Order Picking in Material Handling

What is order picking?

Order picking is the process of pulling items from inventory to fill a customer order. It is seen as the most labour intensive activity within a warehouse. It consists in taking and collecting articles in a specified quantity before shipment to satisfy customers’ orders. It is a basic warehousing process and has an important influence on supply chain’s productivity. This makes order picking one of the most controlled logistic processes.

Order picking is an important aspect within any warehouse. It forms as much as 55% of operation costs within any distribution centre, compared to shipping, storage and receiving stages and has a direct impact on customer satisfaction levels. The ability to both quickly and accurately process customer orders is now an essential part of doing business. This article will help you determine ways you can improve upon order picking processes, as well as, how to choose the right method of order picking for your warehouse.

Ways to improve upon order picking processes within your warehouse


Use ABC item analysis

If 10% of your items completely satisfy 50% of your orders, then these are “A” items. Set up a short pick line for these items and place slower moving “B” items in the next closest area and the slowest “C” moving items farthest away.

Ensure 100% product availability

Design your replacement system so that the picker does not have to face an empty pick slot that is waiting for replacement. Keep a specified minimum level of inventory in each location and replace items that have fallen below the minimum level each day.

Use of barcodes to verify products before you pick

If your order picking system verifies every step of the picking process twice, you are more likely to catch mistakes, preferably whilst the picker is still in front of the pick slot where the correction is easily made.

Minimise product movement

Regardless of what order picking method a company uses, it is important to identify and record the number of times an item is handled from the time it is ordered to the time it leaves the facility. The pick process should allow enough accuracy that further repacking, Quality Control checking, or shipping checking is not required.

Try different storage strategies

Different storage strategies can boost efficiency within a warehouse. For example, slotting may improve storage intensity, reduce accidents or product damage, reduce congestion and improve retrieval times. Review storage strategies on a regular basis in order to align your practices with seasonal demand.

Re-evaluate your routing practices

The layout of your storage spaces can have a negative impact on your routing practices. Setting out specific zones for items that are commonly ordered together, product categories, business types, or order size can enhance travel times.

Different order picking methods

There are many order picking methods. These include:

  • Zone picking: Each order picker is assigned a specific zone and will only realise order picking within this zone.
  • Batch picking: An order picker is assigned and picks multiple orders simultaneously, minimising trips to each location.
  • Wave picking: A variation of zone and batch picking. Rather than orders moving from one zone to the next for picking, all zones are picked at the same time and the items are later sorted and consolidated into individual orders/shipments

How to choose the correct order picking method for your warehouse

It is essential to implement an order picking method that is right for your business and customers. To determine which will work for you, it is important to consider the following:

  • The type of operation you have
  • Characteristics of product being handled
  • Total number of transactions and orders
  • Picks per order
  • Quantity of pick
  • Picks per SKU
  • Total number of SKUs
  • Whether you are handling piece pick, case pick, or full-pallet loads

Sometimes a combination of picking methods is needed to handle diverse product and order characteristics.

As the importance of order picking grows, so does the importance placed upon accuracy and timeliness. However, in order to improve upon order picking processes within your warehouse, you must choose an order picking method that is suitable for your business.

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Apart from our diverse and excellent equipment, MICRON Engineering has realised the key to success is focused on creating a sophisticated after-sales support network, ensuring high levels of uptime during the contract life of your product. With service centres countrywide and engineering backup in Johannesburg and Durban, we are able to offer technical support in all the major South African centres.