Examples of effective warehouse picking strategies

Warehouse order picking is the method of locating and extracting products from a warehouse to fulfill your customer orders. There are several effective warehouse picking strategies for maximising efficiency, reducing errors, and ensuring timely order fulfillment, ultimately enabling you to streamline your warehouse operations.

Effective Picking Strategies (EPS) refers to a set of methodologies and techniques designed to optimise the picking process in a warehouse or distribution centre. EPS can significantly impact overall warehouse performance by reducing order fulfillment times, minimising errors, and maximising throughput. By implementing a combination of optimised warehouse layouts, efficient picking methods, cutting-edge technology, and continuous process improvements, businesses can streamline their picking operations to achieve higher productivity levels and enhance customer satisfaction.

Two warehouse workers picking orders in warehouse

Choosing the right picking strategy for your business involves evaluating various factors to determine which strategy aligns best with your operational needs, resources, and goals. Here's a quick guide to help you make an informed decision:

1. Know your business: Understand order volume, SKU diversity, and operational constraints.
2. Analyse orders: Look at order frequency, size, SKU popularity, and deadlines.
3. Evaluate warehouse: Consider layout, shelving, and physical constraints.
4. Tech & automation: Assess options like pick-to-light, voice picking, and WMS.
5. Assess labour: Evaluate available labour, skills, and training needs.
6. Calculate costs: Estimate expenses and ROI for each strategy.
7. Test & pilot: Conduct trials to evaluate effectiveness and gather feedback.
8. Monitor & adapt: Track performance, analyse data, and adjust as needed.

Let’s look at some of the commonly used traditional order picking strategies.

Batch Picking

Batch picking is a warehouse picking method where multiple orders are grouped together, and items for these orders are picked simultaneously in a single trip through the warehouse. Pickers consolidate items into batches, reducing trips and increasing efficiency. This method saves time, reduces labor costs, and improves accuracy by grouping similar items together for picking.

Zone Picking

Zone picking is a warehouse picking strategy where the warehouse is divided into zones, and each picker is assigned to a specific zone. Pickers are responsible for picking items only within their designated zone. This method improves efficiency by reducing travel time and allows pickers to specialize in their assigned areas, leading to faster and more accurate picking.

Wave Picking

Wave picking is a warehouse picking strategy where multiple orders are grouped into waves, and pickers are assigned to pick items for these orders in sequential waves. Each wave represents a specific time period or batch of orders to be picked. This method improves efficiency by allowing for batch processing and better coordination of resources while providing flexibility in managing order priorities and deadlines.

Cluster Picking

Cluster picking is a warehouse picking strategy where items for multiple orders are grouped together based on their proximity within the warehouse. Unlike batch picking, where items for multiple orders are picked simultaneously, cluster picking involves picking items for multiple orders in a specific area or cluster of the warehouse. This reduces the number of trips needed to fulfill multiple orders and increases picker efficiency.

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The role of technology in warehouse picking strategies

Technology has revolutionised modern warehouse picking strategies, significantly enhancing efficiency, accuracy, and overall productivity. Various technologies to streamline picking processes, improve inventory management, and optimise overall warehouse operations include:

> Pick-to-Light systems - Use light displays or indicators at pick locations to guide pickers to the correct items. Pickers simply follow the lights to locate and pick the required items, reducing errors and improving accuracy.

> Voice Picking - Pickers wear headsets connected to a voice-directed picking system. The system provides verbal instructions to pickers, directing them to the correct locations and quantities of items to pick. This hands-free approach improves accuracy and productivity.

> RFID technology - Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags are placed on inventory items and with RFID readers used to track item locations in real-time. This allows for more accurate inventory management and can streamline the picking process by providing precise item location information to pickers.

> Barcode scanning - Handheld barcode scanners or mobile devices equipped with scanning capabilities enable pickers to quickly scan item barcodes, verify quantities, and update inventory records in real-time, reducing errors and improving efficiency. Barcode scanning technology is widely used in warehouse picking to identify and track items accurately.

> Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) - Using AGVs to transport picked items from picking locations to packing or shipping areas. AGVs can operate autonomously or be guided by a central system, reducing the need for manual transportation and improving overall efficiency.

> Augmented Reality (AR) - AR technology overlays digital information onto the physical environment, providing pickers with visual instructions and information directly within their field of view. AR-enabled picking systems enhance picker accuracy and efficiency by providing intuitive visual cues, reducing training time, and improving task execution.

Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) in warehouse picking orders

How to improve warehouse picking rate?

Improving your warehouse pick rate means making your picking process faster and more accurate. Improving warehouse picking rates is crucial for optimising operational efficiency and meeting customer demands. From strategic placement of inventory to the utilisation of advanced picking technologies and ongoing training initiatives, a comprehensive approach to improving warehouse picking rates involves careful analysis, thoughtful planning, and a commitment to driving operational excellence.

EPS aims to improve efficiency, accuracy, and productivity in picking operations, ultimately enhancing overall warehouse performance. While there isn't a standard definition or specific framework universally referred to as EPS, it typically encompasses various strategies and best practices tailored to the specific needs and constraints of each warehouse environment.

Here are some effective ways to improve your warehouse pick rate:

> Use the right tools & technology - Utilising the right tools will help you improve performance. Implement picking technologies such as pick-to-light systems, voice picking systems, or RF scanners to improve accuracy and speed up the picking process. These technologies provide real-time guidance and instructions to pickers, reducing errors and increasing efficiency.

It’s imperative to pick strategies matched with techniques that allow you to work better. So, make use of advanced technology and tools that have cutting-edge features to increase production and execution quality. 

> Optimise warehouse layout - Understand the core basics and flows of your warehouse and arrange your warehouse layout strategically to minimise picker travel time between pick locations. Group frequently picked items together and ensure popular items are easily accessible.

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What is Robotic Picking Strategy?

A Robotic Picking Strategy involves the use of robotic systems to automate the picking process. These robots, often referred to as autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) or robotic picking systems, are designed to navigate the warehouse environment, identify items to be picked, and transport them to designated locations for packing.

A Robotic Picking Strategy harnesses the power of robotics and automation to optimise the picking process, increase efficiency, and improve accuracy in warehouse operations. By integrating robotic picking systems into operational workflows, warehouses can achieve greater productivity, scalability, and safety while meeting the demands of today's fast-paced supply chain environment.

What are the benefits of using the Robotic Picking Strategy? 

> Increased Efficiency - Robotic picking systems can work around the clock without fatigue, leading to increased picking throughput and improved efficiency in warehouse operations.

> Accuracy - By leveraging advanced vision systems and artificial intelligence, robotic picking systems can achieve high levels of accuracy in identifying and picking items, reducing errors and minimizing order fulfillment mistakes.

> Scalability - Robotic picking systems can easily scale to accommodate fluctuating demand and seasonal peaks without the need for additional human labor, making them well-suited for dynamic warehouse environments.

> Safety - By automating repetitive and physically demanding picking tasks, robotic picking systems can help reduce the risk of workplace injuries and improve overall safety in the warehouse.

Warehouse picking and packing best practices

Warehouse picking and packing are critical aspects of order fulfillment in warehouse operations. Implementing best practices in these areas can help streamline operations, improve efficiency, and enhance customer satisfaction.

By implementing these warehouse picking and packing best practices, warehouses can optimize their operations, improve efficiency, and deliver a better overall experience for customers:

> Optimised layout - Arrange inventory strategically to minimize travel time.

> Use picking technologies - Employ pick-to-light, voice picking, or barcode scanning for accuracy and speed.

> Batch and Zone Picking - Group similar orders and assign pickers to specific zones.

> Slotting optimisation - Place fast-moving items in easily accessible locations.

> Training - Provide comprehensive training on efficient techniques and technology use.

> Quality control - Implement checks to ensure accuracy throughout the process.

> Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) - Develop and document standard operating procedures for consistency.

> Packaging efficiency - Use appropriately sized packaging to minimise waste.

> Order consolidation - Combine items from multiple orders to reduce shipping costs.

> Continuous improvement - Regularly review processes and solicit feedback for ongoing optimisation.

By implementing strategies such as optimised warehouse layouts, leveraging technology solutions, utilising efficient picking methods like batch picking or zone picking, and prioritising continuous improvement efforts, warehouses can streamline picking operations and achieve higher levels of efficiency, accuracy, and productivity. Furthermore, investing in staff training, fostering a culture of innovation, and adapting strategies to meet evolving business needs are key factors in ensuring long-term success.

For more information on how to optimise your picking strategies, contact the uTenant solutions team for a complimentary chat.

Updated: 27 February 2024