Optimizing Picking Processes with Batch Control
Warehouses are complex operations with many moving parts and functions co-occurring. A step that cannot be overlooked in the pursuit of warehouse efficiency is the picking process. As the Amazon fulfillment model continues to revolutionize the worlds of retail, warehousing, and supply chain management, the longer it takes to fulfill an order, the less profitable the venture.
Picking is just one of the many crucial steps of order fulfillment and release, yet it's one of the biggest killers of warehouse productivity. When designing efficient order picking techniques, your approach needs to emphasize speed and accuracy.
What Is Batch Control and How Is It Used in Warehouse Operations?
Batch picking is an order picking methodology designed to improve picking efficiency by grouping multiple similar orders into a single instruction. It’s one of the most reliable and efficient methods of process control and can be implemented in warehouses of all sizes. To do this, you’ll need to effectively track product batch numbers throughout your factories. That’s where batch control comes in.
Batch control involves controlling stock movement based on identifiers such as serial numbers, Stock Keeping Units (SKUs), production or expiration dates. As a process control method, it can be used to improve picking performance. Batch control allows for traceability, ensuring pickers can go to one area and collect as many units of a single SKU as needed.
To consolidate multiple similar orders into a single picklist, you’ll need a warehouse management system (WMS) that can analyze orders and compare them to your warehouse layout to create a pick path that minimizes travel time.
With a WMS, picking is a fairly straightforward strategy. Here’s how it works:
- The WMS generates a consolidated list with SKUs, quantities, and inventory storage locations.
- It assigns and provides pickers with the list and equipment needed to complete each order.
- Pick the items. Additional technology like voice picking can simplify the process making it easier to collect the items and compile the SKUs for sorting and shipping.
Such a system leads to fewer bottlenecks, enabling workers to reach their destinations quickly and process more orders.
What Are the Benefits of Batch Picking?
The batch picking control system is useful for multiple reasons. Firstly, tackling multiple orders at a time reduces warehouse travel time by minimizing the need to visit the exact warehouse location repeatedly. Reducing employee foot travel time makes the job less physically taxing for your workers by avoiding having them traverse the same pick path over and over.
It also ensures pickers can go through orders faster, further speeding up the fulfillment process. Compared to single order picking strategies, picking multiple items in one run-through is far more efficient, both in terms of time saved and space opened up for other pickers on the floor.
How Does It Differ from Zone Picking or Wave Picking?
Batch picking is effective for processing high-volume orders with similar SKUs. Like batch picking, wave picking allows your pickers to pick items for multiple orders at the same time. The difference is wave picking is only carried out at specific times throughout the day. However, wave picking can be limiting, specifically when a fulfillment center needs to pick, pack and ship as soon as orders are received.
Zone picking, on the other hand, configures the warehouse into different zones based on criteria such as fast-and slow-moving SKUs or human vs robot-assisted picking. Usually, pickers are assigned to specific zones allowing them to gain deep familiarity with their area and the SKUs stored there. Another advantage is that it reduces congestion and allows for each zone to have its own storage strategy and order picking equipment.
But zone picking has a clear disadvantage; it allows for only one scheduling period per shift, meaning there's a maximum number of orders that can be queued in a shift. Any orders received after the cutoff cannot be picked until the following shift.
For each of these methods, batch control ensures that items can be easily traced for picking. Inventory tracking methods should make it easy to find a product at a moment's notice, while the picking process ensures employees don't spend too much time picking items for a single order.
Looking to Improve Your Picking Operations?
Batch picking is a great system for eCommerce warehouses as it reduces travel time so workers can focus on fulfilling orders faster. But it can be a complex process to implement. It's one thing for your ERP to have all the functions to track batches; it's quite another to control movements on the factory floor.
To do so, you’ll need a WMS that allows you to create an optimal pick path that reduces the need to trace back and forth through the aisles since pickers can pick items from multiple orders simultaneously.