Choosing the right picking method have a huge impact on warehouse efficiency and productivity. The basic picking methods are wave picking, batch picking or zone picking. Most warehouses use one, or a combination, of these three methods.
- Wave Picking: Create a logical path through the warehouse and fill order as you travel along with the “wave.”
- Batch Picking: Follow the wave you’ve created, but combine several orders into a batch.
- Zone Picking: Designate specific areas or “zones” in the warehouse; employees pick only within their assigned zone.
Most warehouses use a combination of methods based on what makes sense for their product.
When the warehouse layout is designed and pick paths are drawn, the picking process may seem straightforward: Simply follow a logical path to pick items off the shelves, package them, and ship them out. In reality, it’s more complicated. Choosing the wrong method can have workers crossing paths, getting in each others’ way, and creating bottlenecks—in short, an inefficient and ineffective warehouse.
Choosing the best warehouse picking process is a function of several factors. The overall design of the space, the equipment available, the workforce, scheduling, the number of SKUs, and the product itself, all help define the best method.
Matching the Picking Method to the Warehouse
In a very small warehouse, every time an order comes in, order pickers can grab items off the shelf and carry them to a packing table where they’ll be wrapped up for delivery. It doesn’t take much growth to make this method obsolete.
Say the business has grown and now ten orders come in at a time. You can walk down the same aisle ten times, fulfilling single order on each separate trip. Or you can walk down the aisle once, picking everything for all ten orders along the way. At first glance, it seems obvious that the second method is better since it will take fewer steps, and therefore less time. But what if the items weigh 100 pounds each? How can they all be picked in one pass?
This simple example illustrates the complexity of picking the appropriate process for a warehouse. The larger the warehouse, the more important the method is. Warehouse efficiency hinges on having pickers and machines moving the shortest distances and, and reducing the number of times products are touched.