Picking processes, although a fundamental function of the supply chain, are considered the most labour intensive and costly activity for almost every warehouse. Indeed, some reports estimate that the cost of order picking is as much as 55% of total warehouse operating expenses.
The reasons to invest in order picking technologies are numerous. They will help warehouse operations to pick the right product, at the right quantity, for the right customer, at the right time and in the right condition. And all the while improving efficiency and achieving the lowest possible expenditure.
And with potential major improvements in picking accuracy of 20%-30% over paper-based methods and attainable accuracy well in excess of 99.9%, it could be one of the most important investments you’ll ever make and a game changer for your warehouse and logistics operation.
Thankfully for companies wanting to improve the productivity and accuracy of their order picking function, there are a plethora of options to choose from, including RF, voice communication and, more recently – vision picking technologies.
Vision picking has been around for some years now and while not as widely used as RF and voice, suppliers of the technology state that it makes manual picking faster and error free. As the name suggests it’s a vision-based system where instructions are sent over a wireless network from the WMS, via specialist software, to the operative wearing a head-mounted display and portable PC.
Each operative can see a digital picking list in their field of vision and are guided through the warehouse by a navigation system to optimise routes and distances travelled. Products to be picked and order information are visually displayed enabling the operative to undertake visual checks.
With the advent of vision picking, even faster, hands-free and error-free picking is being made possible through augmented reality (AR) combined with wearable technology, such as smart glasses. AR combines the very best in vision and voice-guided instructions and merges virtual images and information with an operator’s environment. So the operator wears the glasses, follows the commands given and scans product barcodes all within the glasses’ display, with information sent back to the WMS.
What is clear is that vision picking is easy and intuitive to use, thus requiring minimal operator training. It’s language independent, which is good news for companies employing lots of non-native workers and offers true hands-free operation. It can be used in virtually all warehouse environments without structural modifications and will certainly become more popular for operations in the future.