The technological development is accelerating, it applies to all industries. New or upgraded technologies is coming to market at a faster pace. Regarding warehouses with manual picking, it is often for example better pick by voice solutions and faster tablets or smaller and more exact scanners. Investments in expensive robotic and automatic solutions is a chapter in itself.
Often we have an over-reliance on expensive technological hardware solutions when it comes to picking in warehouse production, we would like it to be the answer to all our problems with efficiency and quality in warehouse. Unfortunately, this is not the case. An example: In a manual warehouse where we pick by forklift a warehouse worker uses about 50% of the time to travel between the picking locations (Tompkins et al., 2003). To switch from a tablet/pc solution to a pick by voice solution is maybe not the first or best way to reduce time in warehouse production. The time saving in order picking from a tablet/pc to pick by voice is about 12% of the pick moment (Jelle de Vries, René de Koster & Daan Stam 2015), and your warehouse workers are not as flexible with pick by voice as with the tablet/pc, where often all WMS functions are available.
Typical distribution of an order picker’s time (Tompkins et al., 2003)
The big time thief in warehouse is transportation. First thing, regardless if you invest in automation be sure to have a good WMS where you can optimize the inventory and flow in the best way. For example, use floating picking locations and often make picking frequency analysis to ABC categorize products. If you have floating picking locations, you do not have to spend time moving products from one place to another. Have you changed the frequency category, it automatically places the product in a better location next time the product will be goods received in the warehouse.
Work actively with the warehouse layout and frequency preferences. Make sure to have packing stations and label printers at strategic locations close to the picking areas or even better print transport labels on the forklift when the order is finished. Build up areas to avoid traffic jams and bottlenecks.
It is not a good idea to have too many high-frequency products in the same place, if you have a lot of staff picking it will be queues at the shelves or racks with high frequency products instead. Especially if you pick with forklift, it is important to find the right level and spread the products correctly.
A good WMS has reporting features so you can easily obtain the frequency statistics for products and picking locations. It is important to understand that a warehouse will never be “finished” it is a continuous work, you need to have procedures for how often you should update the ABC locations and ABC products.
As you see, there is often much to do with efficiency before beginning to invest in expensive hardware technology for a faster picking in warehouse production. Start with the WMS.