Pick-To-Light Can Ramp Up Warehousing Order Volume
Learn how put-to-light and pick-to-light systems are being used to improve warehouse operations
As holiday season approaches, fulfillment centers, warehouses and distribution centers around the nation are gearing up for the influx of e-commerce business. With these purchases comes the stress of order fulfillment: getting customers exactly what they bought within a promised delivery time frame. Changing order profiles, an ever-increasing number of stock keeping units (SKUs), and high order volumes can make the order fulfillment process complicated. In addition, temporary warehouse workers with little experience in picking and putting processes may exacerbate issues with order fulfillment. Luckily, advancements in technology can help to mitigate challenges. Picture a system that uses lights to help the most inexperienced worker pick or put items with little to no errors. Pick-to-light and put-to-light are the most popular light-directed order fulfillment systems. With both pick-to-light and put-to-light systems, employees can not only work across multiple zones in a warehouse facility, but also send that inventory for consolidation as individual orders. This enables:
Maximum picking accuracy and efficiency
Accurate order consolidation and pack-out
Order fulfillment that meets customer service level agreements
Warehouse operations are designed to make sure packages are stored, picked, packed, and shipped in a short period of time. By leveraging put-to-light and pick-to-light systems as warehousing solutions, 3PLs and warehouse operators can streamline their operations to enable warehouse associates to work with greater speed and efficiency.
Warehouse workers typically end up walking multiple miles during each work shift. This amount of walking with little rest increases the likelihood of mental and physical fatigue, which can result in error and injury. Put-to-light and pick-to-light systems reduce this by guiding workers to their destinations, improving the occupational safety and health of workers as well as warehouse productivity.
The additional SKUs from e-commerce and COVID-19 related issues such as shrinkflation, have exacerbated the need for warehouses to increase their capacity to handle large volumes of inventory . By connecting put-to-light and pick-to-light systems to IoT and configuring them with technologies such as automated conveyors or picking carts, warehouse operations can be optimized for speed and accuracy while alleviating pressures in processing additional inventory.
Pick-to-light systems can be used for picking entire cases of products. These systems are most often used for high-volume picking of individual items. Pick-to-light systems are useful because they help employees know the location of inventory in the warehouse. The more advanced pick-to-light systems are IoT-connected and cloud-enabled. They use lights mounted on shelving racks to indicate pick locations and to guide warehouse workers through the order picking process.
In warehouse environments, the traditional way of order picking is inefficient. Gone are the days of pickers walking through warehouse real estate with a clipboard, paper, and pen in search of items. Compounding this inefficient method is the proclivity for errors in manual order picking processes.
Today’s pick-to-light systems are much more efficient. Each light display is powered by its own microprocessor, which enables them to be individually automated. Because each display has its own IoT connection and configuration with the warehouse management system, warehouse managers have more visibility into picking operations. This is vital to high-volume order fulfillment because it can help prevent inventory issues such as stock outs, which slows the fulfillment process.
Here is how pick-to-light systems work:
A warehouse manager creates a new pick list that is delivered to an order picker via a mobile device
Pick-to-Light devices mounted on racking systems light up with the SKU and quantity to pick
Pickers pick products and push the lighted button, acknowledging the pick. Inventory data is then synchronized with the warehouse management system.
Picker repeats the process until the picklist is complete
Pick-to-light systems have a profound impact on order picking productivity and warehouse management. Utilized properly, they can increase the efficiency, speed, and accuracy of the order picking process while simultaneously reducing errors. They also help to manage inventory by sending alerts when items are running low. This provides greater inventory control.
These systems can also provide instructions for put-to-light tasks, directing pickers to place picked items into specified totes in different work zones. They can also be used for non-picking operations where digital signage is necessary such as:
· Service tracking
Advantages of Pick-To-Light Systems
Lower Labor Costs
Warehouse operations are labor intensive and costly. The labor associated with warehouse picking constitutes up to 50% of a distribution centers operating cost. Systems that facilitate less walking, faster order fulfillment time, and greater order accuracy lead to reduced labor costs. In the time of a nationwide labor shortage, pick-to-light is a useful picking strategy. Through the improved productivity and accuracy that the system provides, the labor required to pick can be reduced by up to 50%.
In times of upsurges in the market, such as the upcoming holiday season, additional personnel is often needed to augment staffing. However, the added workforce is often temporary and may not have warehouse experience. Pick-to-light systems are beneficial because they do not require extensive training. New employees can easily learn basic operations and begin order picking in a short amount of time.
Pick-to-light and put-to-light systems are also useful for multi-lingual workforces. These systems can significantly reduce training time and improve accuracy rates.
Improved Warehouse Performance
Modern pick-to-light systems enhance inventory control by making the order picking process faster, more accurate, and less prone to errors. Because they can connect to the Internet of Things, pick-to-light systems can update picking data in real-time and near-real-time. This provides enhanced visibility into inventory levels.
Pick-to-light systems also save time by eliminating paper-based record keeping used in traditional order picking. Instead, pick lists are updated automatically and delivered to IoT-connected mobile devices operated by order pickers. This makes pick-to-light systems a valuable tool for streamlining warehousing logistics and inventory management in an efficient way.
Improved Worker Efficiency
Wasted time is a costly challenge that warehouses face in order picking processes. Workers lose valuable time walking to and from work zones to pick items to complete their order pick list. With automated pick-to-light systems, worker movement is much more efficient. Warehouse managers can assign order pickers to specific work zones. The pick-to-light system in that work zone can then direct them to the required inventory This not only minimizes the distance that workers walk but also results in more items being picked and processed in a shorter amount of time.
Pick-to-light systems also improve worker efficiency because of their flexibility. In times of increased order volume, warehouse managers can utilize a team-based approach to picking. Using pick-to-light systems, managers can spread pickers throughout a work zone, simultaneously balancing workloads and improving product flow.
Connectable to Warehouse Management Systems
Although warehouse managers can implement standalone pick-to-light systems in their e-commerce warehousing operations, modern systems can easily integrate with existing warehouse management systems. This provides increased visibility into warehouse performance and produces a higher level of warehouse control. Advanced pick-to-light systems can even produce pick-rate reports that can be used to analyze worker productivity, allowing managers to predict labor-to-order volume needs.
The advent of e-commerce has increased the volume of packages that need to be picked, packed, and shipped. In today’s fast-paced global market, efficient and productive warehousing operations are dependent on automated warehousing solutions such as put-to-light systems.
Put-to-light or ‘scan and sort’ is an automated sortation method that is essentially the inverse of the pick-to-light process. Instead of helping workers pick product to ship to customers, put-to-light systems help workers replenish stock, which speeds order sortation. Utilizing put-to-light as a warehousing solution enables companies to ship and receive more items while utilizing a smaller amount of a warehouse’s space and labor.
Sortation systems that are integrated with warehouse management systems are enabling warehouse logistics and supply chains to run more seamlessly. Automated sortation systems accounted for 65% share of the global sortation system market in 2020.
Put-to-light systems are used to break larger quantities of product into individual customer orders. Here is how they work:
1. Workers first begin with a group of products. Items reach workers in a variety of ways, such as being delivered via a horizontal carousel or picking cart.
2. Workers use IoT-connected barcode scanners to scan individual items, after which a light illuminate’s on directing the worker to the specific item space.
3. The worker places the inventory into the correct tote, rack, or put wall space.
4. The item can then be retrieved by another worker to be picked, packed, and shipped.
Automated put-to-light systems are useful because of their flexibility. They can be integrated with:
· Flow racks for picking and consolidation
· Horizontal carousels
· Vertical lift modules
· Pick carts
· Put walls
Picking carts are often utilized in conjunction with pick-to-light and put-to-light systems. The carts help to facilitate batch picking of multiple orders in a single picking route. They can also be used to fulfill orders that require items from multiple work zones.
Batch picking is an order picking method in which pickers simultaneously collect items for multiple orders. Generally faster than other picking strategies, batch picking reduces warehouse travel time.
Picking carts vary in design and configuration and typically contain shelves with totes or plastic storage bins. Totes can be configured to hold all items for a particular order or can be used to hold picked inventory to be sorted into a put wall later.
Ways to Use Picking Carts with Light-Directed Systems:
Single Lighted System
- An illuminated directional device (or picklist) directs the operator to a stock location.
- The picker scans a barcode at that location.
- The operator picks the item from the location.
- The put-to-Light device on the cart illuminates to indicate the tote in which the item should go.
- Picker acknowledges the pick by pushing the device button or by scanning a barcode on the device
Double Lighted System
- Picker pushes the picking cart in their work zone
- Pick-to-Light devices on the racks associated with a pick list illuminate, indicating what should be picked.
- The picker picks an item from inventory.
- After each pick, the put-light on the cart illuminates to show the tote where the item should go.
- Picker acknowledges the pick by pushing the device button or by scanning a barcode on the device
Put walls are playing an increasingly critical role as fulfillment warehouses continue to face challenges from e-commerce. When integrated with automated light-directed systems, put walls become an effective way to consolidate a wide variety of products across multiple channels.
Put walls are cabinet-like structures that are divided into compartments or cubbies. One side of the wall is managed by workers who put inventory into assigned compartments. The other side of the wall is staffed by workers that pick and pack out orders or place them on conveyors that route them for shipping. As customer expectations and online orders continue to rise, the integration of put-to-light systems with put walls is helping to address challenges with:
As e-commerce booms, consumers are ordering more goods online. Older or less popular items must still be accounted for even as newer products are ordered. Put walls increase inventory capacity and make it possible for distribution facilities to optimize upstream picking processes. By taking on more SKUs, put walls help maintain accurate and efficient order consolidation and pack-out processes.
Changing order and product profiles
E-commerce has not only changed the ways consumers order products, but also the products that they order. Distribution centers must have the capacity to fulfill orders varying in size and weight, making flexible order processing and handling requirements crucial. Advanced put wall technologies can be used to optimize existing rack space by up to 35% capacity by offering customizable compartment sizes. This enables companies to expand the types of orders that they can fulfill for consumers.
Because of e-commerce, picking and putting systems must be easy to operate with the ability to handle multiple items of varying volumes accurately. This is compounded by the emergence of omnichannel, which enables consumers to purchase products through multiple channels.
When systems such as pick-to-light and put-to-light are connected to warehouse management systems through IoT, warehouses and distribution centers can lower costs and fulfill orders at a higher rate. They can do so because they have the visibility and control necessary to make sure that the required inventory is picked, packed, and shipped properly. High-volume product handling is a necessary function in order fulfillment. Light-directed systems such as put-to-light and pick-to-light will continue to be used to improve order fulfillment.
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