Are you fulfilling all your orders on time, are your pickers walking the shortest distances possible and is there perfect harmony between your pickers and packers? If you are nodding your head then really there is no need to read on.
Maximising efficiency in order picking whilst managing the complexity of a number of different service level requirements is an everyday challenge for e-tailers and 3PLs alike and finding the right balance can often feel like you are walking a tightrope. The cost of failure if ever-challenging service-level agreements are not met is such that making efficiency improvements in order picking can feel like a high-risk strategy.
It doesn’t have to be that way
When the WMS is implemented your supplier should take time to understand the particular characteristics of your business. If you have historic order data this can provide an invaluable insight into the effectiveness of different approaches. Your supplier should be able to advise on different picking strategies but it is likely that either you or someone within your business is best placed to choose the optimal solution.
At Realtime Despatch we suggest that a good place to start is an analysis of your order pool on a busy day; for many e-tailers this is often Monday. There are a few basic questions to ask: what is in the order pool, what level of uniformity is there between the orders, which orders can be picked together, which need to be picked separately, are there particular items that make up a significant part of your order pool? The checklist can be developed to suit your individual business set up.
The next question we would ask is “how best can you sub-divide your order pool”? Our advice here is to keep simple. Try to identify between four and six different picking strategies into which the order pool can be divided. Look for basic distinctions in the orders. These might be: the nature or location of the items being picked, the nature of the customer requirement, the courier service being used or combinations of all these factors. The WMS should be configured to automatically group orders into the profiles you have defined.
We find that the best approach is usually to start with the simplest strategy that is workable for the expected volumes; you might think that you are sacrificing efficiency for simplicity but if you take this time to really understand what your WMS is capable of you will be able to refine your picking strategy as soon as the basic approach you have launched with is working smoothly.
By Charlie Armor, Managing Director, and Phil Zoio, Technical Director at Realtime Despatch Software Ltd