Warehouse picking – An introduction

Having the right tools is critical to carrying out a lean and efficient warehouse picking operation.

Fulfilment companies are faced with the challenges of storing and picking a wide variety of SKU’s, from small items such as headphones, or mobile phones, to larger items such as clothing or automotive parts.

The ability to quickly adapt and scale up an operation is more critical now than ever before with the increasing shortage of warehouse availability.

With a resurgence of omni-channel retailers, operations are faced with not only picking and packing online orders, but also dealing with the challenge of replenishing physical stores.

As many as 56% of online shoppers will purchase clothing, shoes, and accessories from omnichannel retailers (data 2021).

So what options are there to utilise warehouse space?

Picking Boxes

Products such as open fronted picking bins enable products to be secured without the need for additional racking.

By stacking these picking bins or totes as they are sometimes known operators can easily identify key products reducing wasted time when searching for SKU’s.

As they stack securely operations do not need to invest in racking which can be costly and often difficult to move.

But having the correct solution to pick from is only part of the solution, operations also need to consider how the items are transported once they have been picked.

Picking Trolleys

We’ve touched on the need for picking a wide variety of products effectively, the ability to adapt how an operator transports the picked SKU’s is also paramount to the operation.

Sizing can often be a challenge so having the right picking trolley solution is critical in ensuring a lean and productive operation.

For standardised picking operations an e-commerce trolley solution such as those seen commonly in supermarkets and distribution warehouses would be an ideal product to transport multiple SKU’s safely and securely.

Another factor to consider when picking at height is operator safety.

Often it is not practical to have steps at every picking station, in order to combat this an integrated trolley/step design is the optimum solution.

Not only is it more practical, it encourages operators to pick safely whilst ensuring the operation runs efficiently (due to staff not having to leave stations to locate steps).

Flexibility is key 

As we touched on earlier, many picking fulfilment operations offer challenges due to the SKU’s often varying from contract to contract, this gives a dilemma when selecting the correct trolley solution.

So what is the solution to deal with product size variation?

Having a picking trolley which can be adjusted easily to suit each contract is the key. This includes having a solution which has the ability to be completely flexible such as adjustable shelf heights, adding handles, increasing shelves or adjusting trolley length, all of which are critical to an ever changing operation.

An example of this can be seen below in the flexible trolley shown.

So what happens once the goods have been picked?

It is common practise now for companies with physical stores such as Screwfix, Asda, B&Q, Next, Wilkinsons and most major retailers to ship picked goods in returnable packaging.

This includes both the boxes, or totes as they are sometimes known which are often branded with company details or fitted with RFID (Tracking systems) and nestable roll cages.

With an increasingly competitive marketplace, companies are putting more emphasis on improving their logistics process, most notably focusing on the reduction of transporting “air” when retuning empty cages or containers.

Nesting solutions such as tote boxes, bale arm containers and roll cages enable the number of vehicles to be reduced, not only a positive from a cost saving perspective but also helping companies to reduce their impact on the planet (less vehicles=less emissions).

In conclusion…

At the start of the millenium the UK ecommerce market was worth £1.8 billion, fast forward to today and this market is worth over £693 billion and growing rapidly year on year.

With the UK market now the 3rd largest globally focus is now, more than ever, on running a lean and efficient operation.

This is just a small insight into the methods available to support in operation improvements, we will touch on this in more detail in future articles.