Tag Archive for: picking

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!

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!

Put to Light Technology Solutions

One thing is certain in the world of technology, and it is continually changing. Sometimes it can be hard to keep up. Regardless, it’s essential to make sure you know what your options are to make sure you are using technology in your favor.

Technology to Advance Your Distribution Operation

With all the challenges with staffing in the distribution and fulfillment, technology solutions can help in keeping your facility running without missing a beat. When you have the right systems in place, you’re able to accomplish more work with fewer human resources. One of the most essential features of these offerings is their ease of use. They are user-friendly, cutting down on training time and enabling your staff to get up and running in no time. To help you reach or exceed your goals, moving toward technical assistance may be the right move for your facility.

How We Can Help

We offer a wide array of solutions and services to keep your facility moving. These can make your business more efficient, less expensive, and even safer. Pick-to-light and put-to-light solutions help speed up the picking and replenishment process by utilizing lights to show where the product should be placed. Voice-directed picking software can increase productivity by using vocal commands for picking, putting, receiving, and other warehouse functions. And finally, to tie everything in your facility together, there are Warehouse Control and Execution Systems (WCS & WES). These systems streamline all of your facility processes, helping you optimize activity flow in your warehouse or distribution center.

With so many options out there, it can be hard to know which technology is the best fit for your facility. Let our team help you work toward optimal efficiency in your operation with these offerings and more. Learn more about our technology solutions here to see how you can get started.

Broken Case Picking Phases

There are many options available for Storage Solutions to address your broken case picking operational challenges. Therefore, it’s essential to make sure you are matching the right picking approach to what your warehouse needs. The more challenging your needs are, the more likely you are to be able to make a business case with a relatively short-term ROI for more complex solutions.

Our team uses a variety of criteria to decide what equipment, automation, and technology are best to optimize each solution. The volume of picked items is a crucial element of this process, so we’re going to walk through some examples of what we can do to tailor each operation for peak efficiency. We will break this down into four levels of pick activity, including low, medium, and high-volume operations, along with advanced systems for very high volume and complex processes.

Phase 1: Low Volume

In a low volume broken case picking operation, we typically see little or no automation and limited technology solutions. Limited labor requirements make it challenging to show an ROI for complex solutions. You are most likely dealing with bin shelving or hand stack pallet rack for a storage method. These operations often use paper pick lists or RF scanning technology to manage orders. With a low volume of items picked, frequently, the most cost-effective method would involve using a manual pick cart or gravity conveyor to move through the order selection process.

Phase 2: Medium Volume

For a medium-volume picking operation, simple automation and technology solutions are most appropriate. These systems lend themselves to incorporating more dense storage methods, such as carton and pallet flow. Often times, we have found lower-level automation options like powered conveyors and vertical lift machines (VLMs) to be cost-justified. Simple technology solutions like pick-to-light carts or put-to-light walls are other types of equipment that are optimal for a medium volume operation. Also, semi-automated tapers with void fill machines may also be the best option to maximize productivity in the packing area.

Phase 3: High Volume

Next, for a high volume picking operation, automation, and technology solutions will most likely be involved. While the storage methods may be similar to a medium-volume operation, the overall facility solution is typically configured differently. A multi-level pick module or pick zone-based solution will often make the most sense. Warehouse control systems (WCS) are often required to manage automation components. Packing and shipping are also more likely to rely on automation. The packing process could benefit from fully automated packing list insertion and fully automated tapers, weigh in motion scales & print & apply labeling tools.

Phase 4: Advanced

Lastly, advanced volume picking operations benefit the most from automation. This equipment can include various powered conveyors, sortation, semi-automated deep lane storage, ASRS, mobile robotics, or other “goods-to-man” solutions. The picking process will likely incorporate high-level technology solutions, including voice-directed picking. In addition, packing and shipping will also rely heavily on automation. Advanced pick operations can benefit from solutions such as automated unit sortation, weigh-in-motion scales, and automatic print/apply shipping labeling. Similarly, automatic carrier diverts are also substantial automation and technology options for advanced pick operations.

At the end of the day, every level of activity brings a different challenge, so it is crucial to plan for growth. We are here to help you implement the optimal facility to meet your current & future business needs. Our team will be with you throughout the process, making sure that we get you everything you need down to the finest details.

Click here to read more about how we can optimize your broken case picking facility!

Broken Case Picking

Broken case picking is becoming more prevalent in almost all industries, creating operational challenges for many companies. When assisting with the design of your broken case picking solution, we ensure that we create the most efficient and cost-effective solution for your facility.

Our solutions development team will utilize our vast experience to help you optimize your operation and find the right equipment, automation or technology solutions to provide you with the lowest total cost per unit throughput solution.

Broken Case Picking Design Criteria

When going through a new facility design, or an existing facility optimization, we have a set of criteria that we utilize to determine the right solution to meet your specific needs.

Our team will gain a thorough understanding of the operational challenges that you are currently experiencing, such as labor, competition, market challenges and more. We then look at the overall volume levels that you are seeing in daily activity; such as the number of orders, the number of line items, and the number of units picked, packed and shipped on a typical day.

After understanding the volume of your operation, we also take a look at the order profiles. We look at the number of line items on a typical order, and the number of units per line item. The order profiles help us to determine the most efficient picking methodologies to apply to your operational solution. We break down your demand to the SKU level to identify ideal storage mediums and utilize ABC stratification to create a slotting plan that will maximize pick efficiency.

Maximizing space utilization and operational efficiency are of paramount importance. That’s why we want to partner with you to ensure your facility is running as profitably as possible.

To learn the rest about our broken case pick criteria, or to learn more about our process, click here! Let us be the ones to enhance your broken case picking operation!