Order Picking: what it is and how it works

Order picking is one of the most important steps in the order fulfilment process, but it is also one of the expensive as its costs typically amount to more than half of warehouse management costs. This is precisely why it is important to know how it works and how to make it more efficient. At C.T.I. International Forwarder, we have been doing warehouse order picking for many years, let’s take a look at what this concept is all about, how costs may be kept down, and some useful tips to improve business.

The meaning of ‘picking’ in logistics

Warehouse picking consists in the activity of picking, sorting, and distributing materials from one loading unit to others. Every day, customers order goods that are to be shipped, and the objective of warehouse picking is to group all the items in an order with precision, process them, and send them to the recipients.

A properly functioning picking process can act as an effective warehouse management and monitoring strategy, especially if it is efficiently integrated with other warehouse operations, such as:

  • Material procurement
  • Order preparation and dispatch processes
  • Packaging and wrapping of goods
  • Storage and depositing

How picking works

The picking activity consists of selecting a type of product according to the picking list. This list organizes and orders the gathering activity, giving useful information on the location of the goods in question, the warehouse layout, and the quantity required. Once the items on the list have been picked, they must be packed and packaged for dispatch.

Particularly when managing large, well-stocked warehouses, it is important that products are efficiently  positioned and organized so as to optimize productivity and reduce the onerous costs of warehouse picking.

Types of picking: manual and automated

Warehouse picking can be done in different ways, from the traditional, manual picking that sees the physical involvement of an operator, to the more innovative picking approach based on a fully automated system. Both types can be effective, however, depending on the need and size of the warehouse, one will bring more advantages than the other.

Manual Picking

Manual picking is a type of warehouse picking that involves an operator selecting and gathering the units of goods on the picking list. This method is subject to the physical limitations of the human body, which is why it is suitable for smaller warehouses.

Mainly, the task of a picker is to identify and select the products on the list, check for damage, pack and label the order. Finally, the picker compiles a series of documents necessary for filing the order.

Automated Picking

Automated picking, on the other hand, involves the use of advanced technology for the picking of goods. Thanks to digitization, this picking method makes it possible to efficiently cope with the criticalities of a warehouse and aids in improving productivity, optimizing time and reducing the risk of errors.

This solution requires a more significant investment than manual picking, but automated warehouses will be increasingly indispensable as we move into the future, especially considering the characteristics of today’s logistics: demanding, flexible and digitized.

How to improve your order picking

Order picking can exceed 60 percent of a warehouse’s operational costs, which is why it is necessary to be able to implement the activity as efficiently as possible, by adopting more and more technological systems, but also through small measures that can make a difference:

  • Appropriate training for picking staff
  • An optimization of the warehouse layout according to logical parameters
  • Investing in the technologies, from warehouse software to innovative tools such as voice picking, which consists of a voice synthesis device capable of sending commands to the picker, indicating the route to be followed and the tasks to be performed.
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