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Different Types of order picking in warehouse

Order picking in a warehouse involves finding and extracting the specified amount of right SKU necessary to fulfill an order. It is one of the most expensive and labor-intensive processes, according to a report, order picking takes 70% of the time, 60% of all warehouse activity and 55% of operational costs. With the evolution of eCommerce and omnichannel distribution strategies, more and more methods of order picking are being deployed to achieve order fulfillment goals.

Order fulfillment involves a whole range of activities from customers placing orders until the time they shipped out of the warehouse, including order picking, packing, shipping, and scheduling, etc.  Quite often order fulfillment is used interchangeably with order replenishment but they differ as a whole. Because replenishment is a limited activity of the order fulfillment process, which involves moving items from storage locations to forward picking locations; it also denotes refilling the most used items of the warehouse to a pre-decided optimal quantity, that is getting it sourced from vendors. So, essentially order fulfillment deals with customers, whereas replenishment is either an inside activity or deals with vendors & picking is an activity that happens on both of them.

In this blog, let’s take a sneak-peek into some of the most popular order picking methods, which are differentiated mostly on the basis of the inventory and the order profile characteristics.

1. Discrete Picking or Single order Picking: Where in a picker will fulfill each order one at a time. Picker will take the picklist and a picking cart/crate/box and goes to the specified location to perform picking operation for an order. This is a basic way of doing picking & is not very effective as it involves a great amount of travel time.

This picking method is appropriate for some industries, or for orders of odd-size and oversized products that require special handling.

2. Cluster Picking: Cluster picking involves grouping of multiple orders into one unit and processing them simultaneously. Cluster picking is majorly location-driven where in SKUs for multiple orders would be picked from one particular location. Picker usually carries a picking cart that accommodates multiple totes/crates each one signifying a specific order. Depending on average picks per order it can vary from 4 to 12 totes with multi-tier cart. This is also called ‘Pick to Cart’ picking.

As far as efficiency in picking is concerned, cluster picking is a very efficient way of doing the picking, as only a single picker is involved in the process of picking several orders at the same time from different SKUs.

3. Batch Picking: Batch picking is an order picking protocol that calls for the picker to compile a batch of the orders by picking from a single SKU or one SKU at a time. It helps to fulfill the order very fast by picking multiple orders at the same time. Single picker picks a batch of orders, which helps reduce repeated trips to the same location, essentially one location is visited only once by a picker.

Batch picking is preferred when the orders have fewer than 4 SKUs and each item is small. One order picking window per shift will be sufficient in case of batch picking.

4. Zone Picking: In zone picking, the entire picking area is divided into different zones and each picker is assigned to a particular zone. So, the pickers perform order picking on multiple orders within their zone. Typically, the order crate will pass from zone to zone on a conveyor belt and traverse all the zones before the order gets completed. It is also called the ‘Pick and Pass’ method of order fulfillment.

Zone picking is particularly helpful in large warehouses with a high number of SKUs wherein the warehouse is categorized into zones on the basis of different criteria such as fast-moving SKUs, slow-moving SKUs or high-security SKUs.. etc. It also helps the picker to gain deep familiarity with their respective zones and the SKUs stored there, which accentuates the picking speed and minimize picking errors. A disadvantage of this method is the scheduling of orders as per shift, in case if some order misses the schedule, then it will be fulfilled only in the next shift.

5. Wave Picking: Grouping of orders into waves is the first step in wave picking, it can be done on a small number of orders like 4 or 5 or on a large number of orders, like hundreds, depending on the order volume & the shipping routes/schedules. The order picker moves to collect the products necessary for several orders in one go and bring them to a staging area where sortation of them into individual orders will happen. Wave picking requires multiple waves to be run in a single shift.

Wave picking is widespread in clothing cataloguers and other catalog and e-commerce operations where there is both a large number of SKUs and a large percentage of them that might appear to be similar. This method is known for being highly efficient and accurate if it is set up correctly. It can also help increase accuracy if a 2-level check can be implemented, one at the point of first wave pick & the other while sorting them to fulfill individual orders.

So, considering the nature & size of the SKUs, order profile characteristics, resource constraints, facility size, etc, warehouse picking strategy will be decided and all the warehouse picking strategies have to be in unison to fulfill the customer demands of accurate & timely dispatch of the orders

How mobile robots are influencing the RAAS trend?

Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation. This is the era of innovation. Emerging technologies such as Augmented Reality, Big Data, Cloud Computing, 3D printing, etc are making the manufacturers to rethink their production & manufacturing processes. The entire value chain of activities is undergoing a paradigm shift due to the intervention of these technologies and businesses are investing a huge sum in implementing and adapting them. Material handling is one of the core aspects of intra-logistics and inter-logistics operations technology up-gradation is essential to achieve the complete efficiency in the value chain. Introduction of automation for various movements inside the four walls of the warehouse to ensure safe, accurate and speedy handling of material is gaining popular attention. One of the most efficient and widely used automation solutions for intra-logistics operations to carry out these movements more efficiently is Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs).

AMRs can be easily integrated into any warehouse without any major change in the existing layout of the facility. These bots run on artificial intelligence and coordinate with a cloud-based system where it assigns tasks according to the operational requirement. They are also environment-friendly and can perform the task in any type of physical condition whether there is a low ceiling, poor lightening or inadequate HVAC. These mobile robots do not need any training to perform their operations, unlike the manual system where it involves huge training costs. Generally, the payback period for mobile robots is 3 years.

The growth of e-commerce in the current period has catalyzed the use of mobile robots in the warehouse and instigated R&D for continuous improvement. In order to optimize the complete value chain, companies specifically in this industry are interested to invest more in their core business and outsource the rest. Hence RaaS (Robotics as a Service) as a practice is coming up in conversations in recent days.

According to ABI research, there will be more than 1.3 million RAAS deployments worldwide by 2026. Because of its flexibility, high throughput and scalability organizations are finding RAAS as a more effective way to adopt in warehouses. It helps small, large and medium businesses to meet the growing demand and overcome major challenges faced while performing warehouse operations. Companies such as Fetch Robotics, Omron, Milvus, Ottomotors, Geekplus, MIR, Locus Robotics are some of the well-known names in the sphere of mobile robots. Meanwhile, Addverb Technologies has Dynamo in its kitty which is an autonomous mobile robot having a high payload capacity. It can be flexibly integrated into any warehouse organization and can be used for Goods-to-person picking of materials. Its natural navigation makes it possible to navigate it in the existing environment.

With Industry 4.0 on the forefront, the integration of advanced techniques and technologies with the movement across the warehouse will transform the conventional manufacturing processes and bring along great opportunities for manufacturers and end-users in the mobile robot market.