What is a Pick to Light System?

Fergal Glynn Last Updated: May 10th, 2018

Pick-to-light systems are simple but robust systems designed to streamline your warehouse picking operations, thus increasing efficiency, productivity and picking accuracy, while simultaneously reducing costs.

What is Pick to Light?

Pick to light is a type of order-fulfillment technology designed to improve picking accuracy and efficiency, while simultaneously lowering your labor costs. Notably, pick to light is paperless; it employs alphanumeric displays and buttons at storage locations, to guide your employees in light-aided manual picking, putting, sorting, and assembling.

What is a pick to light system? It’s a promise of more streamlined warehouse operations.

How Does Pick to Light Work?

There are small variations in pick-to-light systems, but the standard works like this:

  1. Operators scan item barcodes that are attached to temporary and reusable holding containers, for example, shipping cartons.
  2. The system’s alphanumeric display (usually, LED lights) then lights up, illuminating a path to guide the operator to the indicated storage location. There, the system then indicates how many and which items should be picked.
  3. The operator picks the item(s), places them in the holding container, and then presses a button to confirm the picking.
  4. The system continues in this way, illuminating each sector for picking until all items have been picked and placed in their respective holding containers.

Depending on the pick-to-light system, additional options may be available. Often, in addition to the LED display, pick to light also offers an acknowledgment button and a digital readout, to enable more detailed instructions and options. For example, your chosen system may allow employees to record basic data, such as variations in pick size; other systems could detail special instructions, order numbers, zone directions, and additional information.

What is the Difference Between Pick to Light and Put to Light?

Put to light is essentially the inverse of a pick-to-light system: simply reverse the flow, and a put-to-light system will guide operators to organize incoming goods in a retail store, grouped as a customer order, or in any other organizational method.

Both pick-to-light and put-to-light systems work best at high densities. They provide a better return on investment in high density areas because the units are being moved more often, its quicker for the operator to identify the right item due to the clear lighting system.

Warehousing Applications of Pick to Light

There are many pick-to-light applications, each of which depends on various factors, such as the size of your warehouse and order sizes. How you use your system will depend on your warehouse and business, but there are a few common applications, for example:

  • Component picking, for example in kit assembly
  • Carousel light towers
  • Full case picking, from pallet flow
  • Etcetera, etcetera

What Are the Benefits of Pick to Light?

As far as warehousing operations go, pick-to-light systems are an excellent tool for increasing productivity and efficiency, as well as for reducing picking errors. But, of course, there’s more to it than that:

Ease of Use

Training operators in traditional picking can take hours – or more, depending on the size and complexity of your warehouse. With an efficient pick-to-light system, you can cut training down to 30-45 minutes. (Talk about nearly instant gratification!)

System Integration

You can install a standalone pick-to-light system, of course, but depending on your warehousing needs, you can also integrate pick to light with an existing warehouse management system (WMS), enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management, or other host systems, for better warehouse controls.

Furthermore, more advanced pick-to-light systems can produce pick-rate reports, analyze productivity and other metrics, and also allow for variance in the size of work zones, to account for labor-to-order volume needs.

Increased Efficiency

Pick-to-light systems are usually organized by your existing work zones, which helps minimize walking – and, therefore, boosts efficiency. Additionally, if an order is required to pass through multiple work zones, your pick-to-light system follows the order, helping reduce idle time.

You can even mount some pick-to-light systems onto mobile carts or conveyor systems, allowing a single operator to fulfill an entire order, through many zones of your warehouse.

It’s Paperless

Tied to the benefit of increased efficiency, it’s important to note the benefits of a paperless picking system. In short: Your operators save time when they eliminate the step of leafing through paper-based records.

Improved Order Accuracy

From a customer-service standpoint, the greatest benefit to pick-to-light systems is fewer picking errors. Pick to light helps boost order fulfillment performance, which in turn nets happier end customers.

Lower Labor Costs

Traditional picking methods add up to one of the biggest expenses in warehouse operations. But, when you implement systems for less walking, shorter time to order fulfillment, greater order accuracy – all these factors lead to one major benefit to your warehouse: reduced labor costs.

This a natural result of greater productivity and efficiency, but it’s one very worth noting. Your pick-to-light system can easily pay for itself.

Now, you know: pick-to-light systems offer big advantages to warehouses, both big and small. Now, you tell us: Do you already use a pick-to-light system? If you don’t, why not?