errors.
This strategy is based on picking different orders at the same time by separating the various items into separate containers. The advantage of this type of picking is that the time required for the movement of operators is reduced with respect to Single Order Picking, with a consequent increase in the productivity of the process. On the other hand, the same disadvantages mentioned above for Single Order Picking also apply to Cluster Picking.
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In this mode, items for different orders are picked at the same time, but instead of picking them directly into the final container, the products are placed in a container common to all the orders being prepared. At the end of the process, the items are distributed among the various orders.
This strategy is recommended when a SKU can be included in multiple orders. Productivity, compared to Single Order Picking, is higher (more lines picked in the same time), since the time needed to reach the different locations is distributed among different lines.
However, the items need to be sorted a posteriori, which results in double handling. For this reason, Batch Picking is often associated with automatic sorting equipment.
Zone Picking of complete boxes
In this type of picking, each operator in charge of picking is assigned to a work area, where he will pick the units needed to complete the lines corresponding to that area. The travel time to reach the picking location is shorter compared to traditional strategies. Picking time for large orders is shorter, and the learning curve is faster.
This strategy is usually associated with automated conveyor systems and a WMS, Warehouse Management System, and therefore requires an initial investment.
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Zone picking with order sortation
This solution is used when the order requires picking of individual items (single units) instead of complete boxes. Order garbage cans are distributed at the beginning of the line and distributed to all stations that have the SKUs required for the order. As with full case zone picking, the operators still work in a dedicated area, with the advantages mentioned above.
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