The Power of PTL (Pick-to-Light): Beyond Picking - Addverb

Light-directed picking has emerged as one of the essential picking technologies for achieving faster order fulfilment with great accuracy. Before implementing  PTL systems into your warehouse storage zones/aisles, let's explore the key points that need thorough consideration to maximise the return on investment from automation:

Maximising Efficiency with PTL Integration

1. Understand Your Product SKU Volumes: PTL systems are the fastest picking methodology in the segment known as a “person-to-goods” system. They excel in handling high-throughput (fast-moving) SKUs. Light-directed picking delivers the highest pick rate for both break pack picking and full case dispatch.

These fast-moving SKUs are consolidated into a designated picking zone, separate from the storage area. They are stored densely, often on shelving racks or carton flow racks. The number of lanes for an SKU may vary depending on its velocity.

Typically, these light-directed systems are used in zone-picking formats. An order tote moves on a conveyor or trolley, stopping at individual zones, and allowing pickers in each zone to fulfill the order's requirements. Typically, a warehouse deploys 500 to 10,000 lights for their top SKUs in light-directed picking.

2. Integration is Key: Swift integration of Pick-To-Light (PTL) systems into the warehouse's existing WMS/WCS/Enterprise software is crucial to realise the productivity gains through automation.

3. Throughput Matters: PTL systems offer highly accurate and  efficient operations. Ordinarily, order pick rates range from 120 to 400 lines per hour with an accuracy rate of 99.5% to 99.7%. Achieving these outcomes often involves redesigning the picking process to fully leverage the benefits of light-directed picking.

4. Evaluate Alternatives: Perform a cost-benefit analysis to identify the best way to achieve your objectives. When pursuing a specific goal, there are various methods of order fulfilment to consider, including RF picking, voice systems, and vision technology. Light-directed operations encompass various lighting techniques, such as sequential and simultaneous picking.

Vendor evaluation should consider several factors, including their technical expertise in integrating PTL into existing systems, the offered light technology (processor, number of lights, functionality), and the vendor's flexibility to customise hardware and software.

Proficiency in warehouse operations and the ability to smoothly integrate new technologies are paramount when choosing a vendor.

5. Semi-Automation is the New Norm: Warehouses are increasingly adopting semi-automation, focusing on automating critical parts of the supply chain to enhance productivity.

With the growing variety of products in warehouses and the complexities of their operations, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't suffice. For order picking, it's common and cost-effective to use PTL systems for critical zones/aisles, while employing other picking technologies for the remaining zones.

6. Efficient Data Usage: Data plays a significant role in the world of IIoT. To stay competitive and achieve operational efficiencies, it's vital to track every step of the order fulfilment process.

Light-directed picking systems provide real-time analytics that can be utilised to study storage patterns and performance metrics for continuous improvement in speed, accuracy, and overall productivity.

As the saying goes, “One that gets measured can be managed and improved”. Automation comes at a cost, so it's essential to have a comprehensive understanding of the challenges your business faces in order fulfilment. These challenges might include factors like:

1. Picking speed of the people
2. Time to train the workforce
3. The attrition rate in the warehouse
4. Lower picking rates than the industry average
5. Demographics of the labour (multi-lingual people, gender), etc.

In a warehouse or storage facility, whether working individually or as part of a team, order pickers spend over 50% of their total order picking time to moving across the warehouse to locate and retrieve the correct items.

By properly analysing these challenges, your business can establish measurable goals, such as the number of orders to be picked per day, reducing labour costs by a certain percentage, or minimising reverse logistics costs due to mis-ships. In the end, light-directed picking will undoubtedly improve these metrics.

P.S. Light is also used for sorting applications. More about it in the next blog. Stay tuned.

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