With or without bar coding, picker travel time (in the form of walking, fork truck or order picking truck) continues to be considerable in most operations of more than minimal size. There is an excellent way to reduce travel - pick 4,8,12, even 16 orders in one trip. This strategy is especially useful for small item, broken case orders, but can be adapted to pick full cases as well .
In combination with reconfigured storage and barcode scanning (see our other articles on these subjects), savings in employee costs can be dramatic. Dr. Edward Frazelle, noted warehouse "guru" and author of World-Class Warehousing, stated recently at a warehousing convention, that 62% of all picker time is spent in travel. This figure has climbed since 1996, when he wrote in his book that 55% was travel time.
With this statistic in mind, visualize 1000 feet traveled 12 times, versus one time. I estimate conservatively, that you will need approximately 50% fewer pickers than with the traditional, single order pick model.
How batch picking works
Although travel is a major factor for the pickers, we need to explore how batch picking will impact the entire warehouse. In our system, pickers assemble shipping cartons according to instructions from the computer to the terminal. Cube of orders and/or largest item dimension has been prefigured, and this dictates the sizes of the cartons.
The picker places these properly sized cartons as the terminal has instructed, on an easily pushed cart. I have located several sources for efficient, inexpensive carts constructed of lightweight materials. These can be easily mounted on roller bearing castors, enabling even the smaller pickers to handle them with relative ease. (Large orders and those requiring traveling throughout the entire warehouse may be set up on order picking trucks as an option).
The picker scans each carton label and cart location, and then checks for the location of the first pick. He proceeds to that location, scans the slot code and item I.D. and selects the first product, placing it into the designated shipping carton. He scans the carton label and/or cart location, and scans or keys the quantity picked.
Since the picks have been arranged sequentially, when the picker checks for the next pick, it may be the same product to be placed into another carton for another order. When all the picks are completed from the first slot, the system directs the picker to the next sequential location.
Ideally, the warehouse has been reconfigured to further diminish travel with fast-moving items stored in close proximity to one another, and with the majority of picks in the "sweet spot", easily reached from floor level. With minimal effort and the shortest possible travel time required, the picker quickly picks, packs and verifies all 12 orders.
From picking to shipping
After the orders have been filled, the picker pushes the cart to the shipping dock. He may be the one to place the cartons on the conveyor for weigh-check (if deemed necessary) or, he may leave the cart there for a packing/shipping person. The cartons will be weighed and the packing slip inserted. Next will come the addition of fill material; the cartons will be manually sealed and scanned for manifesting or sent down the conveyor for the automated final steps of the process.
Other personnel costs saved
We need to emphasize here that other classifications of personnel will be eliminated or reduced by this batch picking, scanning process of order assembly. As you visualize the above operation, you will recognize that we have eliminated the checkers and most of the packers. Shipping personnel has also been reduced to a small number, dependent on the amount of automation at the shipping dock. The persons keying information into the computer at the shipping dock have been eliminated. Furthermore, since scanning was utilized from receiving to shipping, we have been able to reduce the numbers of receivers and replenishers required for daily operations.
Batch pick WITHOUT barcodes
We have recently completed the programming for a simple, efficient picking program for use with a Palm Pilot pocket-sized computer. This program creates the batches, selects the carton sizes, and directs the pickers as discussed earlier. It is designed to be used with or without barcodes.
Without barcodes in place, warehouse personnel can key product and/or location numbers or letters (or a combination of both) in a customized configuration set up by the individual operation, and still achieve a high level of accuracy and productivity. This will allow any company to accomplish, as we stated at the beginning of this article, a dramatic increase in warehouse efficiency, slashing labor costs at the same time, and with the additional savings of potential capital expenditures.
We are going to make it possible for any company to try this program without cost, giving them the opportunity to try it, configure it, and see how it will interface with their present system software. We will be making more information available on our web site, or by e-mail, fax or mail as requested. We are very excited about the ability to use the new, inexpensive palm computers in the warehouse fulfillment setting, and are currently exploring several methods to make them "hands-free".
We believe that the business of order fulfillment is on the threshold of a revolution that is going to bring it in line with the supply chain initiatives, already in place in many manufacturing settings. It must occur, or spiraling warehousing costs are going to take the United States out of its competitive status in the world markets.