Tag Archive for: forward pick area

Implement Forward Pick Area

For the uninitiated, forward pick areas can be among the most impactful storage solutions for warehouses and fulfillment centers stuck in what we call “day one” simple pick processes. These warehouses have products in static storage configurations throughout the warehouse and an area for packing and shipping. When an order comes in, a worker physically walks to select the products and walks them over to the shipping or packing area.

It sounds simplistic, but this is an inefficient process for most operations and is the lowest level of picking that one could execute. When we hear companies say they are picking from floor-level positions to pallets or carts, we tell them they are probably going about their processes incorrectly.

Why? Because in an environment rife with labor challenges, an increasing volume of orders, and increasing operational costs, forward pick areas can offer solutions to the challenges warehouses are facing today. Without a forward pick area, workers must pick each product from the main storage area, and transporting it to packing is an inherently expensive process.

Instead, by using a forward pick area, popular products are temporarily stored in a storage medium like shelving bins or on carton flow, located closer to the shipping area. Then, the forward pick area is restocked in bulk with the products with a high order volume. The idea is twofold: by shortening the travel distance required for popular products, you can reduce costs and hasten the fulfillment time for the most significant number of orders possible.

You also benefit from a streamlined restocking process, with separate, dedicated lanes for replenishment of faster-moving SKUs and your traditional picks outside the forward pick area for slower-moving items. This configuration allows you to assign efficient pick processes for your new, fast picks, while traditional picking can continue for slower moving items stored in reserve storage.
Within the forward pick area, products are stored so that they can be easily picked and sorted using carton flow or pallet flow, depending on the order rates and the size of the products.

In certain situations where the cube of the SKU is appropriately sized, you can increase the number of pick faces per bay, which can drive pick efficiency with denser storage compared to configurations of static racking that may hold a pallet worth of product when you are only picking the equivalent of a few boxes worth of product per week. The ideal forward pick area should have a week’s worth of product available to meet forecasted demand. The higher volume of product needed, the more likely you will need to utilize pallet flow or another larger storage medium.

There is also an added ergonomic benefit that can come with a properly designed forward pick area. Instead of having pickers bend, reach, and try to select a product that may be in the back of a static rack. By using carton flow or pallet flow, products are ready to be selected easily at the front of the pick position, expediting the pick, and providing an element of safety and comfort for workers.

While some warehouses may have investigated forward pick areas and scoffed at the initial investment in racking, they may not be looking at the long-term financial outlook of their operations. The savings on labor and operational costs can provide a return-on-investment (ROI) more quickly than you may realize, especially when you consider the increased throughput that comes with reconfiguring your facility and operations to include a forward pick area.

If you are looking at increasing costs-per-pick, increasing order volume, or even labor challenges, give us a call, and we can talk about forward pick areas as a solution for your facility. We can look at the throughput of your operations and your facility design to build a quick roadmap to an ROI that showcases why you should consider this solution. We know there is an initial cost that can be a hurdle for some operations, but by reducing labor costs associated with expensive picks, we can help you determine how best to move forward.

Rising Share of E-Commerce Orders

In 2017, e-commerce orders represented about 10.4% of total retail sales, according to a study conducted by eMarketer. In 2021, that number jumped to 18.1%. That same study estimates that by 2023, more than 22% of total retail sales are facilitated online. With that massive jump in a relatively short amount of time, warehouses, distribution centers, and fulfillment centers across the supply chain are reacting and adapting their practices to accommodate this rising share of e-commerce orders.

Traditionally, warehouses have long been configured for pallet-in and pallet-out for shipping orders. However, both e-commerce orders and direct-to-consumer fulfillment require a completely different picking and packing process. These processes are more expensive for fulfillment centers that don’t have systems to handle e-commerce orders because they need a lot more human capital and labor cost.

While facilities are making changes to adapt to the e-commerce and direct-to-consumer explosion, some are left behind, wondering what the best course of action is for their operations. While each operation is unique, businesses can take a few actionable steps to adapt their existing facility to accommodate an increased level of e-commerce.

Tactic 1: Create a Forward Pick Area

According to Warehouse Science, a forward pick (or fast-pick) area is “[an area] from which it is most efficient to pick, but which must be restocked from a reserve or overflow or bulk storage area.” Essentially, you treat your static storage media as “reserve storage” and move specific products to a storage area, from which most of your orders are picked. This forward pick area needs more frequent replenishment than the reserve storage, but the flip side is that orders can be fulfilled more quickly.

The products stored in this area need to be the appropriate SKUs & stored in the proper storage medium based on the cubic movement of the SKU. If you decide to use the most ordered SKUs, they need to be stored in a larger storage medium to avoid excessive restocking of the forward pick area which could cost some of the efficiency you gained by creating this dedicated storage area.

Typically, the best practice is to use a warehouse execution system (WES) or workflow optimization software to determine the best SKUs to minimize your labor costs. Our team of experts has decades of experience matching the right software for your unique needs with our agnostic approach to vendors and partners for our clients.

Tactic 2: Evaluate New Storage and Picking Methods

Another way to adapt to changes caused by an increased level of e-commerce orders is to add systems and capabilities that allow for batch and zone picking. Vertical lift modules are a goods-to-person solution that can take small-sized products, store them in a high-density, low-footprint storage system and deliver them to pickers, who then assemble orders on a cart or take them to a shipping area.

Zone picking is good for multi-line orders because it reduces travel time for pickers, and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are another goods-to-person solution to assist in these efforts. At a high level, AMRs can take the walking/travel element out of the picking process by moving the products from storage to a given location, be it a packing station, a conveyor system, or just to an employee, who can then pick the items & package them together.

To a more considerable degree, automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) or other automation solutions that support goods to person picking can also reduce travel time and create more dense storage. However, these will generally come in at a higher initial cost than the AMR solution, which can be integrated without affecting your existing infrastructure.

Tactic 3: Automate Packing Processes

E-commerce and direct-to-consumer orders usually are not pallet-sized orders; they are parcel-sized orders. So, when a facility is accustomed to shipping pallets, how do you adopt best practices for these smaller orders? If the order is a single-line order, you could probably have the shipping team place a label on the item & ship it. However, what happens with multi-line orders?

Automated packaging solutions exist that can accommodate a wide variety of consolidating and shipping multi-line orders. They can also accommodate potential requirements like polybags, dunnage, airbags, Styrofoam peanuts, and various other materials to keep packages safe from damage. By automating these processes – from right-sizing packages to physically loading trucks – you save a sizeable amount of labor costs that were not needed in a pre-e-commerce world.

Where Do You Go From Here?

If you have seen an increase in each or case picking, then give us a call. Whether you are adapting your current facility to account for increased levels of e-commerce or your manufacturing partners are considering a more direct-to-consumer strategy, having the capability to meet your customers’ expectations on fulfillment time and accuracy is essential. We would recommend starting at the design stage and finding a partner that understands how to optimize material flow and storage media. Of course, Storage Solutions has a team of experts on staff that can assist with these challenges.

Contact us today, and we can talk through your challenges, identify some quick wins, and formulate a plan of action. We may suggest dense storage, automation, or some other process-related plan built for your business. Depending on your needs, we may help without a site visit, but we may suggest one as well.

Either way, we should talk. Give us a call today!