Picking

Action that consists of preparing an order from products stored in a warehouse.

What does picking refer to?

Picking refers to the operation consisting in collecting all products pertaining to a customer’s order from the storage area or shop. In modern companies, picking is done by an employee, equipped with a terminal that has a screen displaying the full list of products, or that vocally describes all the items to be prepared. The second solution is known as voice picking. This list is contained in a file generated by electronic data interchanges (EDIs). Orders are checked, then the IT tool generates a list of items.

The purpose of picking is to rationalise recurring logistical operations. The picking agent uses hoisting machines suitable for grabbing items stocked on racks or special storage units. In some companies, the picking process is done by autonomous robots. Once the orders are complete, they are placed on a packaging chain where identification elements are added prior to delivery to the right address. Now ready, the order is loaded into the transporter’s vehicle.

Using a portable terminal or computerised internal memory, an employee or autonomous robot maximises production by rationalising movement to and from the storage aisles. They check items ordered by different customers yet sent to the same place.

 

Specificities of picking 

Processes may vary depending on the logistician or company’s internal organisation, type of product sold and volume to be processed and dispatched. Three main types of activities are run in logistical companies:

  • Products picked within the storage area by 1 picking agent for several orders, known as picker-to-part;
  • Full order completion by one or several operators (allotment);
  • U-based orders, which consist in having a picking agent collect the items for a single order from one or several storage areas;
  • Packaging and computerised or manual preparation of all dispatched orders.

In aiming to reach these production goals, the methods implemented to help the picking agents are named:

  • Pick to light: the operator is guided to the item to be picked thanks to a beam of light;
  • Pick to belt: for large quantities packaged in whole boxes placed on a conveyor belt sent to the sorting centre;
  • Pick then pack, and pick and pack: two stages are necessary. In the first, the products are picked out then taken to an order preparation bay. There, they are sorted to create the order before being packaged. 

Picking methods vary greatly depending on the order, and several methods are sometimes used in the same warehouse:

  • Item-based picking based on files processed as the day goes by. The request leads to the item being picked;
  • Group picking happens if a same article is required for several orders;
  • Zone picking consists in collecting items within a same storage area.

 

Examples and practical applications

Robots or humans have all the information to do with bar-codes, item location (labels to know where they are in the storage area, what aisle, what shelf, etc.), single or multiple order picking, order picking rationalisation whilst considering bulk breaking, increased productivity by reducing distances.

Order preparation through picking concerns all sorts of products and items stored in full pallets, full boxes or consumer sales units.

Picking rationalisation works best:

  • When encouraging customers to order full boxes or pallets;
  • By optimally processing any virtual data required for efficient picking;
  • By strictly complying with the process established by the company, including rational stock organisation (lower levels for recurring items);

By assessing different types of picking, and applying the one that best suits your company - including automatic conveyor belt picking.