A Guide to Warehouse Order Picking: Process, Methods & Types
The warehouse order picking process is one of the most crucial and challenging aspects in the vast and complex world of logistics and supply chain management. As the heartbeat of a warehouse operation, order picking ensures that products reach their intended destinations in an efficient and error-free manner.
In this blog, we will explore the world of warehouse order picking, exploring the processes, methods, and types that drive the heart of modern warehousing. But before that, it’s essential to understand the central nervous system of the modern warehouse, i.e., the Warehouse Management System (WMS). WMS plays a pivotal role in orchestrating and optimizing various warehouse operations. It tracks inventory, manages orders, and streamlines the entire order fulfillment process. With real-time data, analytics, and automation, WMS empowers warehouses to enhance productivity, accuracy, and customer satisfaction.
And with that, we are ready to dive into the different aspects of warehouse order picking.
Warehouse Order Picking: The Process
Order picking is the process of retrieving products from their storage locations within a warehouse to fulfill customer orders accurately and efficiently. The goal is to minimize errors, reduce labor costs, and maximize throughput.
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the order picking process:
- Receiving and Putaway: The journey begins when goods arrive at the warehouse. They are inspected, sorted, and, through a process called ‘putaway’, allocated to storage locations based on various criteria, such as demand and product characteristics.
- Order Generation: Orders come in various forms: online orders, wholesale orders, or bulk customer requests. WMS receives and prioritizes these orders based on predefined rules and criteria.
- Order Batching: WMS often groups multiple orders into batches to optimize efficiency. This minimizes travel time within the warehouse and reduces the number of trips order pickers need to make.
- Route Planning: The system calculates the most efficient paths for order pickers to follow within the warehouse. It can be a simple “pick by zone” approach or more complex methods like wave or cluster picking.
- Picking: Picking, as the name suggests, is the core of the process. Order pickers follow their assigned routes, locating products in storage and adding them to their respective order carts.
- Verification: To ensure accuracy, some warehouses use Serial Number or Barcode scanning or RFID technology to verify that the correct items are picked.
- Packing: Once all items in an order are collected, they are sent to a packing station. Here, they are inspected, packaged, and labeled for shipping.
- Shipping: The packaged orders are then sent to the shipping area, ready to be dispatched to customers.
Different Methods of Warehouse Order Picking
Different warehouses employ various order-picking methods depending on their unique requirements, product types, and volumes. Take a look:
- Single Order Picking: As the name suggests, this method involves picking one order at a time. It’s suitable for smaller warehouses or when order customization is frequent but can be less efficient for large-scale operations.
- Batch Picking: In batch picking, order pickers are assigned multiple orders to pick simultaneously. They traverse the warehouse and collect items for all orders within their batch. This method increases efficiency by reducing travel time.
- Zone Picking: In a zone picking system, the warehouse is divided into distinct zones, and each picker is responsible for picking items only from their designated zone. Once all zones are picked, the orders are consolidated. This method is efficient for large warehouses with extensive inventory.
- Wave Picking: Wave picking involves grouping orders by common characteristics, such as destination or product type. Pickers work in waves, focusing on specific groups of orders in a coordinated manner. This method balances customization and efficiency.
- Cluster Picking: Cluster picking combines elements of both batch and wave picking. It involves dividing the warehouse into clusters of similar products and picking multiple orders within one cluster before moving to the next. This minimizes travel time within a cluster while also helps in maintaining flexibility.
Types of Warehouse Order Picking
Warehouse order picking can also be categorized based on the types of products being handled.
- Piece Picking: This is the most common type of order picking, where individual items are selected from their storage locations to fulfill orders. Piece picking is often used in e-commerce and retail fulfillment centers.
- Case Picking: In Case picking, entire cases of products are selected to fulfill orders. This is commonly used in wholesale and distribution centers, where customers order products in bulk.
- Pallet Picking: Pallet picking involves selecting entire pallets of products to fulfill large orders or restock inventory. This method is prevalent in manufacturing and large-scale distribution.
- Batch and Serial Picking: In Batch picking, multiple units of the same product are selected together, while in serial picking, units of different products are selected sequentially. These methods are used when specific ratios of products need to be maintained.
- Cross-Docking: Cross-docking is a unique order picking method where incoming products are immediately transferred to outbound vehicles without being stored in the warehouse. This is often used to expedite the delivery of high-demand items.
The Future of Warehouse Order Picking
As technology advances, the warehouse order picking world is undergoing a significant transformation. Automation and robotics are becoming increasingly prevalent, with autonomous robots and drones assisting in picking and transportation tasks. Artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms are improving route planning and order optimization. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) has enabled real-time inventory and order tracking.
Additionally, augmented reality (AR) is emerging as a valuable tool in order picking. AR glasses can provide pickers with real-time information, visual cues, and directions, improving accuracy and efficiency.
As a heartbeat of modern warehousing, order picking ensures that products reach their destinations accurately and efficiently. With sophisticated warehouse management systems and various picking methods, warehouses can meet the ever-increasing demands of customers and supply chains.
As technology continues to evolve, the future of order picking promises even greater efficiency and accuracy. It revolutionizes the way we manage and fulfill orders in the dynamic world of logistics. By understanding the processes, methods, and types of warehouse order picking, businesses can optimize their operations and remain competitive in an increasingly demanding market.
Subscribe to our blog and stay updated!