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Order Picking Methods Impact Warehouse Productivity

The Order Picking Methods You Use Can Impact the Productivity of Your Warehouse

The team at ProCat Distribution Technologies are experts in order picking. They have over 150 years of experience working with distribution centers to maximize performance. In 2008, ProCat created and introduced the PickRight solution, which improves order picking accuracy and productivity and allows distribution centers to implement paperless picking. PickRight was developed to allow different order picking methods and pick processes to be implemented in a building to meet the unique needs of the various products that may be flowing through the building.


Scrutinizing Order Picking Methods for Your Warehouse

When looking to improve the performance of your distribution center, order picking is a logical area to scrutinize because it is such a core function and accounts for approximately half of the overall expenses in the warehouse. It also directly impacts customer order quality and all the costs associated with preventing and correcting picking errors. Order quality plays a critical role in customer satisfaction. Improvements in the picking arena can result in huge dividends for organizations.

ProCat has compiled a summary of 7 commonly used order picking methods and when it makes sense to use each method. Analyzing your order profile, SKU commonality, and overall warehouse goals, can help determine which picking method is best for your operation. You may need to use more than one picking method to optimize efficiency.


 Picking Method  Description
Basic Picking Picking one work order at a time. Picker walks a pick path and puts items into container for a single store.
Batch Picking Picking multiple orders simultaneously.   A group of work assignments get picked concurrently by one picker.
Consolidated Pallet Picking Picker is prompted with predefined work assignment (may be multiple orders) specific to a pallet.
Double Pallet Picking Picker is prompted with work assignment for 2 pallets (may be multiple orders) to be picked concurrently.
Zone (Pick & Pass) Picking Primarily for repack operations.  Pickers are assigned to a range of pick locations.   Ranges can be fixed or floating.  The container travels along a conveyor to adjacent pick zones.
Wave Picking Sequencing of work assignments (may be multiple orders) based on criteria other than a single truck route.
Team Picking Multiple pickers picking one work order.


Basic Order Picking

Basic picking is the most common pick method being used in smaller warehouses with low order counts and moderate to high picks per order. While this method may be simple for the picker to follow, the downside is the picker is required to travel the warehouse for each order. Walking time is heightened with this approach, which reduces productivity.

Batch Order Picking

Batch picking is an attractive option for operations with high order volume. It is effective for operations with full case picking and operations with repack picking, provided the picking software can support it. Instead of walking the pick path once for each assignment, as in basic picking, in batch picking the picker picks several orders concurrently each time they travel the pick path. Batch picking results in more dense picking and less steps between picks. It dramatically reduces walking time and results in higher productivity. Batch picking can be particularly helpful when there is a significant picking distance for the pickers to walk. Are you facing the challenge of receiving more orders with smaller quantities? To address these smaller piece orders, combining orders into one travel distance for the picker via batch picking can help. Batch picking requires software that can integrate with the host system to logically group work assignments while maintaining any required sequencing.

Consolidated Pallet Order Picking

Consolidated pallet picking is helpful in full case operations where the order profile is generally less than one pallet per customer. For consolidated pallet picking, the software groups customer orders into pallets based on product cube. The work assignment is for a full pallet of product that can be picked and loaded. Some software is sophisticated enough to pick the heavy products for the pallet in stop sequence and then batch the lighter products on the top of the pallet. This increases the travel for the selector but prevents the driver from needing to sift through the pallet to find the products for each stop. Heavy products are arranged on the pallet by customer.

Double Pallet Order Picking

Using double pallet picking, the selector picks two pallets of product for each work assignment they complete.  This process is similar to consolidated pallet picking except the software tells the selector to place the product they are picking on either the front or back pallet. This process requires double pallet picking equipment, but will further increase picker productivity. The increase in productivity is a result of making double the number of picks in each pass of the warehouse.

Zone Order Picking

Zone Picking is an option for companies that do not want to batch pick. Reasons for not implementing batch picking include software limitations, lack of confidence in the picking staff or order profiles. Using zone picking, each picker is picking one order at a time. Like batch picking, zone picking is most appropriate for repack operations.  Zone picking can be done in either fixed zones or floating zones.

In the fixed zone process, pickers are assigned to specific zones and never leave them. With this process, if the pickers do not complete their zones at the same time, one picker may become underutilized. This can be problematic when orders vary greatly in size.

In the floating zone process, the picker in one zone will pick until he or she meets up with the picker in the next zone, improving productivity. With this approach, no picker is waiting for another to finish. This process does require cooperation between the picking team members.

Zone picking is more efficient than basic picking because it reduces the steps that the pickers are making with every assignment. Additionally, the pickers become experts and efficient within their zones.

Wave Order Picking

Wave picking allows orders to be picked in a sequence other than route and stop. Companies dispatching a large number of trucks may want to put more labor on the loading dock and load multiple trucks at the same time.  Wave picking allows assignments to be released in a sequence such as first order to be loaded on truck 1, then truck 2, then truck 3. Then second order for truck 1, then truck 2, then truck 3 and so on. Wave picking is frequently used with sortation systems and can be effective in large, high-volume operations.

Team Order Picking

Team picking may be appropriate in operations where there is one work assignment per order and the order covers a large area.  Team picking is also appropriate for picking unusually large orders.  With team picking, the pickers are able to pick the same work assignment at the same time without duplicating the items picked.

Operations can be limited by the software a company uses. These limitations are typically the primary factor that dictates which order picking method companies use. PickRight by ProCat can help companies overcome these limitations and allow significant improvement in an operation. PickRight is highly scalable and can support picking operations in the convenience, foodservice, hardware, and electrical industries among others. Contact us to learn more about using our technology to improve the accuracy and productivity in your operation or to learn about our suite of solutions for distribution centers. Contact ProCat at 866-776-2285.