How To Gain Massive Efficiencies In Order Picking

Oct 07, 2018

While high tech solutions can reduce pick errors by up to 50%, the vast majority of warehouses are still using paper based or paper + RF order picking systems. In fact, only about 20% of U.S. warehouses use advanced solutions like voice directed or pick to light systems. These types of systems can have a tremendous impact on your bottom line. Learn about the latest picking technologies and how they can benefit your operation.

What’s the biggest cost center in your warehousing operation?  If you’re like most U.S. businesses, more than half of your total warehousing costs are attributed to picking. On average, warehouses spend 55% of their budget on picking, and e-com is only driving that number higher. 

Why is this aspect of warehousing so costly? There are two reasons: 1. labor is expensive, and 2. there are inherent inefficiencies in sending humans around warehouses to collect things. In fact, about 50% of a picker’s time is spent in transit, either walking or riding around a warehouse. 

Today, only 9% of warehouses handle strictly full pallet orders. Almost half of all warehouses handle a mixture of pallets, cases, split cases and pieces.  And even though most warehouses bear substantial picking costs, only 20% of all facilities nationwide have moved away from traditional RF and paper-based picking systems. 

Innovations in Picking Technology

The last decade has brought about an explosion in picking technology, and we’ve seen everything from RFID to augmented reality smart glasses.  The two most mature solutions, however, are light directed and voice directed picking technologies.  Each has its place in specific types of operations, and some warehouses even use both options.

Although these types of technology-based solutions can be costly up front, the returns are often astounding. In one recent study, companies that implemented advanced picking solutions such as voice, light or RFID based systems reduced their picking error rates by an average of 67%.

Pick To Light

Pick to light systems are best for high density, high SKU-velocity environments and zone picking operations. Racks are fitted with LEDs that signal pick quantities and locations, and workers tap these lights to confirm picks and quantities as they make their way along a pick path.

Light directed systems are less flexible and more costly than voice directed systems, but implemented properly they can greatly improve picking speed and accuracy. According to MHI, most pick to light implementations gain an average of 30-50% in pick rate productivity. 

Voice Directed Picking

Voice directed systems are well suited for operations that stock larger numbers of items across larger facilities. Perhaps the biggest benefit of voice directed picking is that it allows pickers a totally hands-free approach. 

All picking instructions are relayed through a headset by the warehouse management system, and the picker responds verbally to confirm picks. There are no handheld devices to carry, no barcodes to scan, no screens to read and no confirmation buttons to press. Absolutely everything is done through voice commands. 


Voice Recognition Technology

One of the reasons that voice directed solutions are becoming more popular is because voice recognition tech has made great strides over the last few years.  While companies like Google and Amazon have made big investments in voice recognition, these consumer focused implementations just don’t cut it in warehouse and industrial environments.

Warehouses are noisy and frenetic, and that’s not a good fit for your average voice recognition system. Warehouse workers don’t have time to carefully enunciate commands and repeat themselves to voice recognition systems. They need technology that works reliably and consistently.

Luckily, neural networks and AI have made extremely accurate and reliable voice recognition possible, even in noisy environments. The latest voice directed picking systems can quickly gain an understanding of the speech patterns of individual users and deal with things that consumer tech doesn’t do well: different speech dialects, high levels of ambient noise and highly variable acoustics.    


Although new voice recognition technology is fantastic, a voice directed picking solution is only as good as the underlying software that drives it.  Most warehouse management systems (WMS) have basic pick sequencing capabilities, but a good voice directed system will go far beyond these capabilities.

The objective of any picking system is actually pretty basic: workers should spend the least possible amount of time walking or riding around the warehouse and the most possible time performing actual picking tasks.  Although it’s a simple goal, achieving it takes sophisticated technology.

The best software solutions can evaluate slot-level locations, product dimensions, pick path directionality, aisle gaps, user permissions and start/end paths.  They can compile these variables and develop optimal pick plans on the fly.  Much like your car’s GPS, these systems can also work dynamically, recalculating paths and lists as unexpected changes occur in the warehouse.  


By layering analytics on top of voice directed picking, companies can gain even more efficiencies.  Workers moving throughout a warehouse area data-rich collection points, and many software solutions provide dashboards that can display KPIs and immediately identify workflow anomalies and trends by monitoring worker activity.   


Raymond’s Pick2Pallet Led System

For batch picking, Raymond’s 8410, 8510 and 8720 pallet trucks can be integrated with voice directed picking systems and fitted with LEDs on the sides of the forks. At each stop along a pick path, the system illuminates the correct pallet to place cases on, speeding up work and greatly reducing customer product mix errors.



The Bottom Line

If you’re not considering new order picking technology, you should be.  Even small and mid-sized operations can build compelling ROI models with voice and light directed options.  If you’d like to learn more about warehouse systems, contact a Raymond representative today!