Tips For Boosting Picking Speed

If floor space locations are at a premium, consider clearing out the old maintenance dumping ground or the front office trans-files archive area.

Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series on designing an equipment resistant distribution center. The first part appeared in the November/December 2006 issue of Food Logistics.

Beware the conveyor. Too often, large volumes of SKUs are placed in flow rack locations feeding to a conveyor pick, often using standard shelf sizes to maximize the cube. This is a great strategy but often backfires. Once you decide it's a conveyable pick item, you've engaged in linear picking with one order at a time being "throttled" through that pick line. You'll pick only as fast as your slowest picker.

This strategy may cause pick delays through zones, order backups and continual replenishment needs not being met. Often the better solution is a floor pallet pick at the beginning or the end of the pick line modules. This will streamline the work flow and may minimize the overall carton travel time and distance. You may be able to batch certain orders and induct cartons "mid-stream" with a redundant induction station for a select subset of SKUs. It will also minimize "in shift" replenishment.

If floor space locations are at a premium, consider clearing out the old maintenance dumping ground or the front office trans-files archive area. An "A" location is an "A" location in any area. Can you move any warehouse management offices into an elevated mezzanine area? Consider transitioning your most stagnant storage area into a high volume order picking module, or as I like to say, "Make your biggest weakness your strongest strength."

5 Ways to Increase Warehouse Picking Efficiency

If only 5 percent of your orders can be completed with the top 10 SKUs, consider establishing an entirely redundant pick module for those SKU's. For larger scale operations can a third redundant pick line work? A fourth?

Even on a seasonal basis, a second team of moderately skilled pickers can really boost your order cycle time performance. Again, avoid a "linear" or single treaded work flow mentality. Imagine major highways in your area during rush hour having only one lane open?

Worried about quality? What are the odds of even a new temporary working picking the wrong SKU when their pool is only 10 SKUs? If the products are seasonal, install some temporary skate wheel conveyors in front of pallets and have a senior picker drive the "speed" of the process by picking in the first zone. You may want a second seasoned person at the end of the pick line for a quick quality check before is goes to packing.

Improve Productivity, Reduce Costs

Here's my top 10 list for boosting your picking speed:

  1. Use end of the aisle floor space.
  2. Break floor pallet locations in "two" with a new cross bar or adding a second SKU vertically divided on a single pallet location. This will create a half-pallet floor pick creating more replenishment but will be more than offset by gains in picking productivity.
  3. Send emptied SKU cartons from the pick bins down the conveyor to avoid clutter. Have someone pulling and breaking those down at the packing or quality merges.
  4. Avoid re-handling. Pick into the shipping carton—not a plastic tote—and create a "one and done" pick process.
  5. Use in-line scales to perform quality control checks by product weight.
  6. Pre-label the ship cartons before you erect the carton or start the pick. They're easier to handle that way and maximize worker productivity while minimizing staging area requirements.
  7. After each zone is picked in a conveyor pick, continually rotate cartons on conveyors 90 percent to signal the completion of a workers picks within the specific zone picks to the next picker.
  8. Batch single picked orders to temporarily work zones in an unused or remote corner of the distribution center.
  9. Consider an in-line carton sealer and erector to boost the pick line speed.
  10. Maximize the use of casual labor to control costs.

Measure It

Challenge your team with some benchmarks before you start. Ascertain the percentage of SKUs you can now effectively pick with no power equipment. With a little imagination and team collaboration, see if you can't double that percentage. The long term dividends are an easy payback. With a little teamwork and some simple changes, you'll be amazed at the productivity gains without breaking the bank.