There are multiple methodologies used for picking orders in a fulfillment center, ranging from manually picking one order at a time to using fully automated picking systems. Identifying the right strategy will depend on factors including availability of labor, levels of technology integration, number of stock-keeping units (SKUs), and the physical size of the warehouse. In this guide, you will learn the most common strategies for picking as well as how downstream automation can work with any picking method.
Picking strategies for fulfillment centers.
Batch picking seeks out goods for multiple orders at once, selecting SKUs in batches that can then be moved to pack stations and placed into individual orders.
Cluster picking strategies collect SKUs for multiple orders at the same time while placing them into separate containers by order. Keeping items separated by their orders can reduce complexity at the pack station, helping make it clear where each item belongs.
Wave picking is a time-based picking strategy, where orders that have common characteristics, such as similar SKU contents, order times, or customer destinations will be picked within specific time periods to reduce traffic and complexity. Each “wave” is timed to optimize productive workflow within the fulfillment center.
Zone picking is a strategy that divides the warehouse and the SKUs within it into zones, with specific teams responsible for the SKUs that fall within their zones of coverage.
Discrete picking assigns one picker to one order at a time. After their initial order is fully assembled, they will move on to the next one in their queue. As the simplest form of picking, it is also very common.
Zone-Batch or Zone-Wave Picking
Combining the wave or batch picking strategies with zones, these strategies aim to further streamline the picking process by organizing travel for teams based on zones.
Pick and Pass
Pick and pass strategies divide the warehouse into areas where packers are able to pack SKUs based on their orders. The orders are then passed to the next picking area where the process continues until orders are filled.
Automated Picking Systems
Automated picking systems include robotic solutions that can streamline how goods move around the fulfillment center. These can take the form of automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) or even autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that can deliver goods to where they will be packed either by additional automated solutions or by employees.
Picking automation can be a valuable asset for increasing productivity and reducing human error within the picking process, however applying automation directly to picking is not the only method available for using automation to increase throughput in the warehouse in relation to picking strategies.
Automation enables a pick-to-shipper strategy.
In a traditional fulfillment center environment, it is common to pick goods into plastic totes that can then be transported to packing stations. A pick-to-tote methodology has packers move goods from these totes into the shipper containers that will be used to ship the orders to end customers.
However, the entire step of transferring order items into and from a tote can be eliminated by picking order items directly into the shipping carton, reducing manual touch points and reducing labor requirements within the fulfillment center.
This alternative strategy can be referred to as a “pick-to-shipper” or “pick-to-carton” strategy. Because of the labor and process step savings that this method provides, the obvious question is why is it not the default method for fulfillment, where so many are still reliant on the extra steps involved in picking to totes? We’ll answer this question, as well as enumerate the surprisingly easy to obtain benefits of a pick-to-shipper strategy.
Requirements of a pick-to-shipper strategy.
So, why doesn’t every fulfillment center pick directly into a shipper container instead of relying on the intermediate step of totes to move goods around?
The reason is because this solution requires upstream setup to work properly. Most importantly, the process requires that item material master data and accurate dimensions are available within the system before orders are picked to determine the correct shipping box size. The use of cartonization software determines each orders’ most space-efficient configuration and carton size to make sure that packages are right-sized for the products that they contain.
In other words, before businesses can enjoy the efficiency of picking goods directly into packing boxes, they need to lay the groundwork by crunching the numbers and calculating how to optimally prepare for, pack, and keep track of their products through downstream processes. Historical order data with item weighing and dimensioning master data allows Ranpak to use proprietary software to determine the site-specific, most space-efficient and optimized carton sizes.
Benefits of a pick-to-shipper strategy.
The benefits of picking orders directly into cartons start with removing the process steps associated with picking into plastic totes. The employees responsible for adding items into these totes and transporting them to the packing area can have their time reallocated to other areas of fulfillment. A reduction in manual tasks and their associated labor costs can also potentially reduce errors made at manual packing benches. By removing a step in the process, pick-to-shipper reduces the time it takes to ship each order resulting in greater throughput.
Another benefit of a pick-to-shipper strategy is the fact that it can work in tandem with any picking method within a fulfillment center. It doesn’t matter what picking methodology is used and if the picking process is automated or manual, picked to a regular slotted container (RSC box) or a half-slotted container (HSC box).
Pick-to-shipper can enable a goods-to-person (GTP) picking process.
A goods-to-person picking process refers to a process where goods are transported directly to a packing station via automation, helping to reduce employee travel around the fulfillment center and streamlining the manual elements of the packing process. When paired with a pick-to-shipper strategy, the goods can be immediately placed into their final container which can also be synchronized to their pack station. The end result is a dramatically improved throughput for individual packers with several automated touchpoints improving the ergonomics of packing as well.
How Ranpak can help you adopt a pick-to-shipper strategy.
Gaining the benefits of a pick-to-shipper strategy becomes a lot easier with the right integration partners. Because the integration of Ranpak’s automation solutions starts with gathering the master data for your organization so that we can make appropriate recommendations, this brings our customers to the point where they have the information they need to initiate a strategic change.
Understanding the picking process methodology in place and customers’ specific priorities will enable us to have a conversation on the site-specific process flow with the customer and recommend possible cost savings and throughput enhancements solutions.