The good news is that with a high quality warehouse management system (WMS) and sensible behaviour in the warehouse, it is possible to achieve virtually 100% picking accuracy, so that your customers are never disappointed.
Barcode your products
Accurate picking requires accurate identification of products. By far the most widely used and cost effective way to achieve this is through barcodes. Without barcodes, you’ll need to rely on correct descriptions, visual inspection, product images, none of which is likely to be fail-safe.
Pick using handheld terminals
The goal here is to ensure that the information recorded in the system reflects as closely as possible what is happening on the warehouse floor. If you don’t use handheld terminals (or other scanning devices), your picking processes will be probably be driven by paper reports, which lists the products and quantities that need to be picked, and where they need to be picked from. There are two problems with these. Without real discipline, it is easy for users to pick items from the wrong location. It may take a while before this gets noticed. Secondly, even if stock is picked from the correct location, there is lag between the time of the pick and the time that the change is recorded on the system. During this time, things can go wrong.
Scan your items before packing
Scanning your items before packing gives you a second line of defence. If each item that’s to be sent out is scanned before it is packed, then this provides an extra check to ensure that the picker has picked the right items.
What can go wrong?
With these techniques in place, what can go wrong? Well, there are definitely places where you can slip up.
First it is possible, theoretically at least, for products to be incorrectly barcoded, or for the barcode to be associated with the wrong product. You can reduce the likelihood of this by using robust processes for receiving goods, and some suitable checks within the WMS itself. Our warehouse management system, OrderFlow, allows for multiple barcodes to be associated with a single stock keeping unit (SKU), but never the other way around.
A second area where you need to take a bit of care is when dealing with multiple quantities. If multiple items of the same SKU need to be sent as part of a single order, then the processes you put in place should always encourage the user to scan each item that needs to be sent out, rather than scanning the same item multiple times, or scanning the SKU once and then entering a quantity. Of course, this may not make sense or even be possible if you need to send out dozens or even hundreds of the same item.
When large quantities of a product need to be sent out, it is helpful to define different units of measure for a SKU, each with its own barcode. With this in place, it becomes possible to record a pick or pack of multiple items without the user having to enter a quantity. Of course, this requires a little more sophistication in your WMS, and a little more effort upfront in ensuring that each unit of measure for a SKU is correctly recorded and barcoded.
Being 100% accurate in picking and packing is not just about having the right systems in place. You’ll need help and cooperation from your warehouse staff. Systems can make things easier – the less you ask your staff to do, the fewer opportunities there are for error. As an example, removing the ability to enter quantities through the keypad will usually reduce the number of errors when picking multiple quantities. However, it can be counterproductive to take things to extremes. If the user needs to pick 100 items it’s often not practical to expect your staff to scan 100 identical items.
Important operations that may result in discrepancies and errors can be pin protected. With this approach, the operator will do most of the work, but a trusted supervisor will need to check this work and enter a pin code before the work can go through.
Why not get in touch to find out how Realtime Despatch can help with your warehouse management needs?
By Phil Zoio, Director & CTO, Realtime Despatch Software Ltd.