September 2006 | How-To | Ten Tips

Improving Picking Practices

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Companies often think their picking operation is efficient as long as products roll out on time and customers are happy. But most picking operations in warehouses across America could use a re-organization, says John Giangrande, senior account executive with distribution software provider Fortna Inc. He offers these 10 tips to improve picking practices.

1. Profile your orders. Your most popular SKUs likely change with the seasons, so re-slot your warehouse to accommodate your business model, and review the setup at least once a year. This ensures that your "A" SKUs are in the correct storage media and physical location, reducing unnecessary travel for your order pickers.

2. Analyze your current picking methodology. Make sure your picking methodology suits your organization. Whether you choose single order, multi-order, batch picking with a single picker, or zone picking, the correct picking methodology is critical for optimizing productivity.

3. Use software to sequence orders. Sequencing your orders by pick path, and batching together single lines, same-zone orders, and difficult picks—such as non-conveyable picks—saves tremendous time on the DC floor. Software can help organize the workflow, and optimize system performance.

4. Create a warehouse within a warehouse. You can gain tremendous efficiency by grouping together the 20 percent of your SKUs that complete 80 percent of your orders. This cuts down on travel time for your pickers. Be sure, however, that the 80/20 area or zone is properly designed to accommodate high-volume activity.

5. Evaluate your storage equipment to ensure proper application. Placing slow-moving, low-cube items in bin shelving, and fast-moving items in carton/pallet flow—or other appropriate storage options—improves storage density and picker productivity. This also allows you to better utilize the DC's cube.

6. Create golden zones in your picking area. You can increase picking productivity and improve order picker ergonomics by slotting your fastest-moving SKUs in the waist-to-shoulder or golden zone area of your storage media.

7. Designate only two or three standard shipping cartons. With only two or three boxes to choose from—plus a few custom sizes if necessary—pickers will put orders together faster. Cutting down on sizes optimizes freight expenses and reduces corrugated spend. It also makes it easier to support a pick-path methodology.

8. Consider automation. Order pickers spend about 60 percent of their time walking product or moving product around. Consider an automated solution, such as conveyance, to reduce their extensive travel time.

9. Understand your technology options. Plenty of options are available to increase efficiency—including bar codes, RF, pick-to-label, pick-to-light, and voice-activated technologies. These technologies are designed to provide different levels of increased picking productivity and improved accuracy.

10. Implement an incentive program for pickers. Incentive programs can be extremely valuable to an organization. To ensure your program is effective, you must guarantee that productivity measurements are accurate, fair, and equitable.

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