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Order Picking: Traditional vs. Intelligent Fulfillment Methods

01.22.2018 | By Justin Turner | 3 min. read

Warehouse managers worldwide are debating the best way to pick orders and pack shipments. While some defend traditional methods, others are quick to point out the advantages of intelligent fulfillment tools.

So which is better? Read on to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of traditional versus intelligent warehouse picking processes and packing methods.

Traditional Fulfillment Methods

The traditional method of order picking involves using paper sales orders to retrieve items from shelves at a distribution center. Workers print orders from a warehouse management system (WMS) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Pickers move through zones and typically have a fixed process, like cluster picking, wave picking, zone picking, or batch picking, that they follow to retrieve items by SKUs.

One of the biggest advantages of traditional picking methods is that companies don’t have to invest in pricey technology. Traditional picking doesn’t rely on continual system upgrades to keep software running efficiently.

However, the top disadvantage is that it can lead to an increase in order mistakes due to human error. Order pickers are prone to making mistakes with this outdated system.

Also, larger warehouse operations may find that traditional picking methods take too long and increase shipping and delivery times. Lastly, when a problem does occur, there are fewer ways to identify accountability. Tracking the source of the issue can be difficult and costly, especially if you’re selling high order volumes through eCommerce.

Intelligent Fulfillment Methods

There is a range of intelligent fulfillment methods available for warehouses. These smart processes are key to better inventory management. Business owners may select a single method or may use multiple technologies to support their supply chain operations and warehousing procedures. Keep in mind that you’ll likely need some workers operating forklifts to access certain pallets, depending on your warehouse layout.

Common intelligent fulfillment methods include:

  • Voice picking: An operator instructs workers on where to find items on shelves using headsets, microphones, and a software interface to manage their pick list as they search shelving for their items.
  • Radio-frequency picking: Workers use portable or truck-mounted devices that scan barcodes or SKUs. These systems collect real-time data as the information is sent to the WMS or ERP system. These barcode scanners significantly reduce labor costs as well as tracking picking areas.
  • Pick-to-light: This warehouse order picking method involves using light displays on warehouse shelves and storage racks that indicate where order fulfillment items are located.
  • Radio-frequency visual picking: Workers have handheld RF devices that display visuals of items along with enhanced picking instructions, like material handling directions.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

To summarize, intelligent order picking methods improve processes by providing better accuracy and productivity, and boosting your warehouse efficiency. Workers are sent to the right picking zones and can efficiently pack customer orders, allowing warehouses to meet aggressive shipping deadlines with better picking productivity.

However, the costs of purchasing and implementing such technology for these picking systems can range from $100,000 for radio-frequency order fulfillment systems to $425,000 for pick-to-light systems. These prices can push such technologies out of the hands of smaller warehouse operations.

As you decide which order picking strategy to adopt based on your number of orders, focus on the needs of your warehouse. Make your decision based on current order fulfillment accuracy, pain points, productivity, warehouse software and system capabilities, budget, and cost. That’s the key to improving customer satisfaction while creating an order picking process that works for your business in the long haul.

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