As the COVID-19 crisis continues to affect businesses all over the nation, warehouses are forced to find ways to increase efficiency due to an influx of online shopping and orders.
If you’re the person in charge of increasing efficiency at your facility, you’re likely doing some planning and research into the best places to start.
Let’s take a closer look at one specific area where many warehouses can use improvement – the picking process. Optimizing this system can help increase employee productivity, revitalize your inventory organization and help iron out overall issues in your warehouse operations.
Here’s how to begin enhancing the picking process:
Choosing the Right Picking Strategy
When it comes to overhauling your picking system, consider starting from scratch. Chances are, as your warehouse has evolved, the picking strategy that was implemented years ago is no longer ideal.
Choosing a strategy gives your warehouse the chance to customize the picking process depending on what works best for your floor and your team. There are several established styles of picking strategies that you can glean inspiration from, such as:
Wave Picking, which is designed so an employee can pick items to fill one order through one trip through the warehouse. Wave pickers also have certain scheduled hours where they can complete these picks, so as to not interrupt other warehouse processes like receiving or shipping.
Batch Picking, which is designed so an employee can pick items to fill multiple orders (in batches) through one trip around the warehouse.
Zone Picking, which is designed to assign employees to certain zones, where they are only responsible for picking order items in their zone.
Discrete Order Picking, which is designed like wave picking, but without any scheduled windows for completion.
Depending on the size, setup and organization of your warehouse, certain picking strategies may work better than others. For example, discrete picking may work if your inventory areas don’t intersect with your loading or receiving docks, and batch picking tends to be best for a warehouse that continues to fill orders with similar items.
As you review with picking strategy is right for you, you may realize there is significant room for improvement in the way your inventory and picking areas are organized.
Picking and Inventory Placement
Optimizing your picking strategy will inevitably lead to revisiting your inventory placement.
Where exactly your inventory should be placed is not a one-size-fits-all solution – it requires studying your facility’s layout and experimenting with potential possibilities that could help all of your teams on the floor – not only your picking employees.
Start by asking a few important questions, such as:
Is your inventory area encroaching on receiving and delivery zones or docks? Does this leave these two teams fighting for space?
How far do your products have to travel within the warehouse to get from their storage to the delivery zone? Does your process follow that path?
How many times do your picking employees have to double back on previous paths to complete an order?
Once items are picked, is there adequate space for said items to be packed to lessen the likelihood of them getting lost or left behind?
Are there teams on your floor that need more space than they have been allotted?
Are you not taking advantage of additional ways to store inventory? (Ex. higher shelving)
Before you start moving your pallets and storage shelves, though, it’s a good idea to use a scaled floor map of your warehouse to experiment with different configurations. This way, you’ll be able to choose one that’s going to work best for your facility before attempting to move potentially very heavy products or shelves.
One of the biggest ways to increase efficiency in your picking strategy is to analyze the amount of time your employees have to spend walking to complete orders. For example, if your most popular products are kept in the very back of the warehouse, on the opposite side of the packing and delivery areas, your warehouse is losing valuable time (and eventually money) by requiring your employees to spend so much of their shift walking for these products.
By looking at walking paths and times, you can get a better idea of how to refine the flow and direction of your picking team. Reviewing these paths might reveal “traffic jams” between your picking team that can easily be avoided by organizing your products differently or adding in scheduled picking windows.
As you review your walking paths, take a look at your order profiles as well. Are your most requested items easily accessible? Are less popular items taking up valuable storage real estate when they could be placed in a less busy picking area? Are you storing items commonly ordered together (ex. tape dispensers and tape refills) next to each other? Little changes such as these can amount to big wins when it comes to saving time and improving productivity.
Apart from choosing strategies and reviewing walking paths, two important assets to your new picking process are how your products are organized, and the tools you use to retrieve them.
As previously discussed, by organizing your products by certain variables, such as popularity or demand, you can save time by keeping those high-demand items closer to your picking team. Decide on the organization variables that are most important to your warehouse, and work from there.
For your pickers, there are several organizational options available to help them do their job, depending on the type of products you offer. For example,
If you work in creating small parts or items, such as bolts, screws or nails, providing bins for your picking team can give them a safe place to store picked products as they move throughout the warehouse.
Light-directed technology can help pickers quickly identify the items they’re looking for and the amount they need. This seems especially helpful for warehouses with smaller products.
Larger product retailers may find it useful to have their picking team use tote bags to carry items throughout the picking process, freeing up their hands.
Handheld scanners can help your employee ensure they’re picking the right items for their order, reducing the possibility of missing or wrong items for the customer.
To know what kind of organizational additions would be helpful to your warehouse, it may be useful to have a discussion with your picking team and ask what tools they need to do their job to the best of their ability.
Which brings us to our final step in improving your picking process:
Evaluate Your Material Handling Tools
After you’ve picked the right strategy, finessed the organization of your products and arranged your inventory to your liking, there still may be one thing slowing down your process – how difficult it is for your employees to move your products.
An industrial manipulator is a machine with a rigid steel manipulator arm that allows for complex pneumatic tilts and rotations.
For example, Dalmec industrial manipulators are often used when:
A product is too heavy for a person to move manually
A product must be moved to a location that is not easily or quickly accessible for a person to reach, like a very tall shelf
A person will be put at risk for injury if they move a product manually
A person will quickly fatigue from moving products manually
A high volume of products must be moved in a timely fashion
Through the use of industrial manipulators, you can further shave off valuable minutes from your picking process while cutting down on physically strenuous tasks for your employees.
It’s Time to Get Started
As warehouses continue to contend with growing demands of online orders, now is the right time to revisit old strategies to see where there’s room for further improvement. By reviewing your picking strategy, you can work with your floor teams to streamline your process and make it easier for your employees to do their job well.
If you believe that one of the tools you need to enhance your picking strategy is an industrial manipulator, Dalmec is here to help. Our customizable and adaptable tools are ready to revolutionize your picking process and your warehouse’s operations.