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Third-party logistics (3PL) companies bring the goods to the customer through a process called pick-and-pack. In this part of the supply chain, people (and in some cases, robots) gather (pick) the items in an order and then assemble (pack) the shipment.
Pick-and-pack operations may sound simple — and oftentimes, they are — but there are different strategies warehouses and distribution centers can use to get the most out of their pickers.
Companies have options when it comes to how to go about gathering products.
Batch pickers fulfill a set of orders, picking the same item for multiple orders. The picker visits each SKU location only once, grabbing as many of the SKU as needed to fulfill several orders. This method often is used with orders that have fewer than four small-sized items.
Wave picking involves orders that are released to pickers in groups, or waves, based on like factors such as shipping date, carrier, warehouse location, or same item. This method allows the orders to accumulate and then releases them to the pickers, making it easier to schedule work shifts.
The pros of wave picking are a reduction of bottlenecks in the warehouse, and cons are not great for last-minute or urgent orders.
The zone-picking strategy (also known as pick-and-pass order fulfillment) divides the warehouse into sections and pickers stay in their assigned area. Workers pick only the SKUs in their zone and then pass the order on to the picker in the next zone.
Zone picking is ideal for large warehouses with a wide assortment of products, and reduces warehouse congestion.
The most basic picking method, used by warehouses with low volumes, is called discrete order picking. The employee gathers items for an order line by line and completes the order before moving on to the next one. Discrete order picking is used often with heavy and bulky items. Otherwise, it’s not the most efficient picking method because the picker spends a portion of the time traveling all over the warehouse.
Cluster picking usually involves a cart with multiple totes representing various orders. A picker takes the cart to the specified location, grabs the first SKU, scans and places it in tote 2. The picker sees that totes 6, 8, and 9 also require the same SKU, so three more are scanned and placed. Finally, the picker moves on to the next location and continues filling the totes.
The packing side of order fulfillment isn’t as complex, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
Packers should be mindful of box selection — using the smallest box possible not only gives you the lowest weight, but it means more boxes can go on the truck and thus increases warehouse efficiency.
Next, packers must use the appropriate amount of air pillows or other fillings to protect the items inside.
It could be prudent to invest in cartonization which involves evaluating the dimensions of all items in an order to determine the optimal packaging size.
I know you want to get the orders out the door as fast as possible, but encourage your packers to check twice. If there’s a mistake, the cost of returns will add up: return shipping, restocking items, and shipping the correct item. But what could hurt the bottom line the most is the lost customer if their experience is anything but smooth.
It’s a good idea to track picker and packer output. BOLD VAN’s DES Dock Manager can be customized so each picker/packer has their own login. You may have someone who picks 1,000 boxes a day and another who picks half of that in a day. You can take this information and try various solutions. Could your warehouse benefit from switching to the wave picking method? Do you have too many workers on the same shift?
DES is our warehouse management solution. DES allows you to optimize your order-to-ship processes and provides the insight needed to operate an efficient warehouse.
Our clients love the robust functionality without the high price tag.
For example, Razor USA was looking for a WMS solution that is customizable, easy to learn, and available across a network that could ship from multiple terminals and endpoints. They made the switch to DES and haven’t looked back!
Interested in learning more? Contact BOLD VAN by calling 844-265-3777 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Or start your three-month trial today.