Ensuring optimum performance in picking operations is about so many different things. It starts with the size, type and format of your storage facility – the racking type and layout, the handling equipment and the space you have available. It involves the physical processes and procedures and the way labour is deployed. And it’s about the various forms of technology that may assist the process – handheld computers, voice directed picking systems and pick to light technology among them.

When starting an operation with a green-field development there’s every chance your storage equipment will be well planned and right for the job. Sometimes though, even that doesn’t turn out as intended. But established logistics operations often work under constraints imposed by physical warehouse size, and to some extent, legacy installed equipment. The latter can be changed if unsuitable but the capital cost must be weighed against the medium term gains for the operation.

So we have to assume that for many their main option will be making what they have work. They must evolve the best process around existing infrastructure, hopefully assisted by appropriate technology. In terms of matching process needs a good WMS system should offer the key choices, and variations in between to satisfy the inevitable hybrids. People will need to look firstly at how they plan their picking, which depends on individual business profile. Are orders planned (and grouped together) for picking by customer, date, product, area, or indeed all of these?

Equally important is the cyclic nature of daily operation. This may impact on the timing of picking and the space available to process outgoing goods. Despatch itself may hinge on factors like carrier collection times, availability of trailers or dependency on reverse logistics. All of this can push issues back and dictate actions in terms of the pick process. Another element that could affect things is the need to ‘process’ goods post-pick (in various ways) or the need to undergo a packing desk stage. All these factors must be assessed in order to create a streamlined procedure.

Key questions relate to the efficiency of the pick process itself. Is it most efficient to pick individual orders, or can customer orders be picked and consolidated onto a single despatch pallet? Is it better to bulk pick product and perform secondary sortation? The answer to the first questions relates to customer order profile and specific instructions. 

In the second, availability of labour to perform tasks and the space available to physically handle product are factors. But a decision could equally relate to the tactical approach – “double handling product is wrong” – where for others, the sortation process forms a key checking and packing stage.

These issues are not always as complex as this suggests. For many operations far fewer factors are in play and the questions will not apply. The key point is that due to wide variation, many questions may be asked of a WMS and a good system must be able to answer them all, if needed. 

You may also be interested in: Warehouse Performance Part Four: Picking #1