Rising Prices Steel Extended Lead Times

For several months now, the steel market has experienced unprecedented volatility. Prices have tripled, demand is sky-high, supply is relatively low, and the result is striking the warehousing industry by causing delays and sticker shock on new warehouse equipment and construction projects.

As a real-world example, companies placing new steel orders could traditionally expect prices around $35 per hundred pounds of steel, with a lead time around six to eight weeks. That same steel order may now cost over $80 per hundred pounds of steel with a 24-week lead time in today’s environment. Part of the lead time delays are caused by the economy booming, and most facilities are busy, but the steel market has limited capacity to supply additional material to be available. On some of the larger projects underway, the prices have jumped by the millions of dollars, putting decision-makers in an untenable situation.

In some respects, this condition can be easily understood in an “Economics 101” sense: Supply is low, demand is high, so prices rise. We have seen that all before as part of a normal business cycle. However, the unique element in today’s economic situation is how long the prices have been high and how high they have reached.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and, while this level of volatility could not entirely be anticipated, it does beg the question: what are you doing to protect yourself from being at the mercy of a volatile market? How can you protect your operations from having to react to rising prices and extended lead times?

What Can Be Done to Hedge Against Rising Prices and Extended Lead Times?

Find a Partner with the Right Partners. When sourcing new warehouse equipment, we strategically partner with multiple different pallet rack and shelving manufacturers and conduct a sizeable business with each. Because we are among the largest purchasers of new warehouse equipment in the United States, we have developed several relationships, sources, and options to leverage our ability to help customers find the best fit for their needs. This approach can help skirt those lead times, issues with higher prices, and – in some cases – both.

Find a Partner Who Can Leverage Unmatched Manufacturer Partnerships. Because we have built long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with some of the largest pallet rack, shelving & mezzanine manufacturers in the USA, we have established foundational relationships that give us a dedicated production capacity to help fill the volume of orders we place each month.

In the current environment, almost every rack supplier is looking at 12-to-14 weeks or longer on any new equipment order (when, in regular times, typical wait times are around 6-to-8 weeks). In the right situation, we can leverage our orders to fit as quickly as a 5-to-6-week lead time, expediting that timeline by nearly half.

Find a Partner That Stores New Warehouse Equipment On-Hand. Besides sourcing new material for our customers, we have a 330,000 square foot warehouse based out of central Indiana that houses a good amount of new warehouse equipment. We typically stock uprights, beams, wire decking, and plenty of other options that work great for our partners when lead times don’t match our customers’ project timelines.

Find a Partner That Sources Used Material as Well. Not only do we store new warehouse equipment at our facility, but we also store and actively source quality preowned warehouse equipment as well. We have a Used Package portion of our website dedicated to larger orders of compatible equipment that showcases a good array of the products we source and store, which typically includes many popular manufacturer styles. If you are looking to sell your used equipment, you should know that we’re always looking to buy! (link to Buy Back form).

Find a Partner That Can Develop Creative Warehouse Solutions. Because of the current state of the steel market, the Storage Solutions team has been especially creative in terms of solving our clients’ challenges. Customers are more interested in holding onto their current material and re-using what they already have, so we are routinely developing project plans to keep them operational while re-applying as much material as possible. Even with companies conducting multiple facility moves, we can figure out a program from a logistics or planning perspective.

What is the Next Step?

If you are experiencing a situation where your project is beset by overwhelmingly high prices or equally challenging lead times, give us a call. We can learn about the challenges that face your business and develop solutions that support your short-term needs during times like this.

If you deal with extended lead times and do not have the luxury to push out the completion date or make massive budget adjustments, we can step in as a potential project partner. We have experts on our staff that can provide more material sourcing options and create a more dynamic project plan or design project initiatives to keep your operations running while the installation occurs.

National Safety Month

Each year, June is designated as National Safety Month®, an observation of safety and injury prevention across all industries in the United States. Administered by the National Safety Council (NSC), the month is a reminder to examine processes and procedures within your organization.

This year, the NSC is focusing on four topics throughout the month, putting a spotlight on mental health, ergonomics, building a safety culture, and driving. Through their website and social media, they will also produce materials including educational articles, infographics, videos, and more, along with posting free collateral on their website.

Storage Solutions will also be participating with a focus on safety in warehouses and distribution centers. That increased awareness of safety products and procedures will include both for your workers, but for your equipment too.

We will also feature information on products and services offered through our partners that serve to increase safety by reducing opportunities for accidents and injuries within a warehouse setting. Some of the products and features will also help adjust to a post-COVID-19 working environment.

As you continue to read and interact with stories this month, we encourage you to adopt a “safety-first” mindset throughout the year. Whether you need safety supply or service, we are here to help you make your facility not only move product as quickly as possible, but as safely too.

For more information on our safety solutions, click here.

Omnichannel Micro-fulfillment Blog

No matter what business line, when a segment of the industry doubles in scope, decision-makers need to take notice. According to research from eMarketer, e-commerce in the U.S. and Canada has seen a 129% year-over-year growth from April 2019 to April 2020. A study by Shopify expects e-commerce sales to reach $4.2 trillion by the end of the year.

Consumer behavior is changing, and each aspect of the retail supply chain needs to adapt. “Doing what always has been done” is not a sustainable strategy during a time of rapid change. In adapting to e-commerce, warehouses and distribution centers are combating SKU proliferation and shorter cycle times, combined with different pick processes required to meet increased consumer expectations. Without adapting, it can be challenging to get products out the door.

So, how can these businesses adapt?

Omnichannel Fulfillment Strategies

Before the rise of e-commerce, most distribution centers were set up for business-to-business (B2B) shipping strategies. Workers could build pallets with regularly-ordered products without a need for dynamism in order fulfillment. While some centers were beginning to adapt to the smaller orders with quicker lead times, their core business model has changed with the uncertainty in 2020.

Thus, omnichannel fulfillment became an answer. Omni-channel fulfillment happens when technology enables the fulfillment of B2C orders from multiple different locations inventory may be located throughout the supply chain. The B2C is growing at a rapid pace and supply chains need to be flexible or agile enough to fulfill the order at the lowest cost for the retailer, combined with the best service for the customer. They need to find that “sweet spot” in between profitability and rapid response.

What has changed most, though, is the necessity for these companies to know everywhere that product is in the supply chain – from the brick-and-mortar retail stores to even shipping directly from a manufacturer. Thanks to special software and technology, companies can know where a product is at all times – and the cost associated with delivering it — because they may need to use that specific item in fulfilling an order, no matter where it is in the supply chain.

For instance, in any place that inventory is housed, you need to determine the least costly fulfillment method to maximize profitability by finding a mix of the lowest cost to fulfill the order and the best chance to meet expectations. Today, companies need to know that answer, even if that solution does not come from their own warehouse.

Now, fulfillment centers need to know the costs associated with each element of the supply chain to minimize fulfillment costs – including even their suppliers’ warehouses. Currently, orders could come from a brick-and-mortar store, and they could come from a warehouse or come from a supplier directly. When adjusting to facilitate more e-commerce, the most successful companies will need to have visibility on all potential fulfillment opportunities supply-chain-wide. Ultimately, they need to know the lowest cost to meet the customer’s expectation level.

From a picking standpoint, the goal is all about being able to support these processes in portions of the supply chain not previously used for fulfillment activities. This may lead to new equipment or technology requirements to allow these portions of the supply chain to efficiently fulfill orders in addition to the other supply chain functions they handle. So, the optimized supply chain needs to be equally as flexible as the environments from which their orders arise are.

The ability to facilitate this operational flexibility in multiple different types of environments takes creativity and in-depth knowledge of equipment & technology options. You need to be able to come up with a cohesive strategy, which can be challenging. We encourage you to talk to a Storage Solution expert; we know retail strategies and “e-tail” strategies, and we know how to merge them in the name of efficiency.

Through any facility where inventory is stored, there are impacts on storage methods and workflows within the facility. When you are executing on omnichannel fulfillment, it takes a strategy specifically designed for your products and order patterns. We are here to help you execute on those strategies!

Micro-Fulfillment Strategies

A Micro-fulfillment center is a small fulfillment facility that is strategically placed near urban centers. Instead of a warehouse operating out of a massive facility spread out throughout the country, these businesses use multiple smaller hubs in each region. From there, the product is delivered directly to the end-user.

As with the shift in omnichannel fulfillment, this change in strategy helps to shorten delivery times to meet the same-day or next-day delivery offered by competitors. These centers hold the company’s most popular SKUs to provide higher service levels on the most popular products. The other, less-popular orders may be in the more extensive facilities for the two-or-three-day delivery. Sometimes, these facilities may even utilize their own delivery fleet to ensure the quickest distribution.

While micro-fulfillment may not be for every business, we see that larger retailers may be utilizing some of their shopping or storage space to act like a micro-fulfillment center. Others are being developed in former shopping centers that do not have large footprints or tons of inventory on hand in the facility.

If you are missing dates and not meeting customer expectations, you could get frozen out to the competition that delivers on those expectations. With both omnichannel and micro fulfillment centers, companies are developing sustainable and scalable workflows and processes.

The good news is that we can help you figure out the right level or mix of solutions to meet your business needs. You may not require a high degree of automation. If you do, we can help, but if you can get by with a more-manual and lower-cost investment, we could help develop that. Give us a call today and let us know the challenges you are seeing, and we can talk about how changing strategies could deliver a return on investment and scalability for your business to grow.

Material Flow Assessment

How often do you take a step back and examine everything happening in your facility? How often do you really think not only about what you are doing, but who is doing it, why they are doing it, where they are doing it, when they are doing it, and how? The answer is that you are probably not doing it frequently enough.

We work with companies across the country to examine these questions – specifically regarding how products travel in, through, and out of a facility – with our Material Flow Assessments. These assessments can offer insight into your throughput rates, labor challenges, and process optimization as we take our wealth of engineering and operations knowledge and apply it to custom-designed solutions built specifically to help you address your business challenges.

As a material handling integrator and a full-service warehouse equipment provider with design capabilities, we are uniquely positioned to examine how products can flow into a facility, get stored, then shipped out, and how to maximize all aspects of that process.

Any distribution center that does not utilize automation is an ideal candidate for a material flow assessment. However, even fulfillment centers that adopt the latest and most significant technological advances may not be operating to their fullest potential.

Ultimately, you may need a material flow assessment if…

…Your fulfillment center canot meet the required volume that customers are now demanding. With the rise of e-commerce, orders are coming in faster and smaller than ever, and fulfillment centers can struggle to make that shift from shipping pallets worth of products out to handling broken case picking and individual shipping. For some, that means an entire business model shift. For others, it may just mean taking a look at how your products come in and move throughout your facility.

…You cannot internally justify investments in new technology or material handling equipment. No fair assessment can be complete without offering advice for further action. With every evaluation we provide, we also include a business case to adopt any new storage medium or technology. We consider this a ‘roadmap to ROI,’ a document that can shed some light on when your investment will start paying off. It may be sooner than you think.

…You know your processes are not entirely efficient, and you don’t know where to start. This situation is a common challenge for warehouses and fulfillment centers at any stage. You know that you need to change, but you do not know which direction you should take. That hesitancy is usual, especially for taking on a new initiative like material flow optimization. That is why you contact Storage Solutions – we have the experience to help you take that first step toward examining your operations.

Now What?

Most fulfillment centers have some need for improvement in terms of material flow, even more so now that e-commerce is rising at the rate it is. We would love to have one of our expert team members tour your facility, learn about the challenges you are facing, and provide you with a roadmap to improve these inefficiencies.

Each day without an optimized material flow within your facility costs hard dollars associated with the additional labor costs you see, along with the soft costs that come with sub-optimal spacing, flow, and unnecessary touches. However, by agreeing to conduct a material flow assessment with Storage Solutions, you are putting the first foot forward to solving your operational challenges.

Facility Safety Survey

Facility safety surveys can be an excellent avenue for warehouses, fulfillment centers, and distribution centers to lower long-term costs by keeping employees, equipment, and your facility in optimal conditions. In many ways, maintaining a facility can be quite like maintaining a car or a home. The longer you wait to perform that maintenance or conduct regular examinations, the more likely, the smaller problems will turn into extensive, costly repairs.

By scheduling a facility safety survey, you are not just looking at developing a checklist of tasks to ensure your people, equipment, and facility stay safe and operational, but you are creating a roadmap to improve your building’s long-term health for everything inside of it. Our experts will work with you to develop both short-and-long-term goals that align with common safety standards found within these facilities.

How Often Should You Conduct a Facility Safety Survey?

Per standards put forth by the Rack Manufacturers Institute (RMI), rack inspections should be performed on an annual basis, at the very least. However, more frequent inspections are recommended in facilities with racking in high traffic areas, narrow aisles, transfer aisles, cold environments, or that features equipment with prior damage – even as often as once per month.

That RMI-recommended cadence is generally a great starting point for any facility safety survey, but we can work with you to find the best rhythm for regular visits. For instance, if you are a facility that changes beam levels often, you may need additional safety check-ins because if those changes were not involved in the original design and permitting process, you could create a situation in which the rack becomes structurally unsound. Ultimately, the determination for how often you should conduct a facility safety survey will depend on your activity level and the products stored in your facility, two variables that are unique to your operations.

What Happens During a Facility Safety Survey?

In addition to a rack safety survey, we will also look at opportunities to add safety equipment like mirrors, end-of-aisle protectors, guard rails, and more. We will look at equipment, wires, and any damage caused by forklift drivers on uprights, beams, and columns. Typically, if we find many opportunities for new safety implementations, we schedule visits as frequently as monthly to ensure facilities are up to code as quickly as possible. Plus, if policies do not yet exist for employee safety within the warehouse, we can work with you to develop a plan that includes training to ensure best practices are in place.

After that, a Storage Solutions expert can work with you to ensure that any and all safety challenges are met with both short and long-term action plans that can combine with goals to lower operational costs and reduce labor challenges at the same time. We have decades of experience in implementing these measures across all industry types, so we have the knowledge to put theory into action.

So, Is It Time for a Facility Safety Survey?

If it has been some time since you last had a new pair of eyes looking at your facility’s safety profile, then it is time for you to call the experts. Our team can schedule a visit to your facility and share our expertise throughout our appraisal. That piece of ongoing education is crucial to our safety surveys because, by identifying and communicating potential solutions, you are more likely to have to make smaller changes in the next visit and even smaller changes in the third.

Safety is a critical aspect of any warehouse, fulfillment center, or distribution center’s operations. Taking too long before having a facility safety survey could result in higher costs with more considerable repairs, rather than maintaining your facility regularly.

The best way to create and maintain as safe an operation as possible is to have safety be a core tenet of your operational philosophy. Whether you are close to reaching that goal or need a place to start, give us a call, and we can help!

Storage-Type Analysis Blog

Finding a starting point to begin optimizing the storage capabilities within your facility can be a challenge. The most basic place to start is looking at the area between the top of your uprights and the ceiling. Why not start there? Or why not begin at the space between your product and the next beam level? Why not the distance between products?

For us, the best practice to begin this process is with a storage-type analysis. A storage-type analysis will not only offer an assessment of your current storage profile and a list of suggested changes, but it also provides a roadmap of potential projects that can lead to increased storage capacity, increased labor value, and increased efficiency that can result in profitability through additional throughput in your operations.

What Details Are Required for a Storage-Type Analysis?

For a storage-type analysis, we typically need to know the dimensions of the current storage configuration, the size of the pallets used, the size and weight of the products stored, and whether they are stored for full pallet case picking or each picking. We will also need to know the historical on-hand inventory and pick demand rate for each item, but we can help assist if that information is not readily available. Lastly, we will need to know whether certain products need to be grouped (for instance, do some products need temperature-controlled storage?).

Do not worry if all that information is not readily available. Our team can still get close to an ideal configuration with our experience and engineering teams, or we can do some detective work with a site visit.

From there, the analysis will help us determine the appropriate next steps.

Perhaps the introduction of dense storage media will allow you to minimize space between products and improve pick efficiency. Maybe a solution like a vertical lift machine would be a good fit for facilities that are storing smaller products like hardware. Perhaps introducing automation through an automated storage & retrieval (ASRS) system would benefit businesses adapting to changes in e-commerce. Maybe some of your pallet racking needs some adjustments to beam levels to go along with additional racking or shelving.

The proper solutions all depend on your unique challenges and your individual needs. We want to provide solutions that can address those challenges and conditions in the most cost-effective way possible.

What Happens at the End of a Storage-Type Analysis?

At the end of the analysis, we can help you put together a business case for potential changes with a return-on-investment attached. Once storage is optimized within a facility, it means more production space is created, which can lead to the return happening sooner than you may think.

The critical aspect to remember about a storage-type analysis is if you do not have a custom, built-only-for-your-business storage plan, you will leave money on the table as you are not fully optimized.

Whether you operate in a manufacturing environment and need to open space for additional production lines, or you are outgrowing your current space with an increased proliferation of SKUs, or your facility was outfitted with a “cookie-cutter” approach to pallet storage, there is an excellent opportunity to optimize your warehouse and improve your bottom line.

Give us a call today and speak with a Storage Solutions expert who can learn about your business and operational goals and develop balanced solutions toward achieving them.

last mile logistics

Did you know that e-commerce return rates comprise 20% of total orders? Did you know that 84% of shoppers are unlikely to purchase again after a bad experience with an e-commerce company? Did you know that the final stage of delivery of a product makes up 53% of total shipping costs?

As changes in consumer demand continue to accelerate, warehouses and distribution centers are looking at how they can handle quicker order processing and faster delivery, especially in the area of last-mile logistics.

For the uninitiated, last-mile logistics – also known as last-mile delivery – is a supply chain industry term that examines how a product travels from a distribution center to its final destination, typically a consumer. To meet the changing demands of consumers, the goal of last-mile logistics is to transport an item in the quickest way possible. However, this stage is often the costliest in the fulfillment process.

What Challenges are Seen in Last Mile Logistics?

The challenges that need to be overcome in last-mile logistics are typically associated with cost, timeliness, and customer satisfaction. Deliveries that feature more stops lead to more time spent before the product gets to the end-user. Urban areas do not offer the speed and fuel efficiency that interstates do, so costs add up. Also, product returns lead to higher operating costs and lower profit margins – whether those are built into a product’s prices or not generally depends on the type of industry from which the product is ordered.

What is the Typical Response to Improving Last Mile Logistics?

In response, warehouses and distribution centers turn to micro-fulfillment centers, typically closer to urban areas, to cut down on the time and cost of delivery. We break down how micro-fulfillment centers help companies meet these new expectations here in greater detail. However, the general idea is to supply these centers will a high volume of similar, regularly ordered products.

Typically, these products are small, relatively inexpensive items such as headphones, apparel, and other goods you may see at lower prices from e-commerce retailers. Because they have such a high volume of orders, these items are stored closer to the consumer. Without micro-fulfillment facilities, these items are stored in large warehouses that were previously designed to fulfill larger orders.

Changing the Way Facilities Support Staging

To facilitate a quicker delivery, more and more we are seeing independent delivery drivers with a lesser dependence on the big shipping organizations like FedEx, UPS, or the USPS. This shift in staging necessitates a change in outbound flow systems. Because companies are using these contracted drivers, the equipment and fulfillment processes within facilities require different methods to get the packages to the independent, often-smaller delivery vehicles, which then gets the product to the end-user quicker. Companies using this newer model allows more organizations to keep up with the e-commerce giants of the world and facilitates a modern delivery method.

Why Use Micro-Fulfillment Centers?

When those smaller, single item orders are placed in a more massive warehouse, the fulfillment process takes longer and is more expensive. The products are further away from masses of population in these transportation hubs, but they also become burdensome to pick because the opportunity cost of picking these items becomes too high. For instance, an employee could pick a single pair of headphones in a similar amount of time that the warehouse could fulfill an order for an entire pallet of products. The value proposition becomes clear: micro-fulfillment centers are smaller, more cost-effective, and offer quicker turnarounds than their big-box warehouse counterparts.

How Can We Help?

To cut down on the cost and time spent on fulfilling orders, companies are setting up these micro-fulfillment centers at an increasing rate. Some companies are even converting abandoned retail stores to serve in this capacity. As they are being built or adapted, they are developed with a high level of technology & automation. While that is certainly a viable option, it can be more expensive than what the new facility truly needs. Through a combination of dynamic, technological, and storage solutions, these centers can be built at a fraction of the cost that one may see, compared to a fully automated facility.

We have years of experience working with our clients in finding the right mix of storage, dynamic & technology solutions to suit their needs now, with the capacity and flexibility to grow in the future. Storage Solutions can work with you to turn these complex logistical conundrums into profitable decisions that can help your company save resources and stay focused as you transition into these micro-fulfillment centers.

Consumer demand is not slowing, and neither is the competition. To meet needs, it is essential to stay up to date with the latest trends and solutions being developed to support changes in the supply chain. With Storage Solutions, you have a helping hand to guide you to ensure your decisions are simple, smart, and strategic for your organization.

Inventory Strategy Supply Chain Strategy

If 2020 has offered us one lesson, it would have to be that the only certainty we can count on is uncertainty. This lesson is especially true in the supply chain industry. Between the COVID-19 crisis, changing attitudes toward China, wildfires, and the meteoric rise of e-commerce, the organizations within the supply chain have been tasked with reacting to many changes.

These disruptions caused a shortage of supply in product availability, leading to warehouses being emptier than usual. Other companies – mainly retailers – shut down altogether. However, they already had inventory on the way, which caused a spike in stock within distribution centers.

2020 was a wake-up call for the supply chain industry.

Indeed, there were changes happening already, including the rise of e-commerce. Many companies were heading down the e-commerce path; however, there seemingly was time for companies to adapt to new products, practices, and processes that could allow themselves to continue operating in suboptimal methods. However, the pandemic threw gas on the fire, so to speak, and caused everyone to react quickly to another new challenge.

The companies who survived and thrived during this tumultuous year had previously adopted solutions geared around being flexible and adaptable to changes. There was less of a learning curve because they were already positioned to make nimble changes in their operations.

Near-Shoring

One major step companies are taking to adapt to the “new normal” of the supply chain is near-shoring or sourcing goods closer to the sale point. According to The Innovation Enterprise, 32% of North American and European manufacturing and distribution companies either have or are about to near-shore, with 48% of companies saying they plan to within the next three years.

They cite the reduced shipping time and cost, along with an increased response time as the primary reason to take this step – two direct benefits associated with adjusting operations to meet consumers’ changing expectations.

Adding Safety Stock Inventory

In response to not having enough of particular products with a surge in demand, companies are changing their inventory strategies on safety stock. This change is especially real for necessary products – think of how toilet paper was in high demand during the pandemic outset.

If the supply chain is disrupted, companies need to be able to continue operating in response.

Each company and each industry will have its own calculations of what that safety stock needs to be according to its own order volume and replenishment frequency. However, we are hearing those calculations are changing rapidly to accommodate potential future disruptions.

Increasing Storage Density

To go hand in hand with the increase in safety stock goes an increase in storage density. With these recent changes in supply chain strategies, how much you store, and what you are storing may look different. Products with high order volumes or products that need to get to customers quickly are being stored at higher reserve storage levels. Warehouses are being tasked with increasing storage without increasing their footprint, and high-density storage options like pushback racking or pallet flow racks are ideal solutions in many settings.

Optimization of Pick Processes

In alignment with the acceleration of e-commerce, companies are looking at how they are handling pick processes. More than ever, the entire process is being evaluated, from the design and layout of a facility to the level of automation throughout the facility. Ultimately, warehouses will be holding more SKUs in inventory as SKU proliferation continues in many organizations. This development requires that a facility is optimized for storage and material flow.

We are also seeing more facilities adopt forward pick strategies – such as pick modules – to improve fulfillment speeds. More now than before, there will be some type of automation involved at this point as well, including autonomous mobile robots picking on the ground level, with storage above.

What’s Next?

The companies who need help the most are doing everything from storing products in trailers on their property to using the space designed for forklifts for storage – some are even storing products on their docks. They are struggling to pick and ship efficiently, causing customer service disruptions. These challenges cause labor costs – including overtime – to rise as a percentage of their sales.

One of the things we have learned over the last six months is that there will always be disruptions. Whether those disruptions come in the form of global pandemics, fires, or natural disasters, we know the best action an organization can take is to get ahead and be prepared. We can help. Give us a call – we would love to learn about the challenges your business is seeing and pair them with solutions that help them be nimble, flexible, and ready to adapt as the next new challenge arises.

Brandan Alford Turnkey Solutions Video

Our integrated supply and service approach to Turnkey Solutions means your Storage Solutions team has tighter control over all facets of your project, ensuring you meet your timeline and budget. Oversight for each component and executing entire projects as one team means efficiencies that generate better results with fewer surprises along the way.

We specialize in:

  • Project Management
  • Safety
  • Installation
  • Permitting
  • Logistics

Click here to learn more!

Picking Strategies

The time has come; it is time to evaluate your warehouse’s picking strategy. In most situations, picking strategies do not change that often. However, all aspects of your operation should undergo evaluations from time to time to make sure that there is no process or product out there that could support your activities to a higher degree. Why would the evaluation of your picking strategies be any different?

For warehouse managers, any successful picking operation’s priority is to minimize the order selection time and distance your employees are walking. Manually moving products from one place to another is among the least efficient tasks in warehouse operations. Some of the inherent inefficiency caused by travel distance should be accounted for at the design-level, meaning your facility layout and storage configurations should already be optimized to this to some degree. (If it is not, let us know! We can help.) However, there is still work to do to ensure your fulfillment strategy is in sync with your warehouse’s design.

One easy comparison to a warehouse picking strategy is grocery shopping. So, let us examine some of the most common picking strategies, using grocery shopping as an analogy:

Discrete/Order Picking

Single order picking, also known as discrete picking, involves a picker traveling around all of your aisles and picking a complete order. In the “grocery shopper” scenario, the selector has a full grocery list and then picks items accordingly. It is the most common, most natural, and intuitive. This strategy does not require any technology and is ideal if the warehouse is on the smaller size where order picking is a manual process. The downside to discrete order picking is that it is not typically efficient due to the travel time (unless technology is introduced). The inefficiency becomes more pronounced as order volume or facility size increases.

Multi-Order Picking

Multi-order picking is typically an enhanced version of discrete picking. It involves a picker traveling around your all of your aisles and picking multiple complete orders on a single trip. In the “grocery shopper” scenario, the selector has several full grocery lists and then picks items for each list on a single trip through the store. This strategy typically requires a small amount of technology or systems support, but may still be pretty manual. Multi-order picking is more efficient than single discrete order picking, but typically still less efficient than other methods that utilize technology to drive faster throughput & more labor efficiency.

Batch Picking

Batch picking occurs when SKUs to fulfill multiple orders are picked simultaneously. This works best when a relatively small #of SKUs account for a large percentage of the picking. The picker takes the order and travels to SKU locations picking items for several (“a batch”) orders, then brings back all items to be sorted to specific orders later. In the grocery shopping example, this would be like one-person shopping for many orders (many of which have oranges on the list). The picker would select all the oranges to fulfill all orders, then also pick the next most popular item on the orders until all of the items needed for that batch of orders have been selected. This style of picking is less-than-ideal if you have a lot of SKUs & the demand for them is fairly evenly spread over a large # of orders. In many situations, this style of picking is matched with zone picking to create a hybrid strategy.

Zone Picking

In zone picking operations, you will have a worker assigned to a specific zone and pick all items associated with an order within their area. In the grocery shopping analogy, this would be akin to someone only assigned to pick items when a request comes in for produce, for example. Warehouses employ zone picking strategies because workers don’t have to walk a lot and are very familiar with their assigned area, and it works well for warehouses of any size. However, order accuracy may go down if good systems support is not used because multiple people are touching the order.

Cluster Picking

Cluster picking allows workers to pick multiple orders at a time, with totes or bins separating each order or batch, depending on which strategy they employ. Essentially, this is a pick-to-cart strategy that allows pickers to make one pass through the pick path, fulfilling multiple orders as they travel through the facility, reducing travel distance per order by grouping orders systematically with like SKUs on them. In the grocery store scenario, this would be like having several baskets within a cart, and the shopper selecting orders for multiple people at the same time& putting each order in its basket.

Combination Picking

There are strategies out there that combine various picking styles like Zone/Batch Picking, Zone/Wave Picking, and even Zone/Batch/Wave Picking. Each variation adds a layer of complexity to the methodology, but these options should mostly be considered based on your layout, operations, quantity of SKUs, order profile and volume. However, before evaluating combination strategies, you should speak with an expert in fulfillment to find the right mix based on your specific picking requirements and how quickly they need to be fulfilled.

Which to Choose?

Ultimately, it is up to you and what works best for your business. There may not be just one strategy that best suits your operations. Perhaps the ideal process is a combination of approaches. However, these evaluations are part of a healthy routine to ensure your facility operates at peak efficiency, especially with the industry is changing as rapidly as it is.

If you need help getting started, or even help with evaluating what works for you, give us a call. Our team of experts is ready to talk through any challenges you see and provide solutions through processes or products that we know will work. Let’s get started!