Batch Picking: 5 benefits & Is it right for my business?
Batch picking isn’t a fit for every business. But if you have the order volume, it can significantly decrease your order fulfillment costs.
Warehouses have an ever changing goal of cutting operational costs and maximizing throughput. One component of operational cost that cannot be ignored is the pick pack and ship process. This is because the longer the order, and subsequently more items per trip, the more economical the order becomes.
A majority of a picker’s time is spent moving bins or containers to other places. How can a warehouse save more time and speeds the operation of the warehouses more efficiently? One successful method for reducing average order picking time is called “batch picking.”
What is batch picking?
Batch picking is an order picking methodology aimed at increasing picking efficiency by picking multiple similar orders at the same time. This method of warehouse order picking stands apart from traditional piece picking which picks one order at a time.
Therefore, as picking occurs in a batch of orders simultaneously, back and forth travel reduces drastically.
How the Batch Picking Method Works
Orders batched together typically have relatively close proximity to each other. This way order pickers are able to pick multiple orders per cycle while remaining in a single zone. Batch picking (also called cluster picking) may also batch orders based on SKU to further increase order picking efficiency.
Because there is a large variability in volume of orders by location and SKU, implementing a warehouse management system is necessary (further discussion below).
5 Benefits of Batch Picking Process
- Increased Efficiency
Because warehouse picking occurs in a batch of orders rather than single order picking, a worker completes a number of orders at time. This is an improvement over other picking methods such as piece picking where workers must travel from the origin to the packing zone once for each order.
- Reduced Congestion
Because multiple orders fulfill simultaneously by a single picker, batch picking requires less total workers in a given zone at any time. A single picker picks multiple items for multiple orders therefore the travel distance reduces drastically. This decrease in travel distance reduces congestion in the warehouse.
Any reduction in congestion, since high traffic areas lead to an increase in potential accidents, also reduces safety concerns.
- Decreased Travel Time
Similar to reduced congestion, the total travel time also reduces under batch picking. This means that any order requires less lead time to fulfill. This becomes especially true as the volume of orders increases.
When this happens, batching multiple orders becomes more and more efficient over the traditional piece picking process. The end result of this decreased travel time is overall faster picking speed.
- More Scalable
Because of the increased efficiencies listed above, batch picking is wildly more scalable than traditional piece picking methods. Warehouse managers are able to increase the total capacity for orders with relatively small adjustments in overall operations.
This is especially true when a warehouse management system handles the scheduling and strategy of batching orders.
- Improved Employee Morale
Because workers spend less time traveling through the warehouse, the batch picking method is less strenuous. Improvements in productivity also increase worker morale as human psychology shows that high output results in more fulfilling work.
This improved morale is also true as employees become more accurate and make less mistakes. No one wants to mess up an order, and batch picking helps picking workers increase their accuracy.
Optimize Batch Picking With Technology
The use of warehouse management software (WMS) and other tools are critical for optimizing picker flows in batch picking. The WMS analyzes orders to develop pick plans that minimize travel time and reduces time to pick and walk.
Other technology such as portable order fulfillment tablets with scanners enable even more flexibility and speed for warehouse pickers. Warehouse managers also have a wider view of all the functions currently ongoing in a warehouse including potential bottlenecks.
As mentioned before, warehouse operations is all about efficiency. A picking strategy and especially batch picking must involve technology to become efficient.
Batch Picking and Automation
Systems that largely operate the same way in repeatable patterns are good candidates for enhancing with automation. For example, robotic systems can pick units or boxes from warehouse shelves with the proper infrastructure and process.
These types of automated robotic systems are very common in vehicle manufacturing. While there are limitations to these automations, many warehouses find useful ways to utilize them.
However, these systems don’t operate in a batch picking system. Other automation such as automated productivity scheduling and storage planning are good tools for batch picking. These mostly operate as software, but there are some hardware automation tools that help productivity.
An automated batch picking cart is one such example of a tool that suits this method. These carts use lighting to signify which bin or shelf a picker should retrieve items from for their respective order.
Batch Picking vs Zone Picking vs Wave Picking
Wave picking is a process that holds groups of orders based on certain criteria (location, size, shipping method, etc.) and processes them all at once. It may be easy to confuse batch picking with wave picking. The difference is that batch picking doesn’t typically hold orders. It relies on the WMS or other operations software arrange orders and pick the best path for the warehouse worker.
Zone picking, on the other hand, restricts workers to respective zones (usually by aisle). In this way, any particular worker is only responsible for the items on an order within their area.
So, which method is best? Is it batch picking, zone picking, or wave picking? Of the three order fulfillment methodologies, none stands out as better than the other. The preferred picking process depends solely on your business, the kinds of products in your orders, number of SKUs, and overall quantity. It’s even true that discrete order picking can function as a highly efficient picking process for the right sized operation.
The best picking methodology for your business depends solely on your business structure. You should examine the data for number of SKUs and other order information. This way you can pick the best order picking strategy for you.
A Batch Picking Example
To illustrate how batch picking works, let’s consider 3 separate orders that arrive for the following parts:
- Order 1
- 25 paper towel rolls
- 50 plastic buckets
- Order 2
- 20 plastic buckets
- 5 pens
- Order 3
- 20 paper towel rolls
- 10 pens
Under traditional piece picking, a warehouse worker only picks units from a single order at a time. For example, 25 paper towel rolls and 50 plastic buckets to complete order one.
After this order is complete, the picker returns to pick order 2, which contains items in the same location they previously visited. Therefore, subsequent orders with the same SKUs requires a repeat trip which increases travel time.
Under the batch picking process, however, a warehouse worker picks all of the required paper towels for the 3 orders before proceeding to the next SKU. This way, the 3 orders complete with only a single pick at each location.
One benefit to this method of picking is that pushcarts are utilized more often. This requires less effort on behalf of the picker, resulting in a safer and healthier work environment.
The Step-by-step Batch Picking Process
To help you understand how this process plays out in real life, you can follow the following step-by-step process. After reading this, you should see how vastly different batching orders is compared to traditional piece picking.
1. Create a Picking List
Picking lists are documents that detail the required items for an order. They include identifying marks such as SKUs and the location in the warehouse. The first step in a batch process is to print this or load on your mobile picking management device.
The simplest form of batch picking is when orders have twin packing lists. This way the picker picks double the inventory for each item on the picking list. However, warehouse systems are sophisticated enough now to enable multiple orders to batch together even if they are not duplicate picking lists.
2. Group (Batch) Orders and Items
Once you have a set of picking lists, they must combine into a single “picking run” by either the employee or automated software. Most often, a WMS is necessary for this step, but it is possible to do it manually.
3. Dispatch a Picker
After grouping orders together, it’s time for your picker to retrieve the items and sort them by order. Again, software can determine the most efficient path for the employee to take. Otherwise a human must determine this, which may lead to an overall longer travel distance.
4. Pack and Ship Orders
When all the sorting and picking of items is complete, they hand off to a packing zone. Generally this is relatively close to the warehousing area and also tied into the same WMS software system.
Packers take the items and box them with appropriate dunnage before adding them to the relevant carrier pickup.
Is batch picking right for my business?
If you are a medium sized warehouse with sufficient SKU count and volume, batch picking may offer you a significant increase in efficiency.
However, batch picking systems must have automated technology to properly optimize productivity. Otherwise, scheduling picking activities may result in worse accuracy or other problems in your fulfillment process.
Include multiple representatives from your company when deciding on what type of pick pack and ship process to use. Employees, especially those who deal directly with a customer, pickers, and warehouse managers should have good feedback on the options.
Regardless of which method you choose, whether picking one SKU at a time, zone picking, or a batch of orders, gaining participation is critical for employee satisfaction.
Finally, storage costs should remain at the forefront of your mind. Remember that efficiency is just one part of the business decision making process. You must consider the costs associated with the inventory in any given pick location.
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