Order picking has been identified by researchers as the most labor-intensive and costly activity for almost every warehouse, accounting for up to 55% of total warehouse operating expenses. So when it comes to increasing warehouse efficiency, optimizing the process should be seen as a high-priority task with the potential to deliver significant results.
By optimizing your warehouse layout and storage allocation, choosing the right order picking strategy, and implementing modern tools and technology, you can accelerate this task in your warehouse – even while increasing accuracy and lowering your mispick rate.
In this blog, we’ll share our expert advice and best practices on how to optimize the order picking process in your warehouse.
What is Order Picking?
It’s the warehousing process of retrieving products from storage to fulfill a specific customer request.
The process for a typical warehouse includes:
- Receiving Customer Orders – The process begins when your business receives an order from a customer. Orders may be received in person, over the phone, or via digital channels like an eCommerce store.
- Accepting Customer Orders – Basic acceptance activities for a customer order include things like confirming availability of inventory and receipt of payment. These functions may be automated at the POS.
- Releasing Orders – Once an order has been accepted, it is ready to be picked. The order will be released to order pickers on the warehouse floor.
Once an order is received on the warehouse floor, an order picker will be assigned to travel through the warehouse and retrieve the necessary items to fulfill the order.
- Delivering Picked Orders – An accurately picked order can be delivered to the next stage of the fulfillment process, usually a packaging station where the order will be checked for accuracy and packaged for shipment to the customer.
<<Read our Ultimate Guide to Warehouse Operations Management to learn how Order Picking fits into the Warehouse Management Process>>
5 Order Picking Strategies You Should Know
Your strategy determines how you organize labor resources in the warehouse to retrieve inventory and fulfill customer orders. The larger your operation, and the more SKUs you carry, the more important it is for your warehouse to adopt more efficient methods.
Here are five order picking strategies you should know:
In Discrete Picking, each order picker is assigned one order at a time. The order picker travels through the warehouse, picking the items for that order one at a time until the order is complete. Once complete, the order picker can deliver the completed order to a packaging station and start work on the next order.
Discrete picking is the simplest and most easily implemented order picking strategy, making it ideal for smaller warehouses with a low number of SKUs. Discrete picking can lead to fewer mispicks than other methods, but it’s also the least efficient strategy for high-volume warehouses that process complex orders with lots of SKUs.
In Zone Picking, the warehouse is divided into physical zones and each order picker is assigned to pick all of the SKUs within a specific zone. When an order is received, the picking tasks will be divided by zone and may be assigned to multiple order pickers. As the items are picked in each warehouse zone, they are passed along to a consolidation point where the order will be assembled, checked, and packaged before it is shipped to the customer.
By assigning each order picker a specific zone of the warehouse, zone picking helps reduce overall travel time in the order picking process. The benefits are greater in larger warehouses with a greater number of SKUs.
In Batch Picking, each order picker is assigned a batch of orders to be picked at the same time. The order picker travels through the warehouse, visiting the storage location for each SKU on their pick list, and picking the inventory needed to fulfill their batch of orders. Once the items for the orders have been retrieved, the order picker brings them to the packaging station and starts work on the next batch of orders.
Batch picking works the same as discrete picking, but with order pickers working on multiple orders at the same time. Batch picking helps order pickers make the most of their travel time through the warehouse, resulting in a more efficient order picking process.
In Cluster Picking, each order picker is assigned a list of items to pick that may be needed to fulfill several orders. The pick list is organized such that the items may be found clustered together in the warehouse. Once the items have been picked, the order picker delivers them to a consolidation point where they can be added to the correct order.
Cluster picking helps reduce the travel time needed to complete the order picking process.
While other order picking strategies deal with how order picking happens, Wave Picking is a method that determines when it happens.
In most warehouses, orders are released to the floor as soon as they’re ready to be picked – either individually, or in batches. But when wave picking is implemented, orders are released to the floor in waves and on a schedule, only to be picked at specific times during the day. This schedule is usually optimized to coordinate with other activities and processes in the warehouse, including scheduled shipping/receiving.
Hybrid Picking Strategies
Hybrid strategies incorporate more than one of the above strategies to deliver an even more efficient order picking process. One example is Zone-Batch Picking, which assigns each order picker to a warehouse zone and has them work simultaneously on a batch of orders within that zone.
Wave Picking can also be deployed in conjunction with other strategies, so you can have Zone-Wave Picking, Batch-Wave Picking, or even Zone-Batch-Wave Picking.
6 Ways to Optimize the Warehouse Order Picking Process
Design Your Warehouse Layout to Minimize Walking Time
Order pickers spend up to 50% of their time traveling through the warehouse as part of the order picking process. To increase efficiency, we recommend designing the layout to minimize warehouse travel times. You can do this by:
Defining Your Warehouse Process Flow
Consider your warehouse operations process from receiving, putaway, and storage, packaging, and shipping. How is your space organized to manage the flow of inventory through those processes? How can you reorganize the space to make things flow better? How could you shorten walking paths for order pickers?
Optimizing Aisle Width and Storage Height
When storage aisles are too wide, space is wasted. When aisles are too narrow, they can get congested by staff and equipment. Aisles should be designed with sufficient space for order pickers and their equipment to work without creating an obstruction. Inventory stored at ground-level is more accessible for order pickers, but multi-tiered shelving is needed to optimize usage of the warehouse space.
Creating Cross Aisles
Long aisles in the warehouse often force workers to travel a lengthy route to a nearby item. Designing your warehouse layout with cross-aisles allows order pickers to “snake through” and save time when picking items from the middle of the aisle.
Organize Warehouse Storage Assignment for Efficiency
It isn’t just your warehouse layout that impacts order picking efficiency – it’s also the way you organize inventory in the warehouse.
Inventory in many warehouses follows a version of the 80/20 rule, where 80% of orders can be filled with just 20% of the SKUs available. By storing the most popular and frequently ordered SKUs in the most accessible areas of the warehouse, you can significantly reduce the picking time for most orders.
Other best practices include:
- Choosing the Right Storage Bins – Storing inventory in right-sized storage bins means that you can pack SKUs close together and pick orders more efficiently.
- Avoiding SKU Mixing – Never store multiple SKUs in the same container. When you do, mispicks become more likely and order pickers waste valuable time searching through the container for the right SKU.
- Clustering Related Items – Storing items that are frequently ordered together in the same area of the warehouse can help increase your order picking efficiency.
Choose the Right Order Picking Strategy
When it comes to choosing the right order picking strategy, there are two important points to remember.
First is that each order picking strategy has its own unique trade-off between complexity and efficiency. Picking methods like discrete picking and batch picking are fairly straight-forward, but advanced strategies like zone and cluster picking where orders are split into pick lists and reconsolidated downstream require software-based management and careful attention to detail.
Second is that the benefits of complex order picking strategies scale with the size of your warehouse operation. The more SKUs you carry, and the greater the number of orders you process, the more your warehouse will benefit from shifting to a more efficient order picking strategy.
Ultimately, the best order picking strategy for your warehouse will depend on the size of your facility, the number of SKUs you carry, the number of orders you process and pick each day, and the average number of SKUs per order.
Go Paperless with WMS Software
One of the best ways to increase efficiency is by moving away from paper-based warehouse management and adopting a warehouse management system (WMS) software solution.
WMS solutions digitize warehouse functions that are critical to the order picking process, including inventory management, order management, and quality control. Paper and pens are replaced by simple hardware like computers and barcode scanners, which order pickers can use to keep track of inventory, access their pick lists, and manage quality control to avoid or correct mispicks.
Today’s leading WMS solutions enable order picking efficiency with AI-driven decision automation that can generate route-optimized pick lists based on the layout and storage configuration of your warehouse.
Maximize Productivity with Mobile Warehouse Carts
Order pickers can use WMS to track inventory in the warehouse, manage orders, and optimize their picking routes, but efficiency is lost if workers must travel to and from a stationary workstation to scan barcodes or quality control an order.
Battery-powered mobile warehouse carts unlock the power of software-driven order management, allowing order pickers to receive pick lists, scan barcodes, and manage order quality at the point of task – no matter where they are in the warehouse. As a result, mobile warehouse carts help eliminate wasted steps and reduce mispicks in the order picking process.
Optimize Order Picking in Your Warehouse with the DTG Problem Solver Warehouse Cart
The Problem Solver is a customizable, battery-powered mobile workstation manufactured by DTG Power to support high-efficiency picking in the warehouse environment.
Our Problem Solver mobile cart brings people and technology together at the point of task, enabling speed and accuracy at every stage of warehouse operations – from receiving, putaway, and storage, to picking, packing, and shipping. Each unit is powered by our lightweight MPower battery system, featuring instant-swap capabilities that guarantee 100% uptime for your mobile warehouse carts.
Ready to learn more?
View the Problem Solver Case Study Video on YouTube to discover how a major electronics company used our mobile computer carts to eliminate wasted steps and accelerate the picking process.
Or Contact Us for a free virtual demo and we’ll show you why warehouse industry leaders like Amazon, DHL, and Home Depot trust our DTG Problem Solver warehouse carts to maximize efficiency.