How to streamline warehouse picking methods with WMS

Warehouse madness is a pretty common sight, and it can get overwhelming, but the trick to managing it is adding in the right method.

We’ve looked at the seven most common picking methods in today’s warehouse to show when they work well and how, no matter which you choose, you might be able to improve your operations with a little boost from a WMS.

Discrete order picking

Consider this your standard order picking: one employee picking one order, one line at a time. Everyone gets their first order. As people complete their orders, they are assigned a new one, typically from a master list.

Identify and prioritize your picking requirements for WMS using this WMS requirements template

In most cases, this is for an early-stage warehouse, so most orders aren’t — or can’t be — pre-scheduled, and any order can be picked at any point in the day.

It’s simple and easy to track, but labor intensive and can be slow.

How your WMS can help: You can use the system to prioritize orders or to adjust the layout of your products so that the worker naturally moves from the back to the front of your operations as they gather goods.

Cluster picking

Your team will pick into multiple order containers at once, getting a slew of items for a cluster of orders. Typically, this method prioritizes filling multiple orders from different locations and is useful when you send a large number out at the same time or if you’ve got a warehouse that’s very spread out.

It’s common for picking to a cart where you can load up large quantities and bring them to a central staging area for final packing. Some carousel operations will use cluster picking to speed up their processes.

How your WMS can help: Robotics can be applied to this style very easily if you’re up for the investment. Otherwise, a WMS makes it easy to automate picking orders and verification of each order so that you’re spending less time with manual checks when combining everything.

Zone picking

In this setting, pickers get a specific zone to pick from — a real, physical area. Each picker gets their own zone and picks from those SKUs for every relevant order. Orders pass through each zone they need and collect all the items, so it’s also called pick-and-pass.

Zone picking is good for shift work in larger areas and growing warehouses. It comes with defined cutoffs as your workers cycle through shifts, so it can sometimes push back large orders to later in the day or the next day.

How your WMS can help: A WMS can optimize how orders are sent to your teams, maximizing how many are filled per shift by moving large and small orders accordingly. Its major focus here is efficiency at the shift level.

Batch picking

One picker picks a group of orders at one time, move from one SKU to another based on a list that covers all orders in batch picking.

It’s a smart method to use when you’ve got a popular SKU that is in multiple orders. Each picker can travel to a small set of locations to get what they need, filling multiple orders. Travel time is minimal when SKUs are minimal.

How your WMS can help: As you grow, batch picking successfully become more complex. Warehouse tech can keep it efficient by grouping orders to minimize SKUs and prioritizing products that are physically smaller.

Wave picking

Wave picking is essentially discrete order picking 2.0. You’ve still got one picker per order, and a single SKU at a time, but you’ve added the ability to set a scheduling window so that orders can be picked at specific times of the day.

How your WMS can help: When it comes to scheduling orders at the right time based on shipping, products, delivering and more, what can take a manager 30 minutes to figure out may take your WMS just a few seconds. Automation of the scheduling window is a top efficiency use of warehouse tech.

Zone-batch or Zone-wave picking

In these methodologies, you’re combining the best of zone picking with either the batches or scheduling of other options. Essentially, you’re keeping people in a specific location and adjusting the picking process around them.

The benefits of these options are more pronounced when you’ve got larger orders — either in terms of overall order volume or items-per-order — and you need your team to be focusing on getting more orders out the door at the right time.

How your WMS can help: As complexity in the warehouse grows, the WMS become a more important part of your operations. In these cases, it can help ensure you’ve got the right inventory available for all the orders you’re filling, set priorities to optimize workflow and prevent bottlenecks, and ensure you’ve got everything scheduled right.

One of the biggest benefits of a top-shelf WMS is that you can combine all three methods. A zone-batch-wave solution assigns pickers to zones, has them pick all of the relevant SKUs in that zone, and focuses on multiple orders at one time. Behind the scenes, your WMS sends out the right order at the right time to maximize your loading bay, delivery schedule, and overall labor.

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Geoff Whiting

About the author…

Geoff is an experienced journalist, writer, and business development consultant with a focus on enterprise technology, e-commerce, and supply chain development. Outside of the office he can be found toying with the latest in IoT, searching for classic radio broadcast recordings, and playing the perpetual tourist in his home of Washington D.C.

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Geoff Whiting