When order fulfillment operations are considered as a whole, it’s easy to see why shipping and warehousing receive most of the technical praise. The e-commerce industry relies heavily on how the order picking methods are done when their inventory is being fulfilled.
Shipping is the face of every e-commerce delivery, and fulfillment warehouses are incredibly advanced structures capable of housing an astonishing amount of inventory.
Behind the scenes of e-commerce is a series of sophisticated fulfillment operations that ensure the successful delivery of online purchases, and therefore the continued business of online customers.
What Is Order Picking?
Few, if any, consumers consider the complicated operations that ensure the successful delivery of an e-commerce package to their doorstep. Most are simply happy to receive their online purchase on time and in one piece.
However, the backbone of every successful online shopping experience is not shipping, warehousing, or even the internet, but order picking, which accounts for more than 50% of all fulfillment center operations.
Product picking refers to the process of removing items from inventory to fill customer orders.
Pallet and case picking for orders is a fulfillment center’s most complicated, labor-intensive, and essential operation; therefore, it’s also its most expensive.
Order Picking Methods
Consequently, fulfillment centers and third-party logistic providers who conduct their picking operations and order fulfillments with the utmost speed and accuracy are, unsurprisingly the most successful.
There are several different types of order picking methods, all of which are engineered to increase the speed, accuracy, and overall efficiency of fulfillment operations.
Single Order Picking
Single Order Picking refers to the picking process wherein an order picker journeys into a vast warehouse to pick order items from inventory to fill a single order at a time.
Though the single order picking process is the most commonly employed picking method, it is not the most efficient. In most cases, the sequence in which a picker is likely to find, pick, and fill SKU items is not optimized to increase speed or accuracy, thus wasting time and money.
Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) provide the exact location of SKU items in a warehouse and optimizes a pickers route to retrieve it from the pallets the inventory sit on.
Batch & Multi-Batch Order Picking
Fulfillment centers who employ Batch and Multi-Batch order picking methods enjoy a step up on those who employ a single cased picking method.
Order pickers utilizing a batch order picking method utilize warehouse management systems to pick SKU’s from the warehouse to fill more than one order at a time, thus eliminating unnecessary trips to the same area of the warehouse.
Batch & Multi-Batch order picking methods are, in most cases, compatible with automated systems.
Zone Picking & Passing
Different SKU items have different storage requirements; thus most warehouses are divided into specific zones that are specially equipped to house different SKU items.
Warehouses that utilize the zone picking method typically “pick and pass” SKU items from zone-to-zone to be packaged and shipped from a central order consolidation location.
However, it’s not uncommon for different zones to function independently of other zones in the warehouse.
A refrigerated warehouse, for example, may include a “frozen” zone that consolidates and ships frozen orders independently of the “dry” and “reefer” zones to maintain the integrity of frozen SKU items.
Autonomous Order Systems
Automation technology has significantly affected how fulfillment centers pick and fill SKU items. In fact, a growing number of fulfillment centers have become fully, or partially autonomous.
Autonomous Order Systems generally include a sophisticated array of tracks and automated pickers who utilize artificial intelligence to find and retrieve specific totes from inventory and deliver them to designated consolidation areas. Thanks to technology, the automated order picking function saves the warehouse time and money.
Within the consolidation area, an employee or another automated system selects the requested SKU item and positions the tote on a track to be returned to its designated position within the warehouse.
Fulfillment centers are incredibly sophisticated operations that support the astoundingly vast e-commerce industry, but without an equally sophisticated picking systems, even the most well-funded fulfillment center is bound to fail.
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