Supply chain and operations managers are always looking to do more with less, often employing major initiatives and improvements to attain big jumps in productivity. Major changes in processes and picking operations, such as implementing new technologies and revising flows, can lead to big productivity gains. However, smaller productivity gains can be achieved by leveraging some easily implemented techniques__without biting off more than you can chew.
Place parts for productivity. Placing parts into storage devices by pick velocity ensures workers have fast access to the parts they require most often. It's important to match the part by velocity, size, and stored quantity to the storage type (shelving, bins, flow rack, automated storage and retrieval, and so on) to increase productivity. A fast-moving stockkeeping unit (SKU) now can become a slow-moving SKU next month. Often, organizations fail to reorganize parts as order profiles change. Over time, slower-moving SKUs end up stored in prime picking technologies, while faster-moving SKUs are added to inventory and stored in less productive locations. Re-slotting SKUs on a regular basis ensures the fastest-moving parts are stored in the technologies that provide the fastest picking times.
Ergonomic part placement. Faster-moving SKUs also should be the most accessible SKUs and require minimal worker effort to pick. This means ensuring that the majority of picks a worker makes are located in the golden zone (the area between a worker's knees and shoulders). This minimizes reaching, bending, and lifting, all of which can lead to worker fatigue. Picking from the golden zone not only increases a worker's picking speed, but also improves picking accuracy due to the reduced fatigue.
Batching orders for picking. Batching orders to be picked and fulfilled simultaneously can increase productivity substantially. Switching from the one-to-one grocery cart picking concept to a batch picking concept can be achieved with batch picking push carts. Picking more than one order at a time uses worker time more effectively and can increase overall efficiency.
Simplify. The picking process can easily become overcomplicated. While getting the right part to the right place at the right time can be a challenge, it's important to keep things as simple as possible. Special rules and multiple steps add to error rates. Instead, keep the process simple and streamlined, leaving less room for mistakes.
Ask questions. As with any process, picking procedures should be reviewed and analyzed for improvement opportunities. You may find there are steps in processes that no longer apply. We are creatures of habit and do things because that's the way we've always done it. Ask yourself: Are your picking procedures the same today as they were a year ago? Does that make sense? Subjecting your picking and replenishment processes to continual review enables you to make smaller adjustments occasionally instead of a large picking overhaul that is disruptive to your operation.
Finally, if you've exhausted these productivity techniques and still are aiming for additional picking advancements, consider integrating order picking equipment into your operations. Horizontal carousels, vertical lift modules, and vertical carousels all can increase productivity, save floor space, and increase order accuracy.
Tom Meader is senior director of operations for Kardex Remstar, where he helps design, plan, and install successful picking operations. He may be contacted at email@example.com