Why get the pick rate up in your growing operation?
Increasing the pick rate in warehouse operations is a constant focus of management as sales and order volumes continue to grow. Warehouse operations that struggle to pick and ship all of the orders they receive each day are likely to hold back the future growth of the company’s sales. Picking is often a bottleneck when volumes surge because it takes so long for staff to pick orders. It often requires staff with deep familiarity of the products and/or location system. Use our suggestions to improve your operation’s pick rate.
How To Get Your Pick Rate Up
- Use the Golden Zone
- Improve Lighting in the Facility
- Reduce the Picker’s Travel Time
- Use Technology to Your Advantage
- Talk to Your Staff
The Golden Zone is the sweet spot for pickable product to be placed or stored within the warehouse. It is closest to the area of processing that follows picking which is often Packing and Shipping. Product stored in the Golden Zone requires the least amount of travel time to pick. These products are more accessible to the pickers compared to products in other storage positions. This area is often overlooked and used to store slower moving products that the pickers repeatedly travel past to pick the more popular products.
Identify what product to place in the Golden Zone by analyzing the sales volume of historic sales. Normally 80% of sales are made up of 20% of the products, so this top 20% of products should be stored in the Golden Zone. Also consider upcoming sale items in your product placement. Since space is limited in the Golden Zone consider storing only a portion of each product in the Golden Zone, with the extra overstock stored elsewhere. The overstock product is then replenished as needed. Be cautious not to cause congestion by directing too much picker traffic in a specific aisle or area at one time.
The quality of lighting in the warehouse is impactful to the pick rate, yet highly overlooked by staff and leadership. Often lighting ballasts are out, or shelving has been setup that prevents the lighting from adequately lighting the aisles. Proper lighting is necessary for pickers to identify and read warehouse locations and product barcodes or descriptions. Insufficient lighting slows the picker at each warehouse location and product label they strain to read. Poor lighting also impacts the accuracy of the pickers.
Walk the aisles of the warehouse, note all dark areas or bulbs that are out. It is recommended to read and look at the same marking(s) that the picking or put away staff would reference in their daily tasks to ensure you can do the same job they are required to do with the provided lighting. Keep in mind that lower levels of racked or shelved areas often have less visibility than higher levels in the same position since the light comes from above. Also ask the staff about areas they know of with poor lighting, and encourage them to report future areas they may notice.
Travel time is the single greatest cost in warehouse labor; over 50% of a picker’s time is spent traveling. This time adds absolutely zero value to the end result (shipping the customer’s order on time), so all travel time is waste and should be reduced or eliminated. One of the most impactful steps to reducing travel time in your operation is improving the use of the Golden Zone (see #1 above). Beyond improving the use of the Golden Zone in your operation, there are other factors to consider for travel time reduction.
Ensure your Warehouse Management System is tracking inventory per unique warehouse location and that the system settings are optimized. This should route your picker in the most efficient travel path through the warehouse for each pick. System settings may be complex or simple, but they must be setup per your warehouse’s unique location system. As a final consideration, you may group small picks into batches of picks so that the picker is able to complete many orders with a single pass through the warehouse. Batching some picks helps to increase the pick density, and therefore results in a more efficient pick rate.
Technology is a requirement in warehouse operations today. Unfortunately many operations are barely getting by with their current technology, or lack there of. Pick rate is directly impacted by the use of technology in the warehouse. Higher pick rates are possible with better use of technology. This includes hardware (scanners, printers, PCs, robotics, etc) and software (Warehouse Management System, Transportation Management System, Labor Management System, etc). Tech improvement may require implementation of entirely new systems, but at times existing systems can be better utilized or setup more efficiently.
Operations should use RF Scanning (or RFID or similar technology) during picking to improve pick rates. RF scanning eliminates the manual confirmation of staff confirming they have picked the correct item. RF Scanners should be evaluated to ensure they always work reliably with wifi and have prompt response times. If you have a current system, then settings and workflows should be evaluated to ensure you are getting the most of the system capabilities. If your current system is inadequate, or no system is currently in place then identify your requirements and begin a thorough search for the system that seems like the best fit for your operation. When multiple systems are used together, then try to connect them together to avoid redundant work and inaccuracies. Hire an expert to help or advise if you are non-technical!
Talking to the staff is one of the most impactful ways to identify ways to improve pick rate. The staff can tell you what is slowing them down, and they can even show you real life examples in real time! Leaders and management often overlook the staff that are doing the work each day, and do not seek their feedback. In reality those doing the work daily are the most qualified to advise on problems they encounter in practice. There is no need to theorize or forecast any actual happenings in the warehouse, simply talk to the people doing the work!
It is important to note that the staff likely cannot tell you the solution to the problem, they can simply identify the problem they experience. It is your job to provide solutions to these problems because the average warehouse picker is not informed enough to solve these complex problems that impact the entire operation. Hearing the real problems that are slowing your staff down day is invaluable, but you must then act to resolve these pain points to show staff you are committed to empowering them. You must show the staff that you “walk the talk”, and then they will continue to bring great value to your operation.
Bringing it all together
There are several factors to evaluate when trying to increase the pick rate of the warehouse pickers. It is the duty of the leaders to empower the staff to continually meet or exceed their desired pick rate. A management or leadership team that is blaming their staff for poor performance must take a look in the mirror, and identify what they can do to help their team better perform. Storing popular products in the Golden Zone, ensuring adequate lighting in the facility, reducing picker travel time, using technology to your advantage, and talking to your staff are 5 of the most impactful ways to improve your pick rates fast.