Working in a warehouse can be a strenuous and time-consuming job, especially for order pickers. However, order picking is one of the most important components of the order-fulfillment process. In fact, over half of warehouse operating costs are attributed to order picking. More importantly, fast and accurate order fulfillment is very closely tied to customer satisfaction. As a result, the method that you choose for your order picking operations is critical to your company.
What is order picking?
Before diving into the best order picking methods, let’s first establish what it is. Order picking is just what it sounds like: the process of retrieving products from the warehouse inventory to fulfill customer orders. It’s a labor-intensive activity that requires both speed and accuracy. The amount of time it takes to get an order together greatly influences delivery time, which is why your productivity levels are essential.
Order pickers spend most of their time traveling throughout the warehouse searching for and pulling the proper items. Luckily, some order picking methods can help to cut down on this travel time so that your company can fulfill more orders each day.
Here are the six best order picking methods to support an efficient, profitable operation.
1. Single order picking
Single order picking is the most common order picking method, it is also the most time-consuming. With single order picking, the picker works on one order at a time. They’ll search the warehouse for each item one-by-one to complete the order, meaning pickers often travel the same route repeatedly throughout their shift. Single order picking is ideal for smaller warehouses that handle smaller order volumes. If accuracy is an issue, this method works well since pickers work on just one order at a time.
2. Batch order picking
Also known as multi-order picking, this method allows pickers to work on multiple orders at the same time, one SKU at a time. Batch picking is best for companies that often have multiple orders with the same SKUs (items) or orders with only a few SKUs in each. It cuts down on travel time since the picker usually only needs to travel to an item location one time per picking cycle.
3. Pick and pass
In the pick and pass method, the warehouse is divided into zones with workers assigned to each. Associates pick SKUs for multiple orders at a time from within their zone and the bins, totes or containers are then passed to the next zone. Pick and pass is a term often used interchangeably with zone picking, although zone picking can also be carried out without passing bins or containers from zone to zone.
4. Zone order picking
Zone order picking is often combined with other methods, most notably, the pick and pass method. With zone order picking, the warehouse is divided up into zones and each picker is assigned their own zone to pull items from.
For orders that require products from multiple zones, the order container is passed on to the next zone, and that zone’s picker continues picking items for the order. This process is continued until the order is fulfilled. This method is great for high volume warehouses that often suffer from picker congestion in multiple areas.
5. Cluster order picking
The cluster order picking method also allows pickers to work on multiple orders at the same time. However, instead of concentrating on similar SKUs (items) for multiple orders, pickers pick a variety of items for multiple orders. Although there are a few different ways to accomplish this (such as with vertical lift modules or carousels), the most common method is for a picker to have a cart loaded with multiple containers. The use of an order picking cart or collaborative mobile robot helps pickers keep orders organized to reduce errors.
This method also cuts down on traveling, although not as much as batch order picking. With cluster picking, the picker only needs to travel to an area (or zone) once for each cluster they’re working on.
6. Wave order picking
With the wave order picking method, pickers also work within their assigned zones except, to cut down on time, all zones are picked from at the same time (instead of in one zone and then passed on to the next). The items are then later sorted and consolidated into their respective shipments.
While wave order picking is quicker than waiting for each zone to do their part before the order can move on to the next zone, more time and sometimes more workers are needed for the sorting and consolidation process. This method works best for companies with a higher number of picks per order.
Which order picking method is best?
You’re probably wondering which method is best for you. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single best order picking method; it differs for each company.
The method you choose depends on how big your warehouse is, how much inventory you have, how many order pickers you have, how many orders you get each day, and how many items are in each order (picks per order). However, from this list, you should be able to choose the method that is right for your company to ensure maximum efficiency and success.
Many picking methods can be combined with automation technologies, such as collaborative mobile robots, to improve order picking accuracy and efficiency. Check out our webinar, Optimize Fulfillment with Collaborative Robotic Picking, to learn more about how you can optimize your order picking and fulfillment operations with collaborative mobile robots.