Order picking is central to a distribution operation. There are a variety of warehouse order picking methods and strategies used to help save time, increase productivity and cut costs. Zone picking is a strategy used by many large DC’s with a variety of SKU’s. In this post we will break down what zone picking is, determine the advantages and benefits and discuss a zone picking strategy many companies have used with Lucas to double productivity.
Definition: Zone Picking
Zone picking is compared often to the warehouse picking version of an assembly line. This process involves dividing stock-keeping units into a series of different zones. Each picker will pick the items in their zone and then pass the order to the next person.
Zone picking can also be referred to as the “pick and pass” methodology. Most often zone picking is conveniently planned so that only one person is scheduled to a specific zone per shift.
Advantages of Picking by Zone
1) Zoning based on SKU movement
Zone picking is extremely useful for warehouses that have a large amount of SKU’s. Warehouses will most often have items that move much faster than others. This gives them the ability to split these up based on their speed of movement.
2) Increased picker productivity, better allocation of workers and zone mastery
Pickers may see productivity increases because they will be trained to a specific zone they have been allocated. Over time they will begin to remember where the SKU’s are located increasing their productivity.
3) Decreased congestion
Allocating workers to a specific zone will decrease the amount of workers walking through the same aisle. Pickers will be the only one in their zone decreasing the amount of clutter and eliminating time taken to walk around someone else.
4) Cut travel time
The area covered by pickers is minimized decreasing their time spent traveling.
Disadvantages of Picking by Zone
1) The separate parts of the order need to be combined
Depending on the operation there may need to be a part of the warehouse that is allocated to combining the picks together into one order.
2) Demand per zone may be inconsistent
Work may be very inconsistent amongst pickers leaving some very busy and others waiting for work.
3) Low morale in smaller warehouses from little collaboration amongst employees
Pickers may enjoy interaction with their coworkers. However, in an operation where there is only 1 or 2 pickers in a zone they may spend their 8 hour shift by themselves. This can significantly decrease morale so managers will need to incorporate other methods to boost morale.
Order Picking Strategy
Two Stage Picking
In most distribution centers, 20 percent of SKUs account for 80 percent of the picking volume. In many cases, a DC will have high-density pick zones or pick modules for these fast movers. By contrast, slower movers are usually dispersed over a larger area, and picking of these items is far less productive and efficient, resulting in higher labor costs per unit. Lucas work execution software provides a number of solutions to address this slow-mover challenge.
Two stage picking is one of the more popular strategies for improving picking efficiency for slow movers. Two stage picking involves separating the slow moving picks into a zone by themselves and having a worker pre-pick the slow moving items for multiple orders in a batch and place those items near the end of the area where fast movers are picked – this is stage one. When a worker completes picking the fast movers for an order he/she will then be directed to pick the pre-picked slow movers for his/her order from the staging location – this is stage two. Batching the slow movers increases pick density and saves significant travel time compared to picking these items by order (as you might pick the fast moving items).