Efficiently fulfil orders or disappear into limbo at the end of the Marketplace queue. Accumulate sparklers or crash. That is the omnipresent question because the client is clear about, and in exponential growth, he does not forgive.
And this increasing clarity, on the level of demand, which seemed a matter of exclusive property of eCommerce, is transferred at high speed to B2B, which, incidentally, was what one would expect. This level of increasing demand, by itself, completely transforms the working philosophy of a warehouse in such a way that, as a result, we find that a modern warehouse must support complex logistics management. He must coordinate human team, automation, software, terminals, many processes, training actions, strategic and tactical planning, Lean tools, resource management, use of space, etc.
Included in this management are the always ubiquitous costs. Given that, within the warehouse, the prices of order preparation, specifically the picking process, take up almost half of the pie, it seems logical to think that any effort invested in improving its efficiency will be profitable.
At the same time, and without detriment to the preceding, improving picking also represents a clear competitive advantage that the customer immediately perceives, in the form of reduced errors, greater inventory precision, shorter delivery times, an image of greater control. In short, about what we do, as partners, we provide a lot of added value for your commercial interests.
Of course, the support of technology is essential, but it is not the only thing that enables us to improve picking. The secret is knowing how to do it, when to do it and what to do to distinguish ourselves from our competition.
Each company will have its particular improvement options, but there are general guidelines applicable to any warehouse, which we will see below.
1. Minimum and optimal routes
Around 50% of the time spent preparing orders is spent travelling in worker-to-product processes. And moving does not add value, but it does cost. A redesign of the layout and adequately equip the operators to reduce the distances of the trips or minimize the time wasted on them. We can also categorize SKUs based on their rotation, sales, and units selected together and distributed, prioritizing the optimal order of picking.
2. Propose different picking strategies
There is no written general rule regarding logistics management to define these strategies since it is an endemic issue for each company. Still, we can draw general recommendations for different cases:
- Order to order: Orders with many lines and heterogeneous, that is, with little repetition of references.
- By waves: Usually small and very numerous orders. Maximum efficiency is achieved when charges accumulate. The wave is launched to consolidate picking; that is, all SKUs are selected at once, taken to a specific area, and classified by orders.
- Multi-order: The orders are grouped, but each reference is already classified in the corresponding order at the time of picking. Ready-to-use carts are needed.
- Mixed: It is about grouping only the part of the order that interests us.
- For example, we are preparing in waves only the references of multiple orders that involve the longest distance for picking. In this way, we bring the most distant SKUs closer to a closer or more accessible area to the next stage. The rest can be prepared, for example, order to order.
- Another solution would be to do a wave picking only of the references of greater volume that constitute a package in themselves. The objective is to deposit them already labelled directly at the departure dock while the rest of the SKUs are prepared with another picking strategy.
It should be noted that, above all, these last three strategies are challenging to implement efficiently without the help of an EMS system.
Also Read: The Role Of Logistics In eCommerce
3. Control the flow of goods
With a facility plan and a simple spaghetti diagram, we can increase the efficiency of picking and other operations in the warehouse and even detect bottlenecks in the flow of goods. It is a methodology that the operators can help us complete since it is straightforward to understand and use, and it gives excellent results.
4. Pick/put to light, pick/put by voice, put to the wall, conveyors, etc.
More than a third of the total logistics costs are warehousing costs. Of these, almost half and in some cases more is labour costs, that is, people. Of all the time that these people spend in carrying out their tasks in our warehouses, picking is the one that consumes the most resources, exceeding 40%.
Therefore, improving efficiency as a goal will mean reducing these costs. The support systems for picking are specifically designed for this purpose; they usually do not involve a significant investment. They are installed quickly and give very good results in the short term.
Or strategy of the location of SKUs in our warehouse both in the picking and storage areas. Good location planning improves not only picking but also location and replenishment. A widespread and default strategy in many WMS systems is to always locate the references near the picking point to reduce the replenishment time. This increases the time available for picking, a great advantage, especially in facilities where replenishment and picking cannot be simultaneous.
Radiofrequency terminals with barcode readers are elements of high impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of picking. They serve as digital poka-yokes that prevent errors and streamline operations. The SGA system sends helpful information to each user profile, guiding the operator through the interface of his terminal at all times. Thus avoiding waste such as searching for the product, which can occupy up to 20% of the total picking time, when it is carried out without technological means.
“Automate, yes, but not at any price.”
The criteria for automation go through a preliminary analysis of each situation, of each particular casuistry. Robotizing must bring us value and save costs, and it must allow us flexibility and not suppose another bottleneck. The latter is an error that is easier to fall than is believed, and it also has a complex solution.
8. Worker safety
To avoid injuries and facilitate work, we must bear in mind that the best work area is between the shoulders and knees of the worker. Efficiency in operations increases if we properly distribute the references considering the optimal work area. For example, we were placing the SKUs with the highest volume, weight or rotation in the central area of the picking rack.
9. Listen to the client and take their requirements into account
For our process to gain efficiency, it must adapt as much as possible to these requirements. Does our input format match the required one, or should we do fraction picking? Have you requested special packaging? Do our facilities guarantee the integrity of the product? Does my lead time allow me to meet the expected delivery times?
10. Information at all times
“The flow of information is part of the key to success.”
And if it is towards the client with even more weight. We have to look at how important it is for us as customers, messages as simple as “your order are being prepared”; “Your order has gone out”, “your order is ready to be picked up”.
The convenient thing is that the communication between the SGA system and the ERP is direct and in real-time and that then all the relevant information is sent to the client in the agreed manner. This brings benefits beyond the mere informative function since it brings great value from the customer’s point of view.
The reality of current logistics management in our warehouses is that it is necessarily complex. We say “necessarily complex” because it responds to a principle that has remained unchanged since the beginning of time:
” The demand of our clients is directly proportional to the complexity of the logistics management necessary to satisfy it.”
Not surprisingly, the client knows the means we can count on and is unwilling to tolerate mistakes they know can be avoided.
After visiting several Marketplaces, online stores and a website with offers and second-hand products, who takes the sale? Who can guarantee that the product is in the customer’s hands on the date they need it, be it a birthday, a holiday, vacation, etc.
The product hardly matters; the supply chain issues.
Within the chain, the warehouse is a fundamental link. One of the actions that have the most significant impact on the customer’s shopping experience is the picking process. Depending on how we approach your logistics management and its improvements, we can obtain very different results: it can become a focus of constant satisfaction that wins sales and even customers who will not stop buying from us, or it can become a source of constant dissatisfaction. that ends with lost sales and even with customers who will not buy from us again.
To be a competitive advantage, constant attention, continuous improvement, adequate means, technological support and qualified personnel are required. All of them, elements that report benefits at many levels for the company that decides to invest in them.
“Adding value thanks to our logistics management is a matter that has more to do with decision-making capacity than with investment.”