Picking items for multiple orders at the same time (batch picking) seems like an obvious means of improving throughput, reducing labor, lowering equipment acquisition costs, and improving accuracy and cut-off times.
The trick is how do you implement batch picking? The answer truly depends on what level of equipment and automation you have or would like to implement. Generally, the more automation, the higher the level of productivity and throughput gained. The key, however, is analyzing the level of throughput your system requires and “dialing in” the solution that meets your ROI and business needs. Let’s start at the very beginning…
- Manual Batch Picking– So let’s say you have bays of shelving or rack and use the “supermarket” means of order picking (pickers going up and down rows of inventory). Even with a totally manual system, by setting up a cart with either totes, shelf levels or even tape dividing the flat surface into quadrants you can start basic batch picking.The key is to make sure the paper pick list is clearly marked which quadrant, cell or tote each item will be placed into and how many to deposit. Depending on the number of lines per order, you’ll need to limit the number of orders to what a picker can remember. So it might be two to four orders of three lines each. The picker scans through the pick lists and highlights the common SKUs for the orders. As he walks, he picks what he needs to complete the orders and then delivers them to packing when he’s done.
You have just implemented batch picking in the most basic form and will have improved your throughput and a labor requirements – the only question is by how much?
- Manual Batch Picking With Software– Same as above but, depending on the type and level of your software, orders with higher levels of SKU commonality can be batched together and the pick list can be routed intelligently buy the software. By intelligently, I mean not passing any needed SKUs while completing the batch.
- Automated Batch Picking – Using any number of goods-to-person automated systems, a batch or workstation is created which uses software and pick lights to direct the operator how many of a SKU to pick. The workstation also includes conveyor (or carts) with position (put) lights mounted adjacent to each order location – often between six and nine orders in a batch. At the start of a batch pick, the operator scans (and marries) a bar code (often called a “license plate”) on each tote with the position at the workstation. This tells the software that order 11121 is now sitting in position five for order 888888… and so forth. The pick lights direct the operator to pick a specific quantity of the first SKU and the put lights tell the operator the correct quantity to place in the appropriate order container(s). As he places the items in the containers, he confirms each put by pressing a button on the put light at the order location. The operator keeps picking and putting until all items for the batch have been picked and then releases the orders to their next destination.
- Dynamic Batch Picking Work Station– The next level up from automated batch picking is dynamic batch picking. The principles are the same except much of the labor in batch picking is eliminated with automation.When dynamically batching, the operators simply pick from the automated storage and retrieval system, place the appropriate items in the appropriate container and confirm the put. They never have to induct and marry totes into positions or discharge totes to the next zone … this is done dynamically via the software and hardware system. Not only does this reduce the labor, it also speeds up the throughput of the system by a minimum of 33% OVER the previous automated batch picking system.
Dynamic batching used in distribution centers has demonstrated that they improved the fastest and slowest operators by 1/3. This means the picker who is the slowest improves their throughput by 33% as does the operator who is the fastest.
So in the end, batch picking helps improve the efficiencies of your order picking system regardless of the system! These efficiencies can dramatically reduce labor, floor space and equipment acquisition costs while extending order cut-off times and improving order and inventory accuracy.
The best part is that batch picking systems can be added to your existing operations and systems, often quickly and easily.